To those uneducated in the ways of the Wu, it might seem a bit ridiculous for the RZA to be teaming up with Quentin Tarantino and a roster of Hollywood’s A-listers to direct a big budget feature film. However, for Wu-Tang’s die-hard followers (and there’s still plenty of them out there), it makes perfect sense. All it takes is one listen of some of the legendary collective’s most important and popular work to realize that 70’s and 80’s Kung Fu flicks were an indispensible influence on their aesthetic and artistic identity. Hell, their major debut project Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), started with a sampled audio clip from the film Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang – yea…the group’s name is even a nod to classic marital arts movies.
With that in mind, if any hip hop artist has any business spearheading a film next to some of the film industry’s best, it’s RZA – working on a stylistic Kung Fu project dubbed ‘The Man With The Iron Fists‘. As the Wu’s creative leader, he’s proven to have plenty of vision in a number of different arenas – from beat making to business. Combined with his obvious passion for the film’s genre and its history, that versatility could very well cross over into his major motion picture debut effort in front of, and behind, the camera too.
While we’ll still have to wait a few weeks to see if ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’ movie itself is going to live up to the tough task of fitting in with co-director Taratino’s legendary production credits – which the trailers suggest it might – Wu fans now have the soundtrack to hold them over until its November 2nd release. For the most part, they should be very happy, and to be honest, probably pleasantly surprised. While it definitely isn’t going to stand next to the before mentioned 36 Chambers, or Liquid Swords as some of the Wu’s classic work, it might be one of the best releases for fans of tenacious, throwback East Coast-inspired lyricism so far this year.
The first thing that most fans will probably notice as soon as they see the track listings is that this one is definitely a star-studded experience, especially for fans of hardcore 90’s rap. Nearly the entire old Wu crew shows up for at least a verse (minus ODB, of course), and they’re joined by a few welcome names outside of the group that are rarely heard on the modern hip hop landscape – including a solid solo effort from former and frequent Wu-Tang collaborator/affiliate Killa Sin on “The Archer”, Pharaohe Monch and M.O.P. on the shouldn’t be missed “Black Out”, which also features a more than solid appearance by Ghostface Killah, and Kool G Rap on “Rivers of Blood”.
When these artists, which would be largely considered “throwback” by a good portion of hip hop listeners, are present, they all come as advertised. Lyrically, they bring the gritty, in-your-face wordplay that made them all stars well over a decade ago. While their style might be a bit dated for those that are more into what’s currently getting big media attention and airplay, it’s hard to argue that fans of their old work won’t enjoy what they present here in a big way. Beyond the three previously mentioned tracks, “Six Directions of Boxing” (which Inspectah Deck kills) is a must have track for any Wu-Tang fan, or any 90’s hip hop head for that matter, and the bonus cut “Bust Shots” has Sheek Louch teaming up with two Wu members in what should be a solid preview of the upcoming Wu-Block project.
There’s definitely some strong material here for fans of more contemporary hip hop too, though for the most part, it still carries a bit of an “old school” vibe. The most “buzz worthy” track on that front would probably have to be the Kanye produced and featuring “White Dress”, which is probably going to be the biggest hit on the album – especially considering the rarity of a Ye solo track since MBDTF dropped a couple years back. It marks a return of the more minimalist sample driven Kanye, and almost feels like a lost cut from Graduation – with that said, Yeezy fans should have it in their collection already.
We also get a few other admirable efforts from some more modern artists, which ultimately make this one a “should buy” for fans of the old East Coast sound, as well as more modern focused hip hop fans:
• The Ghostface assisted “Go Hard” which features Wiz Khalifa might showcase his best guest appearance of 2012, and he provides a solid, but not “poppish” at all hook and verse.
• Talib Kweli comes harder, and more vulgar, than usual on “Get Your Way” – which is probably going to be hit or miss for his fan base. However, it definitely highlights what might be Frank Duke’s best production on the album.
• The Flatbush Zombies come dark as ever with their signature sound on “Blowin’ in the Wind”. As with most of their material, it’s solid, but definitely not for everyone – especially the squemish.
• Up-and-comer Freddie Gibbs teams up with Method Man to provide an impressive effort on “Built for this”, which puts him on a classic East Coast beat, a rarity for the Midwest native.
• The album’s lead single, while probably not the most exciting track for casual hip hop fans, “Tick Tock” is probably the most impressive track on the album. Pusha T, Raekwon, Joell Ortiz, and Danny Brown all come with their absolute A-game, and it all adds up to a track that most likely deserves heavy rotation by any serious music fan.
Outside of the strictly hip hop space, there are a few cuts here, most notably the remastered version of the R&B classic “Your Good Thing” and RZA assisted Black Keys provided “Baddest Man Alive” that break up the tenacious and percussion heavy, mostly Frank Dukes led production…and they’re much needed. While each track is excellently produced on its own, as a collection, most of the hip hop beats come with an extremely similar, string and drum dominated sound. That fact results in an album experience that sort of bleeds together outside of the songs that could be classified into other genres. They definitely stand up on their own though, and the relatively unheralded Dukes should be applauded for his ability to make some impeccably designed beats. They just don’t stand together well as a more concentrated album probably would have – which might be understandable for a project like this one.
But, that hard-not-to-notice repetitive feel in the hip hop production is really the only major criticism that could be made here on the album soundtrack for ‘The Man With The Iron Fists.’ While it’s definitely a major problem that holds this one back a bit, we still get a very solid set of tracks, mostly provided by rap legends. It won’t be an “album of the year contender”, and might even struggle to get recognition as a “soundtrack of the year” due to its somewhat unfocused, yet repetitive, nature. However, there’s too much solid material here not to consider this one a must buy for fans of the Wu, or lyrically tenacious hip hop in general.