Art on Art. All as a dialogue from one exclamatory brush to my explanatory canvas :
“Peace to the Gods!”
“How you God?”
“Studying 120 right now. Call me back at the God Hour.”
Words then climb off the fingers to reach to man’s deeper instigations— the intentions there in the bristles that reside. The skills infinite just as the Sun is, or as equality zig zag zig through exposed folio, to put supreme limbs and Godhead born. Beyond a chucking intuition but the craft of critique that accompanies the rap animations we get verbatim beat laden. It got the science in it. So knowledge this…
The Wu is a cult for all yet it’s a part of a culture for a certain percentage. In the cult, most See the Universe with Love of the presented Truth. But for those in the culture, what You Really Experience makes it powerful. Culture. When the real glass ceiling to our supremacy isn’t a cracker constriction but the failure to see that the Almighty is that you, the perfect balance of infinite mind and finite physical. So powerfully lived equality is a balanced sum of your knowledge, wisdom and understanding every time. Now some of these Original men came together in the Born Cipher years, through the determined idea of one who was living his Supreme Mathematics and applying understanding to his 120 Lessons.
So A-Alikes combine and nigga shit don’t go away just yet. It gets funneled into chambers that for now coincide with the determined idea. And in 1993, before euros made decisions on our playlists, the realest shit we, the street urchins, chose the works. Every last 36 Chambers song played on the corners. Ascendancy occurred and classic LPS that changed music were released individually with RZA, the man with the determined idea providing the aural foundation. By their second album the history written was lived out. Wu Forever becomes the longest lyrically dense LP of all time. A supreme work of writers writing with complete freedom and only the challenge to greatness was the barrier to building.
But 97’s Forever was too dense and the 85 mostly intrigued by the drum were constantly interrupted by words of thought provoking intrusion. Niggas to Gods is the hardest and most profound Art theme to achieve but niggas hate. By 2000, the comets fizzled and y2k was just another rebooting. The A-Alikes had left the determined idea to born success their own way. But knowledge is an idea of truth to be applied usefully. That wisdom then leads to a revelation of purpose. Wu-tang at a junction so what’ll be the function? 2000’s The W gets made and less like it though they give much less depth in the lyrics. And RZA sought to merge his digital melodies with analog sampling chaos while 2001’s Iron Flag lyrically remained as content reduced as The W and the solos that spawned since. Still, the most talented collective of charismatic and technically gifted MCS left losing to their former freedom in complex ideas.
What is culture without the freedom? A fragmented Wu trying to free themselves from the determined idea all while they develop MC realities so distinct even a double LP couldn’t hold. RZA is Hip Hop’s Miles Davis, a musician and composer who has already gone through many self-created styles. From changing the sample from not just being for drums, horns or a looping of catchy portions but a capture of that Soul etched in the acetate. Then from analog to digital, his samples lengthen and keyboards assemble in mass to orchestrate Bobby Digital. Films on wax draw up directors and RZA conducts Ghostdog classically and Afro Samurai cleverly. Scened out of these films come 8 Diagrams where progressions and Rock passages are an indulgence. Off camera dramas are no longer the parliaments of building, adding on with 120 degrees and mathematical sees but the handling of fees and top tier keys. The game got fake since the gays been revealed. Payola take to soft ways are no longer concealed.
The capturing of the Wu at any select moment is a task that is nearly impossible. To get all the elevation and the dissolution of nine brothers in an hour of songs. It isn’t as simple as a Sade album blessing all intimate moments once every decade. The leader, that Abbot, The RZA, refuses to recreate prior sounds because he knows it cannot be so simple. The Wu are distinct personalities so the simplistic charge of 36Chambers is awkward and would be blatantly derivative. The best Wu, the Forever era, is past as the Wu MCS disallowed deep “scientific” since making The W. And the Wu’s greatest unifying theme–the Knowledge of Self–is no longer presented in poetically archaic abstract prose as they once did. Some of them went Muslim and a unified mystery of orthodox Islam is nowhere near the mathematical biochemical slang proofs of the Original man being the maker and the owner.
The dissolution is brutal. The RZA makes too much money producing, the MCs have all misstepped artistically since their 5 year plan, except Ghostface, and all have suffered monetarily if the Abbot is the model. So instead of an album that is a photo shopped of today RZA strives for a better tomorrow. RZA has evolved the most. He went savage wax on Bobby Digital confusing the hell out of my older Gods and my ethnomusicological build didn’t mean anything. “The God wearing the cross and our Universal flag confusing. Talking bout the cross some North, East, West, South shit. Now cipher! ” Word, but I’m saying it’s him before he got knowledge. Damn digi-blunts.
Musically, the RZA becomes Miles Davis, goes alone just like Willie Colon in ’79 and forgets their ideas of a song just like avant garde John Coltrane. Miles Davis made the most beautiful music in the mid to late 50’s, elegance and depth that one could live stranded with your Earth on a deserted island with and repopulate the world cipher with. But he extended the formats again, broadened his obsession into one fold, the Funk, and the purest of Jazzmen fronted. Even Miles would rather his later music be out of the entire genre label of Jazz. From his early Cool Jazz to that all time classic Kind of Blue of modal Jazz creation, he went Rock Jazz Bitches Brew to wild Funk On The Corner. And RZA runs similar miles as well.
’98’s Bobby Digital in Stereo left RZA’s basic breakbeat use and went with longer sample melodies over countless keyboards. He still merged it with his classic Wu Chaos Soul’d sound with the classic Ghostdog score and the very underrated The Sting (2002). With Digital Bullet (2002), RZA was finally mastering a use of progressive drum sequences and unique snares, kicks and bass drums. There is a balance of digital and analog but the MCing content, if the supremacy of RZA’s depth on Wu Forever and the Gravediggaz’ The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel is the prototype, is now becoming immensely diluted. There are jewels as “A Day to God is 1,000 Years” or “The Birth” but the entire underground don’t build no more. The sentiments of a new Hip Hop fan base in the ‘00’s only obsesses over the idea of the ‘90’s but their choices are mainly watered wigger wimps. So the advance of the music seems not worth it if the MCing is the collateral damage. And all the Wu MCs gets less lyrical though their verse layering becomes concentrated in style, charisma and subject concentration. Like Raekwon, who never loses the encrusted slang and intriguing exoticness in his references but the broad range builds of Immobilarity become the intense spotlight reprise of crack rock with Cuban Linx II. Ghostface Killah, with 2000’s Supreme Clientele, advances Hip Hop lyricism with his abstract poetics merged with concept songs through a charisma of Soulman sensibility and rugged street builder, will also leave some of the techs behind. With a catalog that easily puts him as a GOAT choice, Ghostface’s albums increase their excellent concepts and storytelling while his character becomes indispensable to the music. Still, he’s the first MC in Wu to blatantly hail Allah as a mystery. So crucial because this discordance makes the unity of 97’s Forever and certainly 93’s 36 virtually impossible. This goes unnoticed because the depth of their verses is far gone. Differences between being “God’s son” and being “The God” are far more indistinguishable.
But knowledge of self is every man’s choice to study, to continue to learn and absolutely to continue to be Allah, himself. If RZA put them under that banner, he and all of them, as living beings, still will have to decide if they are the true and living. Throughout, GZA and Ghostface are the most consistent beat pickers of pure Boom Bap and the Soul’d Wu grit sound, respectively. As the other MCs get simpler, GZA gets more and more complex, becoming an essayist on drums. His use of metaphor extends past a few bars or an occasional song but revisiting itself an entire album as with the 2005 classic Grandmasters with DJ Muggs. Ghostface’s depth is thrown into concepts and Fishscale, Ghostdeini, Twelve Reasons to Die and 36 Seasons are immaculately filled with them. RZA’s lyric depth turns to his brilliant Tao of Wu autobio as he builds on the knowledge of self sincerely with massive justifications to become a true composer.
It’s these strings of orchestras and everything that does sound disgusting in Hip Hop we worry about. Strings that are bourgeoisie and ought not to be played but disrespectfully sampled and chopped. Like a proper “Fuck You! You shouldn’t have let us learn you!” crate flip. Or that overuse of the stabbing and irritating lack of rhythm that angst ridden Rock has that can steal from a true Hip Hop song of chaos RZA mastered. Born Universal Truth, RZA learns and learns. The Kung Fu samples couldn’t just be used. He had to learn the glorious Martial Way. That knowledge of self had to extend as we learn from 120 to everything using our Mathematics as the natural tool. Now, til no end, the ancient sages Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius are unscrolled by RZA as well as texts as the Book of Changes from the reign of King Xuan of Zhou. Off me bling through I Ching, always against the grain, RZA has constantly composed under themes of Supreme Mathematics and laws of balanced Qi.
Now the compositions are there. In 2007, that damned 8 Diagrams, you could hear them there when he hit basslines perfectly deep as “Get Them Out The Way Pa,” the cryptic Soul on “Campfire,” or the tough horns on “Rushing Elephants.” Still the composer excitement has him overproduce with the sloppy rock of “Unpredictable,” reuse of his own illness with a horrible lyric concept for “Starter” and the unacceptable try—honor a sample so much it becomes a weak remake that won’t mold rugged (“The Heart Gently Weeps”). It’s all in the Tao with RZA. In making Hip Hop, his vast learning is a yang component that yins up his output because he is unlearning what he does so naturally. Naturally bring the fucking chaotic ruckus, that “organized konfusion” he himself noted as Prince Po once visited his basement to do the knowledge to.
A Better Tomorrow isn’t supposed to be the end just as 8 Diagrams wasn’t. It just appears that way despite Ghostface noting he was really waiting for the next LP they smash samples again. For now, RZA forces the future and A Better Tomorrow is a history he wrote on these tracks. The MCs are his tools and instead of giving us a production style of just drawing out their best techniques, he challenges them to themes throughout. The major Wu principles I once named as the lyrical expression of the Knowledge of Self, United Brotherhood and the Soul of Sound are all compromised. The RZA is in the next chamber working to bring them back elevated. All the while the other Wu MCs to most listeners are left running like San Te asking for the more simple Kung Fu of strikes and blows.
When we hear Masta Killa build on the title track, “God is not a mystery…I’m G-O-D…” while Ghostface alluringly wanes, “Allah let me lay in your arms/Hold me like a newborn/ sing to me the most sweetest song/The exalted, the most benevolent/The knower of all, keep me safe ’till I return back to your residence…” on “Miracle” then the A-Alike unity is compromised. Not the talent nor the execution but that unified essence that the Gods are coming through is slightly off. Again, this doesn’t spell doom as brotherhood is shared in unified idea or cohesive tolerance but the friction RZA receives proves the latter is not there here. The more yang Ghost and Rae get in their coke bars the more yin RZA resurrects with his musical koans so many are having trouble understanding. Without that Knowledge of Self an overt driving force with all, their united brotherhood vastly compromised by the financial imbalances, varying spiritual focuses all falling into a soundclash of epic proportions.
As with 8 Diagrams, RZA experiments fail for simple reasons repeated through A Better Tomorrow. When he tries to gain the respect of composer peers he overproduces the crate he seeks to honor. The entire extended Blues of “Preacher’s Daughter” is groove laden, highlights ill reverberated drum pounds, horns itself emphatically but the chorus is stingy in interpolation and adds ‘daughter’ over ‘son’ whose extra vowel, along with RZA’s absolutely rigid vocalizing, frustrate an ill track. RZA also falters on many of the choruses. For the clan that invented ‘C.r.e.a.m.,’ there shouldn’t be any use of the word ‘cheddar’ on a chorus. Yet, “Ron ONeal” with the piano pounds, guitar plucks, background wails and excellent drum break, is infected with the cheesiest chorus. It isn’t the presence of sung chorus vocals but RZA seems to offer commercial appeal through the chorus lyrics that mar “Keep Watch” and its powerfully deep booming 808 bass drums and the drumline ruggedness achieved on “40th Street Black/We Will Fight.” There are also choruses that for a legend as RZA, the producer with the most classic albums produced in history, that reveal crate digging laziness. The title track with Teddy P and the O’Jays on “Wu-Tang Reunion” are some of the easiest samples to find and despite excellent utilization for the themes presented must leave disappointment. These lifted choruses make progressive tracks hard to study even for those only intrigued by the drum. Unfortunately, the deeper listening for the greatness of this production is needed.
A Better Tomorrow is RZA’s monumental vision of a thematic album with 8 other MCs. His live composing is etched powerfully and his track progressions and arrangements change the way we listen to a Hip Hop song. Classically, Hip Hop offers a consistency of break pattern we need to engage heavy lyric content without being overwhelmed. With ABT, the arrangements fluctuate to the MC bars and said choruses as well as containing variations on melodies and measures as the rhyme goes on. The bridges are not instrumental isolations or a scratch highlight but often a chosen verse. Thus, one has to listen to the music the way you would the lyrics. Just as the only guide is that the MC will rhyme, here RZA will eventually double the drum to make a consistent breakbeat, one that he may eventually envelope, discard or destroy with the next verse.
The simplest illness as “Crushed Egos” with a heavy high hat loudly keeping Raekwon’s time has rolling drum rolls, guitar riffing and organ wails that live and breathe like an amplified Jimmy Smith cut. “Ruckus in B Minor” and “Mistaken Identity” is the most overt display of it all as each verse has the dynamic measures that bring the composed chaos RZA is seeking. They aren’t simple beat changes as the verses continue to share the melodic elements of the core track. So as Raekwon goes acapella on “Ruckus” over a reprise of the organ or the “Mistaken” bassline will turn into a Funkadelic guitar for Method Man or dancing keys for U-God, the tracks becomes a study in the Funk. The quality of these tracks have been so easily dismissed but the power of the bassdrum and snare pairing on “Hold the Heater” is a typical Boom Bap track done anew while the piano statement and muted horn over drumroll patterns of “Never Let Go” are filled with their own incredible syllables.
Now, with all the strife, RZA works the MCs through challenges for much more better than worse. RZA is almost demanding their depth back in general spiritual fortitude if not scientific, complex insight. It draws out what will be one of Raekwon’s most remembered verses of all time in the title track. That Raekwon can build socio-politically with very little slang or expert word coats is a rare sight to knowledge. So as Masta Killa gives the perfect verse representing all that the 5% Nation of Gods and Earths is about and teaches (“Allah said to save the babies from the cold/Pour wisdom in the cup so the truth overflows/Still, knowledge is that bread that keeps us well-fed/Old time religion will not bring us satisfaction/Without action now who can disagree with me?/God is not a mystery, there’s nowhere in history/That you could show and prove to me/But still you face east and nod your head to me religiously/I’m G-O-D, to infinity, for real…”), Raekwon adds on a verse that defines this year’s peoples’ rebellion against police brutality (“We want justice, police supposed to protect and serve/And then they shoot us down like wild animals/The nerve of them cold-hearted killers/With blue suits slaying our black youth/The earth cries from all the blood that’s being spilled…”). The incredible title track isn’t the only MCing moment on ABT.
When the press is bad from the bullshit critic to the self-deprecating Wu MC themselves one may not notice that there is powerful mic skill sets being displayed. Raekwon, always the most prolific MC on Wu LPs, his five verses are exceptional with the aforementioned build, his battle bars are filled with debonair cleverness (“Well groomed and elegant posture is real dapper/Status is gigantic, culture’s alpaca/Meetings in the Vatican, drinkin’ scotch with the Muscle Milk…” – “Crushed Egos”) rugged posturing (“Jewelry truckin’ fancy spend stacks upon Delancey/Exhaust pipes coughing horse kicks” – “Necklace”) or the details are in his cokeline stories (“Miracle”) and his triumphant verse (“We live free and achieve more/But first we gotta win with no stale mate/The all eye seeing is victorious…” – “Ruckus”) is noted ill. GZA’s, possibly the GOAT lyricist, has had his verses dismissed as mere cosmology darts are really profound metaphors that give an epic aura to every track he scribes through. Every stanza magnifies the metaphor but also has a composed beauty that revives the best literature the Wu has ever had. On “Hold the Heater” he describes the intent of today’s Wu perfectly with “Same soup, different bowl, Wu ceramics/Same group on them large-scale dynamics/A wave triggered the burst, glass was shattered/Galactic matter served on a graphic platter.” The one MC that continues to excel under any endeavor is Meth. Equally dynamic in Rza’s assignments (“ABT“) or the west (“Keep Watch”) or east side (“Ron O’Neal”) of the Funk, his slang embraces today’s trappers even as it bombs them to pull their pants, the youngest older G in the Clan. When RZA’s ideas seem too preachy Meth saves the track and his liveliness makes ABT just as he does the Wu on stage. A master of fluctuation who never leaves the pocket of the break he gives confidence to RZA tracks that are filled with aural obstacles listeners can enjoy but MCs can stumble on. Still, with the GOAT level Ghostface Killah giving just strong rudimentary battle bars excepting the emotionally powerful commentary (“As time went through the ages it got worse/Sicknesses, beheadings in Syria/Ebola’s killin’ my people, it’s gettin’ scarier/Most foods ain’t even real, the chip is here/Deadly fluids bein’ released, contracted through air…”) of “Miracle,” and the ill flamboyant bars of “Necklace,” it is the supreme efforts of Masta Killa offering a rugged palate of Knowledge of Self through ten features that stabilize the LP. The God Jamel Arief achieves concept rhymes on “Felt” to scene painting on “Miracle” to the sharp charging verse closing “Pioneer the Frontier” or ushering in “Never Let Go.” Masta exemplifies the worth of this LP’s long term burn. A subtle MC who stays in the slow mid tempo, his value is in the quality of his ideas and the depth of his word choices (“my God sense keen/I noticed that his normal firm handshake shook/It wasn’t steady when he squeezed”). An LP so experimental and so shunned prior, during and immediately after release is oddly anchored by the most unnoticed MC in the entire clan. In time, Masta Killa’s performance will be acknowledged as a highlight that merits entire play of this art project.
For many of the Wu MCs, they perform to their expected measure or slightly below. Like Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck’s verses on RZA’s stated themes are strong from the details on “MistakenIdentity” (“Give the witness an unexpected visit/Make his story change like walls blockin’ his vision/Couldn’t give a clear description/ fearing the repercussions…”) or “Miracle” yet he often bails out on bars with simple similes. U-God is an MC who excels best when his chopped flow is layered in shortened phrases as on “Ruckus” (“The most duplicated/anticipated/validated/Urban legends in the books with the ones who made it/Highly celebrated/ everything was work related…”). Cappadonna, on the other hand, almost refuses syllable syncopation and his verses sound like free form trash talking. When he does rhyme, the highlights are in word choices and is another MC who benefitted from RZA’s focused themes as on the title track (“Poor reparations/ the Bush administration/Unequality, martial law, segregation/False hood, false teaching, false education/Now’s the time for us to come amongst this nation…” – “ABT”). Unfortunately, U and Cappa’s mass appearances take too much pressure with all the media negativity and three of the greatest MCs of all time, GZA, Ghost and Rae, used half as much.
To merge the musical progressions and arrangements with the use of the MCs, the RZA’s hard work here cannot be understated. The classic Wu Sound, that chaotic Soul’d Sound of menacing dominance has been broken down and interpolated into this work. Arrangements on “Ruckus” to “Mistaken,” to the oft kilter high hat ticking and drum-n-bass tempo of “Felt” the chaos is experimented on as an actual technique. As a definitive musical idea it is worked into “Miracle,” with a deliberate crescendo of yin to yang for effect. It begins with the most lush and lovely singers harmonizing hoped-for-goodness (“If a miracle, could save us from/The travesty, that we’ve become/If a million sons would stand as one/We will overcome…”). So yin it challenges the listener where its beauty cannot be denied but its placement shocks. All to then have a long snare and a massively sinister bass horn explode through. As trinkets of strings battle between sunshine and decay, Inspectah Deck’s verse dives in, “The whole world trippin’, listen it’s still a cold world/The other day I had to bury my homegirl…” RZA’s gift for laying tracks over tracks cannot be appreciated with a cursory listen as they are overwhelming. It is the core of his chaotic blend from 95’s “Glaciers of Ice” to “Pioneer the Frontier.” The menace fluctuates in the basslines of “Necklace” and “Pioneer” to the triumphant horns of dominance on “Never Let Go” and the organs of “Crushed Egos.” What must be missing is the grittiness that can only be sampled. The major samples here for the title track and “Reunion” are honorary remakes but not lost capsules of the past, dusted off and salvaged. The crisp clean of this record is the new direction from the live sound’s crispness to the lyric themes that eliminate some of the arcane essence of Wu’s stream of conscious unpredictability. It alters some of that classic sound but holds to many of its core ideas.
Ultimately, RZA is today’s Miles Davis and seeks to use his players to create his vision. However, Hip Hop will also need RZA to craft beats that draw out the best of the MCs themselves. In their classic 93-97 period this band of MCs allowed him both. However, unlike Miles Davis, who changed his band often, RZA will have to appease these players, the best large collective of MCs ever assembled. A Better Tomorrow has an incredible cohesion as a thematic project of RZA’s burgeoning and still maturing composer skill. It will be appreciated more in time as RZA has directed a community album for the future of humanity, an ideal that is absurdly profound yet must be eventually endeavored.
Now at the God hour you declare, ‘the truth I mastered equally has allowed a reaffirmation of rejuvenation.’ Works of a cult embedded a culture and now A Better Tomorrow is an appointment to see the history of supremacy we can right. To get there, you’ll need as much daring as RZA composes this message score.