Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow
A requiem for rappers passing in the night
By Kahron Spearman,
4:20PM, Wed. Dec. 10, 2014
Being an admirer of Staten Island rap collective Wu-Tang Clan feels analogous to the constant rekindling of a relationship. Friends remind you that your time together has long passed expiration, but you fall back into it anyway. Of course, it doesn’t work. Really, what did you expect? Welcome to A Better Tomorrow.
Rick Rubin-assisted “Ruckus in B Minor” begins the Dec. 2 release with the bang of a pump-action pellet gun, GZA’s scientific verse cutting through during the first beat switch. It sets up the listener for RZA’s sonic theme of love action production, better suited to a film soundtrack. Discouragement starts on the very next track, “Felt,” an uninspired faux drum & bass blend.
“40th Street Black/We Will Fight” plays like a high quality demo RZA and Mathematics decided to stop pondering over and left as is. Method Man’s voice, a constant on the album, shines on “Mistaken Identity,” which evolves into an instrumental jam of septic proportions. Raekwon’s solo cut, “Crushing Egos,” appears to be RZA’s peace offering following years of contention over money and production quality.
In fact, Raekwon only appears on cuts fitting of his personal sound. The other members try snapping off on everything with varying degrees of success. Then there’s the general inability of everyone involved to suspend disbelief, as is the case on “Hold the Heater,” wherein RZA laughably claims the group can still keep “rugged” and “raw” over softer-than-Charmin production.
Worst offender, “Preacher’s Daughter” suffers from horrible execution in all directions. That’s in addition to containing the weakest hook on any Wu album after the atrocity of the preceding “Miracle.” Worse still, as with any doomed relationship, some good times are sprinkled in.
The last third of the album, starting with schizophrenic 4th Disciple production “Pioneer the Frontier,” offers what the album should’ve been. Standouts “Necklace” and “Ron O’Neal” would’ve been outstanding support tracks on prior efforts.
Troubles reappear on the title track, with its gross over use of the Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes sample, and continue through the end. The saccharine sweet positivity, for both their longevity and hopeful resolutions of world ills, remain exhibit A in the gruesome wreckage presented the listener. The most appalling attribute of the project, aside from the obvious dysfunction, is that RZA has lost his previously uncanny ear.
Once unstoppable, he’s become rap’s version of cruiserweight Roy Jones Jr., the slower, hittable version of an all-time great. General, and perhaps inevitable, decline also shows on the rest of the clan. In the cases of Ghost and Rae, their disinterest is palpable.
While making the album, Raekwon went public on both RZA’s control issues and the severe lack of production quality, even occasionally boycotting sessions. The outcome proves his apprehension was based in tark reality. Wu-Tang is broken.
A Better Tomorrow isn’t only the sound of people grown apart. It’s the soundtrack for ships passing in the night – from opposite sides of an ocean.