By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
The pinnacle of one of the all-time-great Wu-Tang publicity tours, for last year's 8 Diagrams, was a 12-minute YouTube video in which a despondent, protest-chic Raekwon (dirty white tee, bummy gray skully) could be found practically weeping in the corner of some rundown hotel room. "You can't make me a Soul Brother No. 1," Rae says, looking away from the camera, voice cracking. "RZA's trying to create too much of a orchestra, piano . . . he's trying to do too much of this guitar shit, like he got a guitar on his fucking back . . . He's like a hip-hop hippie right now."
As it happens, that's exactly what RZA is, and has been for a while—a chess- playing, Hollywood-acting, manga-drawing, self-help-book-authoring flower child whose best-of-his-generation ability in front of the boards is equaled only by his utter hopelessness as a rapper. Digi Snacks, his third album as Bobby Digital, erstwhile hedonist and prophet of the Internet age, comes at a time when the onetime Wu-Tang godfather can't even get a Ghostface guest verse. For all the extracurricular drama, it's pretty good. The Clan will surely hear the team of muttering old men and peasant-skirt-sounding, Afro-sporting ladies who grit out the lion's share of Digi Snacks' hooks and be relieved. But most, if not all, of them will also admit—if only late at night and to themselves—that the thing mostly knocks. From the timpani overture of "Digi Snacks Intro" (which erupts into the exact dark, gothic classicism Rae wept for in that hotel room) straight through the "If I Ruled the World" shimmer of "Long Time Coming" and past the woodpecker wood-blocking wind-chime sweep of "Creep," RZA arguably shows up his own 8 Diagrams and its disobedient soldiers, just to show he can.
Sonically, that is. On a mic, RZA's still the same saliva-hocking, self-choking, own-beat-mauling MC, despite the suave alias. Some apparent online chess buddies stop by to rhyme on "Drama" and "Creep"; earlier, the god just throws up his hands on "Straight Up the Block," throws the production to David Banner, and starts speaking in tongues: "La bonbon, très bien. Ça va? Let's get it on." Oui, tout à fait.
Bobby Digital plays Webster Hall July 5