Of late, Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA has been acting with a single-minded purpose: making a new Wu-Tang album happen, against all odds. He’s already titled it A Better Tomorrow and dropped a couple singles to promote the album; even as projected release dates have come and gone, he’s admitted he’s struggled to get the other eight members in a room together.
Nominally, this would be get us excited. Even though Wu-Tang’s last few collaborative efforts have been mixed affairs, the individual members involved have been firing on all cylinders for several years now. However, there are some very sold reasons this album should not happen at all.
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Raekwon is one of the most talented members of Wu-Tang, and his opinion carries some serious weight when it comes to recording an album. Both he and Ghostface Killah have expressed reluctance to record a new record piloted by RZA, as well as stating their personal dissatisfaction with his recent production work, especially on Wu-Tang’s last album 8 Diagrams.
While Ghost seems to have softened his stance, Chef remains unmoved. In a recent interview, he put his foot down and said flat out he wouldn’t do an album with RZA shaping the direction of the product on his own.
RZA is unbending on his role as the leader of Wu-Tang and the architect of the Wu’s sound. It seems unlikely he would bend to Rae’s will on this, which means it’s unlikely we’d hear much of the Chef on a new record. Ghost’s contributions to A Better Tomorrow have also been described as very minimal.
A Wu-Tang record without Ghost and Rae? What’s the point?
While GZA apparently has no issues contributing, it’s obvious his heart is not in it. His contributions to the recent Wu-Tang singles were mostly weak and unmotivated. His focus has been on his own Dark Matter project for years now, and he even copped to not being able to write given the rowdy environment of the recording sessions for A Better Tomorrow.
Wu-Tang should not do an album if their hearts aren’t in it. That was the issue with early-’00s releases like Iron Flag. Given GZA’s importance to the project, why go through with the record if he cannot commit fully?
So far, Wu-Tang has released a few different songs that were supposed to be on the new album; “Family Reunion” and “Keep Watch” are your fairly standard latter-day RZA productions. That’s fine, but does it make them special? No. They sound very much like the songs the Wu used to toss off for mixtapes and compilations.
If these singles set the tone for a full record, we’re looking at a product that is completely below the standards of the Clan’s longstanding commitment to quality. No new music is better than lackluster new music. If this is going to be done, it needs to be done right. These singles instill little faith. While rap is moving forward in leaps and bound — be it Yeezus, Danny Brown’s Old, Action’s Blue Chips 2 — the sneak peeks we’ve heard from the Wu thus far sound positively dated.
Even worse, Raekwon also chimed in on this subject in the aforementioned interview and slammed “Family Reunion” as a choice for a single. This once again speaks to the lack of passion for this music on the part of the group.
They Have Nothing to Prove
This is maybe the biggest reason not to do it. It’s a situation where Wu-Tang has everything to lose and nothing to gain. While their collaborative recording output has been spotty, it’s been well received on the whole. The individual members have almost all staked huge claims for themselves. The group still regularly draws massive crowds, even when they can’t get all nine members on stage together.
So what’s the point? They’ve got nothing to prove. GZA has said as much, and he’s right. It might be nice to hear some badass new Wu-Tang material, but given the various factors involved, that seems like a highly unlikely possibility.
More likely is the idea that they’ll put out something fractured and mediocre. They’ll denigrate themselves by releasing a weak product which will rapidly be forgotten in the context of their larger legacy. When you look at it that way, is there any reason to risk sullying themselves, or bothering to do this at all?
It’s ultimately hard to tarnish a track record in the long run. No one is ever going to disrespect Jane’s Addiction for those ultimately useless albums they released long after their prime. But in the case of Wu-Tang, it might be better to let it rest than to force something no one needs and, at the end of the day, probably won’t even want once they hear it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 3, 2014