Album review: Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
No doubt one of the most highly anticipated hip-hop releases of the year, 8 Diagrams is the latest effort from the Wu-Tang Clan. Pushed back several times, and surrounded by an incredible amount of hype, this album had a great potential to suck - particularly in light of the Wu's last couple of albums. Fortunately, however, 8 Diagrams packs enough heat to make it the best Wu album since their classic Wu-Tang Forever.
RZA, the mastermind producer and MC behind the Wu-Tang sound, lays down some seriously grimey beats on 8 Diagrams. This album feels like a logical step in the progression of the Wu sound. Always pushing his sound in new directions, as you would expect from a living musical legend, RZA shines brightest when he takes trips to the dark side on this album. The rugged Campfire leads off, a trademark minimal RZA track that simply oozes evil, and marks the return of Method Man, who spits one of his hottest verses in recent memory, setting the stage for an album full of consistently ill work from Meth. When he is punishing, real, and clever, there are few MCs that can measure up to the Method Man, and on 8 Diagrams, he is on point throughout.
Get Them Out Ya Way Pa is another highlight. Backed by a simple but crushingly ominous bassline, Meth and U-God deliver strong verses. Feeling nostalgic? 16th Chamber has a sound that is so reminiscent of 36 Chambers that it sounds like somebody forgot to turn off the recorder after M.E.T.H.O.D. Man was taped. This is absolutely classic Wu-Tang that evokes images from early Wu videos - a ton of dudes in goose bombers with spiked bats crowding some hallway in Staten Island. Meth and ODB kill this track, each dropping blistering verses. The haunting Take It Back includes sick work from Deck and the astonishingly consistent Ghostface Killah. The warm, lazy guitars and tense strings of Gun Will Go are signature RZA - unsettling and eerie.
The first single, While My Heart Gently Weeps, is growing on me. At first, I wasn't feeling the idea of breaking the Wu hiatus with a track built around a Beatles sample and with Erykah Badu guesting. That just didn't seem very Wu-Tang to me. Here you have a huge group of some of the most talented MCs on the planet. Leave the guests at home. I do have to say though, that multiple listens have softened me to this track, which really is quite beautiful.
The Wu-Tang have set an incredibly high bar for themselves. Because fans are aware of what the Wu can do when it is firing on all cylinders, they have a hard time dealing with any mediocre output. While The W and Iron Flag had their moments, neither could hold a candle to the first two albums. 8 Diagrams is an album that has some extremely heavy tracks that rise to the level of brilliance. My first listen through the album left me satisfied, but this is definitely a record that benefits from repeat listenings. My only real complaint is RZA's limited time on the mic. RZA is grossly underrated as an MC, largely because his rhymes are so challenging that I think a lot of people don't know what the fuck Bobby is talking about, and I would love to hear more RZA verses.
8 Diagrams is, most importantly, a true representation of the Wu-Tang sound that I think fans will appreciate after such a long wait.
8 Diagrams drops on December 11.