Sunday, August 17, 2008

GZA/Genius, Pro Tools -- Review

And here I thought the Genius had retired.

Back in the day, I bought almost every Wu-Tang Clan or Wu-affiliated release (Hello, Killarmy and La the Darkman), like each album was a Marvel crossover event that I had to collect in order to get the full story. When the Wu started to lose its touch after -- or, perhaps upon release of -- Wu-Tang Forever, I kept on trucking, picking up releases such as Cappadonna's The Pillage (pretty good) and Method Man's Tical: 2000 (an aural abortion); because like sex, basketball, and ketchup, Wu-Tang was my religion.

I bought The W in the winter of 2000 -- my first year in Korea -- and I think I cried a little. Fuck that, a lot. Here were the Wu, assembled again with RZA at the helm...How on Earth could they create a subpar effort? Well, Constant Retard, it happened, and it happened hard.

I lost faith, but I never gave up hope. I bought Iron Flag (strike two) and some other releases (Jesus, I even bought Cappadonna's second solo release, which I'm pretty sure has been quarantined by the EPMA). But a man can only take so much; and I'm actually proud that I stuck with the Wu-Tang "brand" for as long as I did, because when 8 Diagrams was released last year to much disappointment*, I felt as though I were a man who had escaped from under the doctrine of some sort of mind-controlling religion/Nintendo.

It was emancipating. I'm pretty sure the Hip-Hop Bible states, "Thou shalt not disparage the WTC," but if blasphemy is wrong I didn't want to be right. Here is a man who wouldn't take it anymore. Like elephants and ants on see-saws, the Wu had produced more shitty albums than good ones; and like Peter Finch in Network, I was mad as hell, and I wasn't going to take it anymore.

I've long felt -- for the past three weeks -- that people have a tendency to hate what they once loved (and vice-versa), and my theory was put to the test. But true love never dies, and that's why I still keep tabs on the American comic book market and why my interest is piqued whenever a new superhero** flick is released. It's also why, whenever the Wu members release solo material, I turn into my sixteen-year-old self. True love never dies, and neither does hope. Not really.

Last week I heard that the GZA -- long my favorite Wu-Tang MC -- was set to release a new album, Pro Tools. If you search the archives, Bruce, you'll find that I basically once called GZA the Steve Francis of hip-hop; but I get it, I really do. Drop Liquid Swords on the populace and your job is pretty much done.

Not to be all up on the man's tip like a gnat on a dog's dick, but the GZA has always been my favorite lyricist. Sure, KRS is the God of hip-hop; but, for me, the GZA is hip-hop's Aesop: a master storyteller (my apologies to Slick Rick). GZA is a narrator whose choice words and flow penetrate your soul in a manner that sounds so effortless, so easy. Possibly the best moniker assumed by an MC, The Genius is just that when it comes to how nonchalent he sounds and how convincing his words are.

(Deep throat is easy if you learn how to properly breathe through your nose.)

Gary Grice's first album, Words From the Genius showed his potential, but it wasn't until 1994's pinnacle of the genre***, Liquid Swords, that the GZA proved his place among the hip-hop elite. GZA's follow-up, 1999's Beneath the Surface was a worthy -- and somewhat underrated -- entry in the Wu discography, but the same can't be said for 2002's Legend of the Liquid Sword. The lyrics were far below the Genius's standard, and the beats were at times good, most of the time boring. Like talking to corpses.

Enter: Pro Tools, GZA's new album.

Raise the dead.



It works, but why do I feel like my back is up against the wall at a high school dance?


It's no "Knuckleheads" as far as album openers featuring crew members go, and Masta Killa sounds like he's had a sex change operation, but RZA salvages the mediocre beat with a long-ass verse where he displays a flow he's never kicked before. RZA, experiment with the vocals instead of the beats, okay? (See: 8 Diagrams, The)


I love that GZA rhymes like he's chewing gum. The A-B-C chorus is awesome. Rewind worthy.


GZA's tutoring his son to become an MC. Let's hope this works out better than The Rumer Willis Experiment. I dig the "Damage" homage, even if it was unintended.

7 Pounds

Perfect. The "Liquid Swords" homage (the song, not the LP) is definitely intended. I'm smiling.

0% Finance

Like EPMD made songs about Jane, GZA has to make wordplay tracks a la "Labels," "Publicity," and "Animal Planet" on every album. This time it's about cars. I'm not mad. Dude flows for four minutes straight. (But I think I can hear where they made an edit.)

Short Race

Not a big fan of those chimes. Or the chorus. It could be worse, I suppose. The guitar loop is pretty decent. Guest MC Rock Marcy's line, "More bricks than when the Knicks is on" made me smile.


GZA takes a shot at G-Unit, then qualifies it. Then...

Paper Plate

A 50 Cent dis record? The Wu are still beefing with Fiddy? This is the first single, by the way. Hmm, I wonder why. Could it be that this album was released on Babygrande? Might as well swing for the cheap seats. "Flea Unit." Ha. As far as RZA beats go, this is more "Duck Season" than an adrenaline-fueled banger.

Columbian Ties

A crime tale a la "Investigative Reports." Sounds like it could have been on Beneath the Surface.


GZA handles the chorus and hands over the emceeing duty to newcomer Ka (is dude a Dark Tower fan or something?). Ka sounds like he ate a fucking cigar. He's nice enough on the mic, I guess. I should mention here that all the cuss words on this album are censored, which leads me to believe that GZA's on some Q-Tip shit, because none of his lyrics contain foul language. Which is pretty impressive, actually.

Path of Destruction

A tale of fallen youth. The sound clips on this are pretty neat. Thumbs up, I guess.


The beat sounds like discount Wu production, which it is. How can I say this politely? This is just dumb. GZA whisper-raps, and the result is as cringe-worthy as you'd expect. He sounds like he's trying to talk sexy rather than sounding suspenseful. It's creepy in a "hitting on my mom" sense. And his son, Justice Kareem, appears again, frantically whispering the chorus. It's always embarrassing when an artist doesn't realize what a horrible misstep he's made.

Intermission (Drive-In Movie)

Did they really have to make this a separate track? Just stick it onto the beginning of...

Life is a Movie

The concept if similar to Midnight Marauders's "6 Million Stories" (at least GZA's verses are). RZA actually produces a cutting-edge song again! RZA, I take back what I said earlier about not experimenting with beats. The dude singing is a little iffy, though. I can picture fans arguing over that decision.

Elastic Audio

A live performance from some concert. Stick around for the awesome "freestyle." (Of course it was written, but it's still dope.)


Unless you're completely fucking delusional -- hey, I was once like you -- the Wu can't return to its glory days, so any hopes that this album would be such a harbinger are pointless. What Pro Tools is is a good album, one that I hesitate to call "very good." Factor in the incredible lyrics -- GZA's best effort on the mic since Liquid Swords -- and take away the awfully conceived "Cinema" and it surely is. Still, some people are calling this outstanding, and it isn't. Byron Crawford called it the best Wu release since Ghostface's Supreme Clientele, and, if you believe Wikipedia, Pitchfork rated the album a 9.4 out of 10 (the Pitchfork website contains no review of the album, but I wouldn't put a rating like that past those hipster champions of mediocre hip-hop). I suppose it all depends on how you look at it: if you're a hardcore fan of lyricism, you're probably going to dig the album and wish that some of the beats were of equal talent, and if you just want to listen to banger after banger, you're going to be a little disappointed.

For me, Pro Tools is like the US women's swim relay I watched on Sunday morning. Australia won the gold, and the American women were like, "We knew Australia were too good, so we're very happy with silver."

(In that analogy, Australia = Liquid Swords).

I'm very happy with silver.

4/5 *_*

* Pitchfork, those contrarians of good hip-hop and good The Mars Volta, gave it a positive review. Zut Alors!

** Trademark, Marvel and DC

*** Even though Cuban Linx is still better

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