Supergroups always release compilations like this. You know the kind. The releases are usually full of B-sides, remixes, re-recording, re-mastered, demo-versions, outtakes, etc. Those left over tracks sitting on hard drives or in tape canisters in some vault or studio storage room. Usually, you can find a gem or two but let’s be honest: these compilations are more often than not a quick cash-grab and are only salivated over by those obsessive to the tenth power fans.
With Return of the Wu & Friends, skepticism immediately sets in its misleading title. After all, this isn’t really a return at all. No, this is not an official, new Wu-Tang Clan album and none of the members met in a studio to record anything for this release. Instead, here’s the skinny: Return of the Wu & Friends is 16 tracks taken from recordings starting with the 2000’s The W through 2008, put together and produced by longtime, contributing Wu-Tang DJ/Producer Mathematics. The best way to look at this curious record is like a mixtape with a heavy focus on reinterpretation and remixing similar in format to Madlib’s work on Blunted in the Bomb Shelter or Shades of Blue for the Blue Note label. Imagine your friend with some sick DJ skills putting together a mix for you with their favorite and forgotten about Wu tracks post-2000. That’s what we got here. Just roll with it.
So how did it turn out? Surprisingly, Mathematics blew a chronic-filled smoke cloud into this album and the results are much more ill that one would expect from the unconventional format. Mind you, not all of it should be credited to Mathematics. Many of these tracks he didn’t even originally produce. And of course, you can’t forget the MC’s. Where Mathematics excels, like any good DJ, is in his choice selection. The most immediately surprising part of Return of the Wu is how much it is an upbeat soulful, affair. For a group that largely built its name off sparse, cold-hitting beats coupled with dark, urban tales; Mathematics has compiled a mix of Wu members at their liveliest. In less than an hour, Return of the Wu rolls along with a sweaty, animated swagger that exhibits a focus that the actual Wu-Tang Clan hasn’t exhibited as a group in years.
Beginning with a remix of The W’s bonus track “Clap”, the energetic dynamism of Return of the Wu is set as Raekwon spits a gasping, collage of bullet points regarding his street-cred and mafia connections over a hyperventilating drumbeat. This continues into another equally impressive, remix of Mathematics’ own “Respect Mine”. Things bump along until “Strawberries and Cream” where the pace slows a bit with the playful and peculiar pseudo-love rap ballad that concludes with a classically dirty Ghostface verse that won’t, and probably can’t, be quoted here. Following this brief, breather-track, the mix picks right back up with a couple of Wu-Tang selections including the flawlessly, spot-on “All Flowers” (a remix of the Bulletproof Wallets track “Flowers”) where even the less-celebrated Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck shines. None of the Wu MC’s are forgotten about here, with each getting some share of the mix. Which is part of the reason why Return of the Wu works so well. Mathematics has picked choice, sometimes obscure, Wu-related cuts that remind of us why these MC’s have still largely been unmatched in talent. (As if we needed a reminder.)
What may be the biggest testament to Mathematics’ ability to cohesively put together a quick, hard-hitting compilation/remix/mixtape with expert precision, is the amount of tracks from solo Masta Killa releases on here. Possibly the most underrated Wu rapper, Masta Killa, has three of the 16 tracks. That might not seem like much but when you take into consideration that there is only one solo cut from Raekwon, Method Man, and Ghostface, and no tracks from exclusively solo outputs from the rest of the members on here, it comes as a surprise. If anything, though, it’s about time some l-o-v-e got thrown to Masta Killa. Yet, Mathematics is still able, for the most part, to maintain a balance by making sure that each track (except for two) feature other members.
This isn’t about playing fair, though. Mathematics’ intentions, evidently, was to put together a fun, lively compilation of some ill Wu-Tang related tracks, regardless of what album they appeared on or who was flowing on them. In that, he succeeded. The only drawbacks of Return to the Wu are its necessity and format. Its necessity speaks for itself with the remixes and top-notch selection of B-sides. However, it might be hard to sell the more discerning fan with a tight, listening schedule what exactly this release is. However, those who do give it a spin are going to be pleasantly surprised. Besides, with all the internal feuding amongst Wu-members, this might be the only “new-ish” music you get from these guys for a long time. Forget that, though. 8 Diagrams was a disappointment anyway. Return of the Wu speaks for itself. Just listen to it already.