Since the beginning of Wu-Tang‘s blazing introduction into the world of Hip Hop, the GZA is a member of the esteemed clan who has always sounded otherworldly and light years ahead in the lyrics department. In 1995, he gave obsessive Wu fiends something to brag about with the release of his brilliant second full-length, entitled Liquid Swords. At a time when most rap records were mafioso-minded and/or focused on materialistic pleasure, this particular album contained a masterful display of esoteric knowledge, intellectual lucidity and witty bravado, further influencing the imminent rise of other mysterious Hip Hop icons to come.
After a couple of above-average solo albums, the man otherwise known as the Genius returns to top form in 2008 with his brand spankin’ new LP, Pro Tools. This particular release is surprisingly free of awful gimmicks and untainted by the rise of more dance-oriented rap music that is obviously catchy as hell but sorely lacking in verbal content. In other words, this product is a true reflection of the seasoned veteran’s state of mind and his unflinching desire to raise the bar rather than stay on the sidelines or watch the creative aspects of this art form go down the drain by joining in the “dumbing down” of Hip Hop.
On Pro Tools, the GZA continually upholds the album’s title by injecting his laid-back verses with a nonstop dose of random references, 5% teachings and the wordsmith’s unique storytelling abilities. For example, “Alphabets” is a whirlwind of a track that is reminiscent of the golden days of the Wu-Tang Clan. Furthermore, the skills that are displayed by the G.O.D. throughout the joint makes other articulate rappers who have a similar ability to combine colorful wordplay and street wisdom sound less technical and amateurish. Also, check the utter brilliance of “Path of Destruction.” Over a hypnotic Soul sample, he masterfully breaks down social injustices by utilizing a sad tale as a veil to capture the imagination of the listener. Last but not least, the GZA finds a complementary match in True Master on “Columbian Ties,” with the verbal heavyweight putting forth elusive metaphors and vivid descriptions while his Wu brother provides the chilling hook.
The only low point of the album (if any) is the intelligent rhymesayer’s need to explain himself to those fickle fans who are too stubborn or close-minded to see what he and the rest of the Wu have brought to the genre of rap by discussing the rivalry between him and 50 Cent. On “Interlude,” the Genius talks about an overzealous fan who has tattooed his face with the emblematic Wu-Tang logo and compares the amount of love his clan receives as being genuine compared to G-Unit’s rise in popularity. He furthers the argument with blazing intensity on “Paper Plate” [click to listen]. Although brilliant, the aforementioned song sounds out-of-place because the validation-seeking (i.e., whether it is okay for him to target the more commercially successful group or not) is too hard to miss. Truth be told, this is highly unnecessary and the more astute Hip Hop listeners would be quick to side with the Wu than they will with 50‘s camp, especially when it comes to which of the teams has produced better art thus far.
Many might say that the Wu-Tang Clan no longer captures the hearts, minds and (most of all) creativity of current Hip Hop fans. Fortunately, the GZA‘s new album is a surefire way of dismissing such feeble arguments. Chock full of intelligent musings, creative literary devices and cinematic explication, Pro Tools is a definitely a much needed sonic relief for the more discriminating listener who is sick and tired of hearing mindless rap music permeating the airwaves. Although the talented emcee adds a needless beef with the more commercially-viable Unit that neither validates the Wu‘s crowning achievements nor prove his unmistakable relevance in Hip Hop, the majority of the Genius‘ newest full-length is more than enough proof that, when it comes to the art of rhyming, he “ain’t nothin’ ta fuck wit.”