Legendary Weapons, it's claimed, is not a "proper" Wu-Tang Clan album, but rather a "compilation" album featuring members of the Clan alongside various old-school fellow-travellers like Sean Price. But then, weren't all the Clan's albums to some degree compilations, patchworks of the nine principals' differing styles and infatuations?
As it is, Genius/GZA is the only one of the Clan's remaining mainstays not to appear on Legendary Weapons, which makes it close enough to a bona fide Wu Tang album for me. More problematic is the fact that although The RZA is credited as executive producer, most of the hands-on tracking work seems to have been overseen by the production trio of Fizzy Womack, Noah Rubin and Andrew Kelley, who devise a sturdy facsimile of RZA's trademark static menace. Rather than using samples, they have employed instead the studio group The Revelations, a quartet who have perfected a way of ingeniously laying down backing tracks that have the exact same mood and manner of sampled grooves – a curiously roundabout response to copyright problems, but one which works fine here. The only obvious samples are the Clan's signature borrowings from dubbed kung-fu movies, which are littered liberally among the tracks, most effectively on "Laced Cheeba", where the amplified whoosh, whizz and clang of ninja weaponry lends a steely reinforcement to Ghostface Killah's tirade of angry imagery.
Ghostface is the reigning heavyweight among the Clan's rap corps, his four cuts providing the backbone to Legendary Weapons. "We attack like al-Qaeda, black activist/ Nice with the tongue, a verbal type masochist," he asserts over the breathy Arabic duduk flute undulating through the title-track, his stern attitude somewhat punctured later in "Meteor Hammer" when he admits, "I party hard like I'm fresh outta the cages/ Outrageous, like Charlie Sheen out in Vegas". It's this sort of hip-hop dialectic – claiming both revolutionary fervour and hedonist indulgence as one's chosen territory – that makes the Wu-Tang Clan so hard to pin down, though the passing of Ol' Dirty Bastard has rather tipped the balance towards the former. Raekwon and RZA's references to Africa, Iraq and Islam in "Start the Show" may be accompanied by a cacophony of cheering and jazz saxophone, but I'd imagine Legendary Weapons is exactly the kind of thing muslim leaders are thinking of when they disdain popular music. On the other hand, who could object to lines like, "Who got the commonsense/ Stop all the negligence"?
Admittedly, such sentiments are in the minority here. The familiar terrain of dope-dealing covered in Inspectah Deck, U-God and Tre Williams's "Never Feel This Pain" – the closest the album comes to a proper song – now has an added undercurrent of disillusion with Barack Obama lurking among the brooding swells of horns and bluesy guitars. And what are Method Man, Trifer Diesel and Cappadonna trying to suggest when they boast "My niggas carry big guns, your niggas carry books"? Are they commenting on the relative mightiness of pen and sword, or is it simply the kind of dumb boasting they should have outgrown?
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