While Wu-Tang Clan has already solidified themselves as one of the marquee groups in rap, they still have to put in the work. For their seventh album the group still carries the amazing, obtuse production style that’s made them feel unique and fun throughout the years. Occasionally though, the rnge of members on the record leave some songs feeling weaker or less exciting than others, and occasionally moving a little too generic. Between these two factors you have some of their best work in years and most trivial releases sitting side-by-side. This said, with some fun skits and a great sense of commentary throughout, the record is one that shows Wu-Tang can still bring the ruckus.
With their usual mix of goofy samples and hard-hitting beats they start the album with a sense of danger and hint of funk on “Wu-Tang The Saga Continues Intro”, comparing themselves to Buck Rogers in the process. Through “Lesson Learn’d” they deliver a smooth backing track as Inspectah Deck drops some verses that give his Czarface project a run for its money, while also making clever allusions to their unfortunate deal with Martin Shkreli. Ironically slow-paced, “Fast and Furious” finds Hue Hef and Raekwon delivering lines with an ecstatic duet quality as they take turns, play each other’s hype-man and even bring a few harmonies.
“Famous Fighters” breaks up the music a little with one of their classic skits as they send up moody movie dialogue with 70s jazz. Surprisingly chipper, “If Time Is Money (Fly Navigation)” finds Method Man bringing a suave and clever rhyme about wasting time, making the corny sounding sample he’s rapping over work surprisingly well. Method Man keeps the flow going on “Frozen” handing things over to Killa Priest and Chris Rivers, who offer a dark look at our modern state of government and law, while they take a unique attack on their vocal hooks.
Less a skit than a colourfully scored second-hand story, “Berto and the Fiend” finds Ghostface Killah recalling a hilarious fight story, that is just short enough to not feel a little bland for the record. “Pearl Harbor” brings a dark story to match its story but unfortunately even with a packed line up on the track, it’s just too slow and reserved to feel memorable. Redman comes in smoothly as he harmonizes with the passionate sample that introduces “People Say,” quickly offering up troubled childhood and family stories to show the dark sides of what communities are capable of.
“Family” offers up an empowering break about the power of independence, showing how society is still vilifying race. Following suit, “Why, Why, Why” continues the conversation with a more racially focused message, critiquing the police and summing it all up with a soothing but sad vocal hook. With instrumentation emulating child-like innocence, “G’d Up” sheds a light on the harsh side of a gangster lifestyle while feeling like it glorifies it a little too much for 2017.
Streetlife’s aggressive lyricism flies over the tense string arrangements of “If What You Say” as kung fu movie samples play in the back for a generic but dynamic sounding song. For one of the final skits, “Saga” features RZA chronicling the long tale that guided the stories of the album for a much more epic interlude. “Hood Go Bang!” finds Redman bringing heat with a cutting chorus that has a sublime use of sound effects, while Method Man’s flow outweighs his actual lyrics through the verses.
“My Only One” comes in with a little too modern a pop sensibility, making the whole track feel like Wu-Tang is trying to fit into a genre rather than define it. Along one of their warmest samples, “Message!” plays out a father’s story of coming to grips with being a father within the black community and the responsibilities that need to be taken. While carrying the sense of grandeur that earlier skits carried, “The Saga Continues Outro” feels a little redundant, despite the fun superhero name of that RZA drops throughout the song.
Words by Owen Maxwell