Classic Albums have always been hard to follow up, whether it has been with Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS One, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest or Public Enemy. Somehow these artists get lost along the way either to commercial leanings, loss of focus or assuming they know what the fans want when they are far off the mark. The Wu have particularly struggled with this concept as evidenced with all the sophomore albums in their realm since 'Enter the 36 Chambers' and ‘Wu-tang Forever’. The last 3 years has seen a decline in the Wu’s popularity and belief that they could ever reach the heights of say ‘Cuban linx’ or ‘Liquid Swords’ but you have to ask which of the 3 reasons the Wu faltered with. With all the problems surrounding the group that have developed along with the original problem of getting 8 core members together the Wu needed to conquer this to come back with something that would rectify what could ultimately be their downfall. This truly began with the release of Ghostface's ‘Supreme Clientele’ earlier this year with RZA reclaiming the boards and a hungry Wu dropping more Science than Steven Hawkin. As usual, anticipation has been high for the 3rd album from the Wu-Tang Clan, could hip hop’s dethroned super group reclaim that crown especially as ‘Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)’ significantly nodded to what the Wu used to represent, could we re-enter the 36 Chambers once again?
The Kung Fu samples implying danger begin the album like any Wu album should, in fact these snippets have been the glue that have held the past glories together as they create a seamless flow of music and atmospheric prelude to the next track. As ‘Chamber Music’ rumbles into position it strikes a chord as Meth announces in a Poltergeist mimicking tone "We’re Back!" and judging by this opener they truly are. The light cymbal flapping comes up nicely against the dark machine gun clapping and moody tone as Raekwon pounces with "Yo peep the jump off / ain’t nothin sweet get dumped off / frontin’ like you won’t get deaded and bumped off / drastic son master gunz that’ll run up and blast at onez / then go crash in the slums / one tight army few good men that’ll rep invade ya strongly….". So all’s well and the albums underway but it quickly slows down with ‘Careful Click Click’ a Box cutter extravaganza dripped in dark wu-ness. Its basic construction is something that makes this track badly placed on this album as its sample makes the track hard to listen to waiting for it to go somewhere, but persevere and you will get there. If that put you off then you're likely to have more trouble with ‘Let my niggaz Live’ with its minimalistic rumbling bass line and African drum pattern. As the Wu scramble to gain the belief of their fans again its Nas who really amazes us on this track as this one insightful verse returns the fallen emcee to where he should be with "I scream at the mirror cursed asking god why me? / run in the black church gun in my hand ya’ll try me / I’m god son, son of man son of Marcus Garvey", Now lets get something like that in an album and I’ll be impressed. RZA is using unusual unorthodox drum patterns once again and although Redman teaming up with the Wu once more wasn’t what I hoped especially after hearing ‘Buck 50’ earlier this year it’s a solid track reinforced by the interruptions of a bongo break where you least expect it within the production. The lyricism is on point especially with Meth clowning with "In a room full of crackers I might cut the cheese".
Masta Killa gets a solo cut on this album, sharing the light on the ragga Hook is Junior Reid for one of the albums best produced cuts ‘One Blood Under W’. The slow sleep inducing talking drone that Masta Killa has favored recently is replaced with his previous sharp flow but instead of giving Reid more time on the mic we could have had more variety with a verse by another Wu member, what about ODB? This is not a Wu album without Ol Dirty Bastard, the Track ‘Conditioner’ isn’t what we wanted cos it could have come from anywhere, an old ODB verse is paired up with Snoop Dogg, C’Mon! If Dirty is gonna only have one appearance on the album put him with the rest of the group, its something he’s been missing from for so long. Busta Rhymes returns the favor for Rae and Ghost appearing on ‘The heist’ with the excellent ‘the monument’ although Busta surprisingly eases in well to the Wu kingdom its GZA who does his old trick of stealing the show who shines over the interesting beat switching. What’s interesting about this beat is that although the same sample remains throughout its chopped up and looped in 3 different ways for each verse from Busta, Raekwon and the Genius.
‘Gravel pit’ has already met mixed responses but even though its not what we would have predicted its fast pace and flow of words from Meth, U-God and Ghostface under laid with that 70’s spycatcher type theme. Its this consistency we have been screaming out for and ‘Protect Ya Neck (the jump off)’ answers this to some extent as all 9 members (Cappadonna replacing ODB) get on the mic for a back to basics return to form with its ‘Tramp’ sample utilized as the perfect old school throw back we have demanded for eons.
The calculated complex mind of Rza is really missing on this album in the same sort of way that the antics of Ol dirt dog is left leaving an empty hole in what would usually be a complete package. His verse on the apocalyptic ‘Jah World’ is far too short and just gives a snippet into the head of the Wu’s strongest link. You are ultimately left wanting more and even though this is usually the mark of a great album, with ‘The W’ it’s a trait of something being left out. This is not one of the LP’s of the year and it is far off the best Wu project, but it is a good album and showing an improvement that could result in album number 4 being the product we really wanted, just too bad we will probably have to wait another 3 years for that.