For the quote, unquote real hip hop heads out there, few,
if any albums this year were more anticipated than 8 Diagrams. The once mighty Wu-Tang
have formed like Voltron once in a blue moon over the last decade, and
the results haven’t exactly been mind blowing. It has been nearly 6 years to
the day since Iron Flag, by far the
longest gap between albums. After the lukewarm reception and performance of the
album, and the subsequent years of internal squabbles, more than a few people
are surprised that we’re even getting a new Wu album.

From ’93 to ’96 the crew crafted a legacy that is
virtually without parallel, producing three albums – 36 Chambers, Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords – that are all worthy of top
ten all-time consideration, if not no-brainers. Unfortunately, with such
success comes unreasonably high expectations; both to maintain the quality and
the sound that so often left us with our jaws on the floor. This time around,
the hiatus has only made fans thirstier and the expectations higher. 8 Diagrams will not meet those
expectations in either category – unless you’re fooling yourself because you’re
just so happy to hear the Clan in
the front once again.

Recently amidst a tirade against RZA, Raekwon claimed this isn’t an album anyone wanted to make, it
was an album that RZA wanted to make.
The production is slow, soft and often unremarkable, and the emcees follow suit
and sleep walk through their verses with seemingly little interest. With the
exception of U-God, who sounds
better than he ever has, and Meth
who sounds great, there is little fire being breathed. Rae, Ghost and GZA are
the worst culprits, sounding as if they’d rather be shopping for wally’s.
Thankfully, while the deliveries are rarely inspired the lyrically swords are
still sharp and provide satisfaction for long time Wu fans. The Heart Gently
boasts the LP’s best lyrical performances with Ghost, Rae and Meth
display their storytelling ability. Unfortunately, what was an immaculate song
when it released months ago is now a monstrosity. RZA completely changed the
beat and the new one is barely listenable. Make no mistake; there is still
quality production too. Campfire
starts things off something lovely, a dark and dreary number that is probably
the best song on the album. Rushing
and Windmill are other
standouts, both pumping some much needed adrenaline into the album (though why
is RZA re-using all those samples in
Windmill?). Weak Spot is far from being one, a dope track reminiscent of the
latter half of Forever. Despite a
puzzling absence of Ghost, Life Changes is a great tribute to ODB. Each member gives their
perspective over solemn production that fits the moment beautifully.



Most of the production however, is an entirely different
animal. Clearly inspired by his recent scoring of movies, RZA largely abandons any edge or rawness in favor of flexing his
“musician” muscle. You’ve gotta respect his right to create new sounds, and he
does a decent job, but it just isn’t that great…and certainly not what most of
his fans want to hear. If you’re gonna change up your style, the new one better
be incredible too. RZA didn’t do
that when he went “digital” and he isn’t doing it now. There are moments he
really knocks it out, such as the aforementioned Campfire and Weak Spot. But
there are too many moments that are, well, pretty boring. Get Them Out The Way Pa and Gun
Will Go
are the worst culprits, and both liable to put you to sleep. Unpredictable and Starter aren’t boring, they’re just plain bad. Unpredictable packs a nauseating beat and Starter not only has RZA
re-using drums from Afro Samurai, but
is terribly disjointed with a rancid hook. Shouldn’t Sunlight be closing out the album instead of Tar Pit (since 16th Chamber is a bonus
track)? For real though, and with all dope emcee RZA is getting the only solo track?

It isn’t so much that there are a lot of bad songs on the
album; it is that there is very little that is at all memorable. Five years
from now we’re not going to go back and play songs like Tar Pit, Gun Will Go, Wolves, Get Them Out Ya Way Pa, Take It Back,
etc, etc. Along with the high expectations, it is difficult for Wu to please these days with so many
emcees. They have all got multiple solo albums now with flushed out styles,
personalities and sounds. On 36 Chambers
it was all new and didn’t matter, and Forever
there was enough to go around. These days it is near impossible to get what you
want from any given member from just a handful of 16’s. Ghost, GZA and Deck
particularly just didn’t seem to be the force they usually are. 8 Diagrams was a monumental task
already, and RZA‘s experimental and
relatively boring production didn’t help matters. There was a time where no one
could tailor a beat for a specific artist like the RZA, yet too many songs on this album are in no way played for the strengths
or styles of this group. For most, this is a good album, make no mistake about
it. But for the legendary Wu-Tang Clan,
it’s not very good at all. There is plenty to fuck with here, and there
shouldn’t be.