Masta Killa has been cursed with being last when it comes to his career as a rapper. The final member to join the Wu-Tang Clan in 1993, Killa had only one verse—at the end of the song “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”—on their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, due to his incarceration during the recording process. He was the also the last of his Wu-Tang brethren to cultivate his interest in rapping and lyricism. This left fellow member GZA to mentor Killa to be a certified wordsmith. And after 11 years together, which included four group albums and 28 solo efforts, Killa was the last to release his debut album No Said Date in 2004, deliberately pacing himself to watch his associates’ moves.
“I’ve been entertained with my family just as the world was. I was part of eight multi-talented brothers, the last 14, 15 years. My album wasn’t even needed,” he says. “But on every album, whoever’s album, I was around. You heard my rhymes.” With the release of Made in Brooklyn, Killa may once again be labeled as “the last” of the Clan, delivering his second album long after the rest of his former bandmates. But in an effort to break from this title, he is refocusing the public’s perception of him as a musical afterthought by valuing the quality of his work over the quantity, a vice that affects some of his associates. Among his Wu family, Killa is often cast off as forgettable with his laid-back flow and shape-shifting delivery, but as a solo artist, his lyrical wizardry paired with pulpy soul beats allows his true character to gleam.
No Said Date became a milestone in the Wu era upon its release, with a grainy sound and idyllic lyric twisting that reverted back to the underpinning of the Clan’s signature musical breed. As a result, Killa became prominent among his successful Wu brothers, giving critics and fans hope that the Wu sound had not been washed out after a string of uncharacteristic releases. But despite keeping the album from the public for such an extended period of time, Killa remained unaware as to the reason behind its strong response. “Maybe people thought the Masta Killa album would never happen, and maybe there was a surprise thing because people really never thought Masta Killa had that type of talent,” he reflects. “Maybe they thought Masta Killa couldn’t even have what it takes to be a solo artist. There’s so many different things that people could have been thinking, but the reception was very warm, and I appreciate that.”
In an effort to sustain the public’s interest, Killa adopted the same musical formula that made his debut a success while recording, Made in Brooklyn. With contributing production from MF Doom, Pete Rock and Bronze Nazareth, the album is a gritty collection of street tracks that showcase Killa’s Brooklyn mentality and lyrical depth. The album also features every member of the Wu-Tang Clan (with the exception of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard), and covers subjects as lightheartedly fickle as marijuana use and womanizing to those as serious as lynching and murder. The album is loaded with diversity, but stands more as a sequel to his previous endeavor, sacrificing growth for musical consistency. “The first one, I was a student to everything as well as the fans, as far as writing rhymes, putting an album together, learning the business side… everything,” he states. “So I just basically added a bit more to the menu, but the ground basis is the same and has the same support from my family.”
Killa begins his album with “Then and Now”, a bridge between No Said Date and the record at hand. The track provides a glimpse into the posterity of hip-hop by featuring Killa’s two nephews Prince and Kareem and son Shamel laying down verses. A sequel to “The Future” skit on Killa’s debut, “Then and Now” is doused with surprisingly hard-hitting rhymes and pallid horn lulls, but the mere shock of such youthful skill sets the “no frills” attitude of Made in Brooklyn. “I chose them to show the development of the young, and they love hip-hop also, and they’re determined to do it,” he reveals. “I was like ‘Oh shit! I like that!’”
In comparison to the album’s introduction, the rest flows like a perpetual head nod to the foundation of the Wu-Tang sound. On Made in Brooklyn, Killa infuses a plethora of pseudo-violent imagery and pairs it with straight-faced lyrictricity, like on the slow-rolling “Nehanda and Cream,” a track that spins a sample from Gladys Knight’s “And This Is Love” and coaxes it into a paced jam. On the track, Killa spits “You rollin’ with the live from Brooklyn, it’s the squad / Hard-hittin, face-slittin’, gun-totin’ / They let them niggas in the party? / Damn, they gon’ fuck it up / Brothers ain’t the brothers, it’s just how we came up,” rolling out lines in a style that grazes monotone yet incorporates gruff and personality. “It’s What It Is”, one of the singles from the album, shows Killa accelerating his flow and playing with delivery alongside fellow Wu members Ghostface and Raekwon. He spits over a frantic horn loop, juxtaposing rhyming and weaponry with lyrics like “I’ll get you swung on / Long barrel spinnin’ rims on something foreign / Semi-auto flow spittin’ 45 in the left grip / Right holdin’ mic, tight stripe with the force of might / When I’m speakin’.”
Although Killa may be half-serious and gratuitously violent on much of the album, he approaches a more serious level on “Street Corner” featuring Inspectah Deck and GZA. Over the beat, based on legato string pulls and hiccupping vocal snippets, Killa spits “Transatlantic imports, slaves been bought / Secret relations between blacks and Jews / Might set a fuse off in the head / Many dead, lynch hung, swung from trees / Brothers in the struggle together.” “Street Corner”, the most austere song on the album, gives listeners a glimpse into the more dastardly aspects of Brooklyn life, which is predominantly on Killa’s mind. “When words come, thoughts are constantly there,” he says, referring to his Brooklyn mentality. “A lyric comes totally different ways, just being inspired from energy, but I just let it come as it comes.”
Although Killa vacillates between grave and cheerful dispositions throughout the album, the final result is a parcel of tracks that contribute to breathing life back into the Wu-Tang Clan, as Ghostface has accomplished this year with Fishscale. Like with previous Wu releases, Made in Brooklyn comes in sequence with a wave of Clan albums, with records by Inspectah Deck and Raekwon soon to follow. In an effort to promote his and other forthcoming Clan records, Killa will be joining his fellow members in a trek around the U.S. this August, while concurrently attempting a foray in the film industry. Killa will also remain an ads-man for PETA by overtly representing his vegetarian lifestyle, despite his introvert tendencies. But as always, Killa will be taking his time to create more music in an effort to give fans the best that he can musically provide. “I’m constantly working on music always, so I’ll always have beautiful music for you, but right now I want people to absorb native Brooklyn, and I think they’ll be well pleased with that,” he says. “But hey, we just Quincy Jones-ing it right now.”
// Notes from the Road
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