“There’s no countin’/ How many MCs have sprung/ From my fountain.”
— The RZA, “Biochemical Equation”
MF DOOM and The RZA. Aesop Rock and Del Tha Funky Homosapien. J-Live and R.A. The Rugged Man. The GZA & Ras Kass (twice!). Cats know the names, cats respect the fame, how many cats have wished there’d be more mingling like this in the game? Dreddy Kruger’s opening compilation for his Think Differently Music label has seen him raid his rolodex and serve up a handful of collabos that had until now only taken place in the dreams and gleaming eyes of drooling hip-hop fanatics. Whilst the results don’t really add up to what they promise on paper (reasons to be listed later), this scattershot across the bows of the linear industry should get a lot of attention; if the scene doesn’t exactly need another Wu-Tang hangers-on compilation, what with the huge amount of watered down material already out there, then Kruger has still put his money where his logo is by bringing together East and West coasts, gangstas and jesters, solemn 5 Percenters and drugged up white boys.
Let’s cover the big name draws then: RZA drops his best beat in quite a while on “Biochemical Equation”, and while his timbre intially sounds awful on it, he grapples things back with his lyrical content (see above); DOOM then drops the latest in a worryingly long run of deceptively smooth yet utterly unmemorable verses. Del gets the whole of “Fragments” to himself and abuses the amount of space lazily but typically; he’s tighter on “Preservation” and plays his charisma card to oust Ace, who nevertheless drops some fantastic lines in characteristically diagon-ill style, “shaking off leaches over Pumas” on the sweetest looming brass he’s ridden since “Attention Span”.
If that wordplay made you think of GZA’s “Animal Planet”, well, the Wu mainstay accounts honorably enough for himself on “Liquid Swords” and again on “Versus”, but Ras Kass — straight out of jail and hungry as hell — steals the show both times, on the latter conceptually attacking Bush over the differences in financial compensation dealt out to Halle Burton employees and US soldiers. Ras was fuelling his raging intellect through factual evidence long before Immortal Technique appeared on the scene, and this track should remind everyone how badly we’ve needed him in the game. Finally, “Give It Up” features the most MC interplay of any track here, with RA referencing J-live’s teacher past before ripping one of the flows of the year like Elmer Fudd with his mouth stuffed full of sizzurp-soaked jotter paper. We need a chopped’n’screwed version of this like five months ago, although the beat sounds trapped in treacle as soon as RA shuts his trap anyway.
Want some differently thinking skits? You have your Wu-cherished Bruce Lee doing his finger pointing thang from Enter the Dragon, right, but you also get Jim Jarmusch reciting quotes by Bach and Menuhin. All in keeping with the air of mystic wisdom, I suppose. You also get the DJ Noize-assembled “ODB Tribute”, which samples that poetry reading from Four Weddings and a Funeral along with cuts and lines from all over recent hip-hop history to form a fittingly tragicomic-yet-grimy eulogy for the first Wu member to leave this plane of existence.
The beats are mainly handled by rising unknowns Preservation and Detroit MC/producer Bronze Nazareth (Think Differently debut album coming soon…), and they keep things pretty much in the tasty-if-not-terrific ballpark with tracks that recall mid-’90s RZA pretty faithfully, and consequently overshadow a lot of Wu material since. The compilation falls down by containing a lot of posse cuts with verses laid down completely separately by MCs who never met in person, and consequently fail to gel or amount to the sum of their parts. Consequently, when Mobb Deep-affiliate Littles or Ras Kass drop more thoughtful, well-planned verses, they stand out a mile, and the former’s lyrical detailing of a relationship with a drug addict contrasts so well in terms of approach and tone with Planet Asia and Khalid (Kruger’s cousin) on the Nazareth-produced “Listen” that you damn near have to.
That track’s the cream of a crop that mixes the strengths (charisma, intellect, stealthy menace, numbers) and the weaknesses (homogenous themes, brazen threat, numbers) of the Wu-Tang legacy into interesting new shapes and makes you realise that cherry picked collabos can pay off big time, no matter how quirky. Hopefully this’ll be followed by a second volume in the near future; one on which we will not Cherchez La Ghost in vain…