Sunday, 18 February 2007

Wu-Tang affiliates round-up: Mathematics, Hell Razah

Picture courtesy

2007 looks set to be a make-or-break year for the Wu. It’s the tenth anniversary of their last critically- and commercially-successful statement, ‘Wu-Tang Forever’. The perceived decline in the genre during the intervening period, brought into focus by the ongoing debate over whether ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’, has provided an opportunity for the Wu to reassert their position at the cutting edge. “How can hip hop be dead if Wu-Tang is forever?” RZA recently asked. A year ago, such a statement would have seemed absurdly out of touch. Now it’s a beacon of hope. For every hopeless flop (Method Man, Inspectah Deck, U-God), there’s a success story (Ghostface, Masta Killa). We’ve already had a look at entertaining new work from RZA and ODB, and expectations for Raekwon’s ‘Cuban Linx 2’ and the Wu’s ‘8 Diagram’ are incredibly high for acts suffering from a ten-year creative slump.

Where the Wu go, so their affiliates are bound to follow. MCs such as Killah Priest, alienated by RZA’s lack of support and creative focus, are returning to the fold. Creative rebirth is at the heart of two new releases from Priest’s Black Market Militia co-hort Hell Razah. ‘Back Into The Renaissance’ is a free mixtape, with Razah rhyming over golden age beats from the likes of Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane. He makes the purpose explicit on the first track, copping the James Brown sample that Nas used on ‘Where Are They Now?’ Razah’s thoughtful, deadpan, menacing flow fits well with such an approach. Razah is a lyricist, from the same school of thought as GZA or Killah Priest. Thematically, there’s nothing strikingly new here: violent threats, eastern mysticism, radical politics and dedication to the art. But as an MC he’s (huh) a cut above – rhymes a little more complex, themes explored a little more deeply, punchlines a little wittier than your average. (B+)

The mixtape accompanies Hell Razah’s solo debut, ‘Renaissance Child’. As the title implies, the rebirth of hip hop, of the Wu, and of Razah’s career are dominant themes. Lead single ‘Buried Alive’ seethes with bitterness at years of frustration, aiming threats at various record company executives, but it’s never as witty as GZA’s classic demolition-job: “First of all, who’s you’re A&R? A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?” But as the album progresses, the bitterness gives way to more positive and optimistic aspects of rebirth. ‘Renaissance’ finds Black Market Militia members Timbo King and Tragedy Khadafi, along with RA The Rugged Man, embodying the high points of four decades of black culture: “If I’m not BIG then I’m the closest / I’m Richard Pryor before multiple sclerosis”, tastefully. ‘Project Jazz’, with Kweli and MF Doom is a much more rewarding tale of upbringing in the ghetto than Kweli’s own ‘Happy Home’. Wu affiliation can be seen as a mark of mediocrity, particularly when the group flooded the market with rush-jobs in the late 90s. ‘Renaissance Child’ is a measured, impressive debut that shouldn’t suffer by association with lesser efforts from lesser MCs. (A-)

The same can’t really be said for ‘Mathematics Presents: Wu-Tang and Friends Unreleased’. A hodge-podge compilation reminiscent of ‘The Swarm Volume 1’, this collects so-so remixes from the Wu (‘The W’, ‘Wu Banga’) and its major players (yet more Ghostface, on ‘Maxine’ and ‘Wise’), along with lesser-knowns such as M-Speed, Eyeslow and Hot Flames. Like ‘The Swarm’, there are a couple of standouts – ‘King Toast Queen’ has Theodore Unit soul man Solomon Childs leading an Al Green-style tribute to the ladeez. Shyheim’s two appearances sound impressively menacing, a reminder of his above-average skills. But there’s a lot here that’s pointless or worse: ‘Eggs Hash and Grits’ is the low-point, a misogynistic rant that sets new levels of ignorance. Avoid. (C)

More fun:
Hell Razah – ‘Young, Right & Exact’
Download ‘Back Into The Renaissance’
Buy ‘Renaissance Child’
Buy ‘Unreleased’

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