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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wu-Tang's "Iron Flag" - 10 years later

 By the late '90s the once kings of hip-hop, Wu-Tang Clan, were not as attractive to the public anymore; while all nine generals was of course still great rhymers in their own right, it was the production they chosed to rhyme over that made the people's interest in their music decline. Their original producer RZA was the one who had created the Wu sound and helped the emcees create their timeless solo albums in the mid-'90s that in a way played more like Clan LPs than solo joints.After the release of the brilliant Wu-Tang Forever", RZA took a backseat from production; only lacing one to four tracks on each of the generals second solo LP:s and while they still put out entertaining music with great displays of top class lyricism, the lack of The Abbot's involvement was impoisslbe to overlook. In 2000, however, all the rappers and their original producer reunited for Loud Records and dropped the group  album "The W". A somewhat overlooked album, it was a great project that brought back the old school Wu soundwith a modern twist that should have satisfied long time fans as well as getting them some new ones in the process.The lyrical content was much more stripped down from the hardcore,  slanged out goodies heard on its predecssesor. The album spawned two singles, whereas one is prorbably to the #1 popular Wu tune of all time -  "Gravel Pit". Besides the hook it's got a heavy bass line, booming drums and well put together sample and was an exercise in lyricism.

Only a year later, Steve Rifkind's Loud Records (The Clan's home for almost ten years at the time), was trying everything he could as the label had become a shipping ship. This meant that only about eight or nine momths after "The W" another Wu-Tang Clan album was recorded and released, "Iron Flag", possibly as a favor to Rifkind. The album featured many vintage Wu sounding heaters but as a project it sounded rushed and in parts unfinished although it did manage to sell gold. But on the other hand, it's a Wu-Tang Clan album mainly produced by RZA and features all new verses from some of the best rhymeslingers in New York. In other words it's adefinite listem for any Wu head fiending for some new material, and it does of course have some outstanding moments. Since it's exactly a decade since the album was released and Wu-Tang Clan has been my favorite crew for more than fifteen years I wanted to do a track-by-track breakdown of the LP. It will be a long post so bare with me if you're interested, if not feel free to skip it altogether.

THE ALBUM
The album starts with a brief, and rather neat, freestyle into by The RZA dropping some hilarious lines before the first track "In The Hood" kicks in. It's boombastic ragga-hip-hop monster where Streetlife, Masta Killa and Ispectah Deck all drop impressive verses about the struggles of growing up in a ruff hood and how you always gotta be prepared  for the wost with lines like "the illest drugdealer on the blog is a cop" to name one. Suga Bang comes through between verses kicking his typical ragga ridim over the pounding productions that's filled with baby screams, blowing grenades and so forth. All in all, a great opener!

This is followed by "Rules", an Allah Mathematics joint that I didn't give much thought abut at first but is one that has really grown on me over the years. Math chops up a few bars as the main loop but he incorporates at least five or six samples on this complete with cuts, guitars, horns and James Brown vocals and all this together is enough to really make this one a winner. Most of the Clan appears on this record as well, including Streetlife who goes back-to-back with Meth and two impressive verses. Another stand-out verse comes courtesy of Ghostface Killah who talks up about the recent Twin Towers destruction. It comes off as a bit cheesy but at the same time I'm glad he touches on the subject although it could have been done in a much more fitting way.

"Chrome Weels" is the first joint on the album that shows that parts of "Iron Flag" uses songs not originally recorded for this Clan album, but rather songs that didn't fit earlier solo project. "Chrome Wheels" is a synthesizer heavy track with Prodigal Sunn, Madame Scheez, 12 O'Clock, Prodigal Sunn and RZA in his Bobby Digital persona. An eight bar verse from Raekwon The Chef is also here but I'm willing to bet that's something that has been added later to make it more Wu.. This is clearly an outtake from Bobby Digital's "Digital Bullet" but at least a nice thump to it. The real question here is if his really fits in on s Wu-Tang Clan album.

"Soul Power (Black Jungle)" is a song that I believe is RZA's homage to the early '80s hip-hop records he grew up on where songs were mainly guys rapping over drums and beats. If the execution is right then something like this that can be a really sick concept, but for some reason RZA loops the sample one bar before the drum and bass pattern even completes a sentence making it sound like an unfinished demo. Shame though since it features most of the emcees and they all do have plenty of quotables. Another homage to the '80s is the inclusion of Flavor Flav. Although he's not rhyming or doing any ad-libs, he has a long and hilarious conversation with Method Man at the closing of the song.

"UZI (Pinky Ring)" Aaah, back to basics; this is a really sick track that perfectly captures what The Wu-Tang Clan is about. RZA cooks up a funky, horn driven, beat heavy composition that has all the eight members dropping some impressive verses (ODB was in prison at the time and could not participate). A sample of legendary jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson  gives The Abbot's production an extra drive with the trumphant horn and with solid verses from U-God, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, RZA and Method Man. My two favorite verses on "Uzi" comes from GZA/Genius and The Ghostface Killah who are also two of my favorite rappers of all time. Like every Clan album, a posse cut is obvious and this is hardly no exception o that rule. Very good choice for the video to (see above)!

"One Of Those Days"
I dont know what this song is doing here to be honest. The RZA is clearly one of the most innovative producers of our time, True Master, 4th and Mathematics are great too and if he wants to go outside the box why not get Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Premier, Q-Tip, or someone along those lines. The beatmaker for this track is Nick "Fury" Loftin which makes absolutely no sense. The track is not horrible but it's an average joint, it has some nice soul elements but as a whole it doesn't ft with the rest of the album at all. On top of that, U-God drops a horrendous verse over this with quotables like "I ain't no dummy!". Well, nuff said! 

"Y'All Been Warned" - Had True Master been a more prolific producer through the years it would suprise me if he often occassionally wasn't mentioned among the greatest. "Y'All Been Warned" is a prime example of his unique style and talent. The marching drums are progressively moving forward, it's dark and giritty as hell and the way he picks and chops up samples are out of this world. This is what we want to hear Wu-Tang records to sound like! The four emcees appearing on here sounds energized by the hard backdrop with each rapper coming off as the lyrical monster he truly is; even inspiring Raekwon to drop the infamous line "we're like nine Bin Ladens". This was of course backmasked on the actual retail considering that this was released in December 2001 and all.

"Babies" - RZA are great at creating moody and introspective beats and some of the generals share a similiar quality; mainly Raekwon, Ghostface and GZA/Genius. There's no coincidence that these are the tree emcees who here weaves together three different street tales. Ghost paints a picture about a crooked police officer in the hood who have no respect for the people around him, even going so far as to kill suspects; Raekwon's tale is about a young drug-using girl who gets caught up in some serious trouble, accidentally killing a cop and is sentended to life; GZA's take's a little different stand; talking about a boy caught up in the wrong business but also gives a message to all the kids with similair problems out there. RZA's trumpet, live instrumentation and heartfelt chorus by Madame Scheez gives the song an extra quality; in fact making it one of the best Wu songs in a long time.An iinteresting fact is that Ramsey Jones (ODB's brother) play live drums on this,

"Radioactive" - This was originally a song recored for Masta Killa's "No Said Date" but as the team player he is, he instead gave it to his team for the album. Many heads say this is the most Wu-Tang sounding joint on the entire album but I was never a big fan of it. The production doesn't do anything for me as it's too repetitive and non-saying and Masta Killa spits one of the weakest verse I've heard from him and on top of that Method Man actually quotes "N'Sync?!? What the fuck.... Its not a bad song but it is an average track in my humble opinione.

"Back in the Game" - Alot of heads were outraged when they first heard that The Trackmasters was supposed to produce on the new Wu-Tang Clan album but the fact is that the joint sounds alot more like a Wu beat than one of Poke & Tone. There's plenty of Kung Fu flick samples, banging drums and percussion and an án addictive piano loop that really works. Ron Isley on the hook is another plus as he really adds some flavor to the joint. Lyrically the Clansmen spit fire too, especially GZA, who compare rhyming to a game of chess, and Ghostface Killah, who take shots at biters in the game with hilarious line like "Now everybody wanna change their name, like 'What you call yourself; I'm a fasionabe´le james¨- 'I'm fashionable James". That shit gets me every time haha!! Overall a great song; why this wasn't a single is beyond me though.

"Iron Flag" - Without a question the illest song on the entire LP, RZA re-uses one of his beats from the "World According to RZA" sessions which is only right. Boom Bap drums, addictive strings, a sped-up vocal sample and some ill scratches - THIS right here is WU-TANG. If you call yourself a Wu fan and were dissapointed in this you'd better off finding another group. My only complaint is that it could have had more emcees on it but Raekwon, Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck all do a great job at killing this hardcore jam. Rumor has it that this was actually an old unreleased song from around '97 or '98 that was originally made for Cappadonna's debut but got lost in translation somehow only to be found years later and included on "Iron Flag". Whether that is true or not, the title track to Wu's sixth album is one of their illest joints this side of the new millenium. Period!

"Dashing (Reasons)" - So we've now come to the end of the album and the last song on the actual official US edition of "Iron Flag" and it's, not suprisingly, anther RZA production. It's more of that digitized synthesizer sound of the sophomore Bobby Digital album but does not feature a RZA verse so whether or not this was a "Digital Bullet" outtake is discussable. The bass pattern are extremely similiar to "Jingle Bells" which has´to be a "fist for a hip-hop joint". If you can ignore the bass it's actually a pretty dope track with gritty drums and a rather cool xyleophone melody that drops in and out at times, The two rappers featured are two of Wu-Tang's best; Rebel INS and The Genius who both absoluely kills it. Deck flows like their no tomorrow while GZA comes off more calm but lyrically he obviously kicks an equally superb verse.

FINAL VERDICT
There's also the European bonus track, "The W" which will please fans who we heard an unfinished snippet off between two tracks on the previous album, It has a memorable string-driven producion with verses by Raekwon, Mehod Mank, GZA and U-God who really closes the album on a good note. To make the album better other tracks recorded around the same time should have been included in favor of weaker songs like "One Of Those Days" and "Soul Power". I'm mainly talking about "Spotlite" which is a certified Wu banger produced by Maethmatics that's alot better than the two songs mentioned above; the same goes for the True Master laced "What You In Fo'" that appeared on the OZ: Soundtrack in 2001 which easily could replace the out-of-place "One Of Those Days" and also "The W".could have been added on the US retail. It's only two or three tracks but by replacing them with two-three stronger trackks the overall album would've been damn good all the way through.. As it is now, "Iron Flag" is a good album but considering how dope the other Clan albums are  I still think this is their weakest and if I had to rate it, I would probably give it a rating of 3.5 out of 5.

2 comments:

  1. great job...
    i wanna see more reviews like this...


    peace from Brazil.

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  2. thanks, cool you like the review!
    it takes some time to write articles like this and the Miles Davis piece so i can only do these things when i find the time but you can definitely expect more stuff like this is a near future!

    keep checking the blog my man and please spread the word!

    peace

    ReplyDelete