Raekwon The Chef has taken the Wu flag from the Ghostface Killah as the most active and ardent apostle of the Clan. He has mastered the art of the ensemble; fitting together various moving parts to create works that are greater than the sum of their elements. His latest release, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang is a high-speed romp analogous to pulp cinema with action and crisp, guttural lyricism. This time around, his cast includes Lloyd Banks, Nas, Jim Jones, Rick Ross, and of course partner-in-rhyme Tony Starks.
Each song bleeds into the next like scenes, beginning with the opening title cut. Cinematic framing is accomplished with a karate movie intro and urgent strings accented by a higher-pitched Raekwon. Rae’s “Broken Language” flow fits perfectly. “Every Soldier in The Hood” picks up immediately with haunting chants and a digital wave of distortion that runs across the track. Method Man stars, noting “they be calling my flow ill, but still I’m never calling in sick.”
The chase continues with “Silver Rings.” A basic drum is accessorized by pulsing strings and pounced on by Ghostface, disgusted by challengers, referring to them as “lint on a raggedy silk.” Estelle is crooning and Deck is inspecting on “Chop Chop Ninja” which finally allows for a breather. “Butter Knives” ramps up the drama with an organ undercurrent and more film excepts. Rae flies solo on this one, balls to the wall, stunting hard and dropping rugged street rhymes.
The drums from LL’s classic “357” are in play on “Snake Pond,” another solo track. The Chef is in rare form with razor sharp storytelling with stolen check divas, shootouts in Chipotle and under pressure suicides woven into his narrative. Busta Rhymes drops by on the Rain Forest rhythm of “Crain Style,” keeping the mid-tempo speed.
The adrenaline rush of Ghostface and Jim Jones guested “Rock & Roll” is clear highlight of the album. Jones is more than serviceable and Ghost shines on this with a high energy level and superior presence to go with his normal Shaolin slang. “Suck a dick like Karinne Steffans, with Bobby Brown on speed dial.” The allegory between rock stars and crack (hard white rock for the uninitiated), while boorish, is dope as hell. Not to be outdone, Nas delivers two powerful verses on “Rich And Black.” Nas goes from Jackie O’s jewels to the pain of Eddie King, Jr. and Richard Pryor’s pinky ring effortlessly.
Raheem Devaughn does his best Curtis Mayfield impression and Method Man returns on “From The Hills.” While the song doesn’t lend to the movement of the album it’s solid and Meth turns in another strong effort. Lloyd Banks drops a verse perfectly suited to his new raspy delivery on “Last Trip to Scotland.” The slow, sinister “Ferry Boat” and “Dart School” find Raekwon left to his own devices, kicking his regular Shaolin shit.
Trouble, Heataches & Sadness Ann_Peebles_-_Trouble,_Heartaches_&_Sadness
Ann Peebles’ “Trouble heartaches and Sadness, first Wu’d up by the GZA on Shadowboxing is repurposed on “Molasses.” Rick Ross’ husky flow and Ghostface’s wild charisma make this arguably the height of the album. “The Scroll” slows the pace with conga drums and strings on the break with ambient nature noise fleshing out the production. “Masters of Our Faith” brings the album to its dramatic apex with titanic strings and angelic feint chanting and vocals from Winston Churchill. The album comes to a triumphant close with “Wu Chant” which caps the album off cinematically, using “Ecstasy of Gold” from the classic Western, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.
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Shaolin Vs. Wutang is a banging album. There isn’t a weak song on here, however a few of the Raekwon solo efforts do little to further the overall narrative. When you’re aiming for the feel of cinema, that dynamic is important. While those flaws stop the album short of an Oscar, the Wu symbol is still golden all around the globe. This album adds to that sheen.
Out of 5
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