“The world won’t get no better if we just let it be.” It is with the spirit of Harold Melvin, that the Wu-Tang Clan returns with a message for A Better Tomorrow. The much anticipated album is the Clan’s sixth studio effort, and has generated substantial buzz dating back to 2012. Prior creative differences between Raekwon and RZA subsided peacefully in May of this year, culminating in the complete nine-man ensemble for recording.
A Better Tomorrow is about self-preservation. RZA has spoken at length about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but philosophically, it’s about more than eating right; perhaps more chiefly, it’s about how to make the best of a bad situation. Each member still raps about their favorite vices, but they also have moments where they spit hard-earned wisdom.
The album flows like a classic Wu-Tang record, with movie dialogue in the form of samples interluding most tracks. Expectedly, the cohesion of the production is praiseworthy. One specific theme would be hard to pinpoint, though there is a very cinematic feel to experience. For instance, in a moment of true artistic ingenuity, RZA samples Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” on the track, “Preacher’s Daughter.” The Springfield song, often associated with the film Pulp Fiction, is the basis for RZA’s homage to Quentin Tarantino. Method Man, Masta Killa, Cappadonna, and Ghostface rap about their respective daughter characters carrying emotional baggage. This, coupled with the beat invariably recalls Uma Thurman’s character in the film.
But this moment is only one facet of the mosaic. When the beats aren’t sample-based, RZA dabbles in guitar and horns to generate everything from street (“Hold The Heater”) to Vegas desert vibes (“Ron O’Neal”). He’s flanked by Mathematics (“40th Street Black / We Will Fight”; “Keep Watch), 4th Disciple (“Miracle”; “Necklace”), and Adrian Young (“Crushed Egos”), who all emulate the Wu-Tang sound without sacrificing what they bring to the table. There are some caveats to this. While “Miracle” is well intentioned, it misses sharply, surrounding the collective in an ooey-gooey afterglow we’ve, perhaps, never quite seen of them before.
Lyrically, the rhymes, though at times outdated and hokey, mostly find their way home. Method Man and Masta Killa lead the way with eleven appearances each, though the others make the most of their time too. Raekwon lays down bars of his patented criminal slang on “Crushed Egos,” while GZA reestablishes his famous “Genius” moniker on “Hold The Heater,” spitting: “The emergence of the earliest atoms / Transform to a level extremely hard to fathom / Same soup, different bowl, Wu ceramics / Same group on them large-scale dynamics.” For fans that seek the classic Wu-Tang sound, the group satisfies most needs. At the same time, the album has something else to offer: worldly wisdom. “Mistaken Identity” is about fighting through rough adversity, while “Never Let Go” samples bits of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The album achieves a successful yin and yang between the long-time Wu sound and RZA’s overall, progressive vision. All in all, the Wu remains palatable. They each have their own skillset they bring to the table, and all of them do so with varying degrees of grit on the album. As such, it truly feels like a coming together, instead of what felt half-hearted on 2007s 8 Diagrams. 21 years later, Wu-Tang clan still “ain’t nothin’ to fuck wit’.”