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RAEKWON THE CHEF - SHAOLIN VS. WU-TANG ALBUM REVIEW


[Full Album Notes]

Release Date:  08th March, 2011

Label: Ice H20 Records

Released Format:
CD / Vinyl / Tape-Cassette / MP3 Downloads

Notes:
Featuring Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, *Jim Jones, *Nas, *Busta Rhymes etc


REVIEW:

Overall Rating:
Lyrics:
Beats:

Written By:
The Reccollectah

For three weeks now every Wu related blog or forum has been discussing and posting opinions on Rae’s new album as if their lives depended on it. Fans are going back and forth on topics such as the lyrics, the type of beats, song titles, the kung fu samples, the features, whether this album is better than OBFCL II or not, if Rae delivered as promised when he first mentioned this project after the 8 Diagrams dispute …

To be honest I’ve been keeping away from all of that since it started, to keep my view on “Shaolin vs Wu Tang” unaffected. Once the album arrived I grabbed some essential provisions, hung a “Do NOT disturb” sign at my Wu Cave, kissed the Mrs. and kids goodbye and went underground with it for about two weeks … to resurface this morning with the finished review ( and some strange rash on my back from sleeping on my “not-so-ergonomic-as-expected-pile of moss” ).

Where the new album stands in comparison to OBFCL I and whether “OBFCL II” or “Shaolin vs Wu tang” can now be labeled ‘best post OBFCL’ album from Raekwon are things that really have to wait to be answered fairly. The only question that I needed to get answered during my stay in Caveland was if Rae had managed to follow up his comeback album OBFCL II with another solid release …

Before we dive in: no idea if other reviews mentioned this already but the artwork is overall pretty impressive ( which really couldn’t be said about OBFCL II ). A bloody shuriken on the disc and back cover, a blood dripping Samurai sword, Chinese characters in the background, the Terracotta Army of Xi’An … all look great. Especially the drawing of the evening sun painting some last rays of light on dark pagodes and mountains reminded me off the artwork we got on the Wu Tang “Chamber music” project. This immediately raises my old school Wu feel expectations even some more ( but I must say the additional Rae posing in his Adidas trainers or Rae with his shiny new boots kinda dumbed that down again, a shame really, the booklet would have looked better without them. Those pics are not as bad as the “Rae and his leather handbag” we got served on OBFCL II but still … it’s a combination that doesn’t work I’m afraid).

When it comes to the music Rae said the following in an interview with the Source: “This is for the Wu-Tang lovers: it’s gonna have that Wu sound all the way to the tee. I just wanted to come wit’ something that I felt was so close to what we had done in the early ‘90s and at the same time I wanted to evolve and show people that, yo, we can still have a new sound for today and still be as powerful as we were back in the early ‘90s.” … which sounds promising wouldn’t you agree?

Luckily for us ‘Wu-Tang lovers’ Raekwon did exactly what he promised: from the very start we get our beloved kung fu movie samples accompanied by beats and music that indeed bring back the feel of the early Wu Tang albums but updated to the sound standards of today. Especially the first half of the album leans heavily on the early rugged Wu sound, second half has more of the soulful Wu feel from some years later.

Turning point for this is track 8 or the single “Rock n roll” ft Ghostface and Jim Jones. A lot already has been said about this track , the least one has to admit is that the whole feel of this song doesn’t really blend in with the rest of the album. It has you scratching your head what the hell it is doing on this album. And why Rae chose to add this and even use it as a single on an album that started out as a frustrated reaction to the ‘guitar picking’ RZA and his 8 Diagrams production ?? It’s not as bad as a lot of people will have you believe but it’s not as good as it could have been either … if ever Rae decides he’s gonna go Gold Deluxe Edition again with this album I would love to see a rerecording off this song on there. I feel DJ Khalil didn’t manage to grab the full potential of this song in the studio. Seeing  Rae and Ghost perform this one live with the Roots convinced me there was much more in this song than we got on the album: just listen how the bass player manages to boost this song to much higher (energy) levels every time he goes in, this is so much more powerful than what we get on the studio version where you hardly hear the bass. Now imagine ?uestlove going back into the studio with the masters and throwing off those annoying choruses and getting Blue Raspberry and Tekitha to do some soulful harmonies instead. Then boosting up the bass to the forefront to make this the monster off a track it potentially is and finally erasing the airy, slick synths and replacing them by a full-on horns section blowing their hearts out … bulls-eye I reckon!

Now that I got that out off my system, let’s go back to the first half again and have a closer look. Tracks as “Shaolin vs Wu tang”, “Butter Knives” ( one of the best Bronze beats I ever heard) and “Snake Pond” indeed bring an updated Wu tang sound that should please any OG Wu addict , although I must add I have the impression that Rae now and then had trouble nailing the pace and rhythm of the great Scram Jones produced title track. Big Kudos go to Cilvaringz: with his solid “Silver rings” production he enables Ghostface to catch my attention more than the man did on his entire “Appollo Kids” album ( Let’s hope Ghost hears the difference too and changes up his beat choice for SC II as AK sounded very “been there , done that … ehm, actually several times lately” ). Rather surprising tracks in the first half are “Every soldier in the hood” and “Chop chop Ninjas”. From what I somehow still heard through the grapevine in my beloved cave it seems there is some discussion if the “Soldier” track is produced by Eric Sermon, as credited in the booklet, or by Oh No. If it’s Sermon, then he certainly also seriously updated his trademark sound … which would be a plus for him if you ask me. If it’s Oh No, then I’m gonna have to check for more of his stuff as this track has an intriguing sound. It sounds a bit out of place here but the quality of the instrumental pardons this instantly plus we get a notable Method Man keeping it real:

A lot of veterans be calling it quits.
They be calling my flow ill, but still I'm never calling in sick.

The “Chop Chop Ninjas” one is keeping me puzzled though: while the Rae and Deck verses sound pretty damn good and are basically ‘beats and rhymes, spiced up with some kung fu samples’ , I still don’t know what to think of the Estelle bits. Would this song really suffer from completely cutting off her ( rather superficial ) intro and while we’re at it all her choruses ? Or would we then have a real ‘beats and rhymes only’ old-school’esque track sounding much better ? Maybe an idea to explore on the Gold Deluxe again ? All in all I found the first half very entertaining , let’s go to the second half .
Which kicks off with the long awaited Nas and Rae collabo “ Rich and black” . A lot of people will go nuts over this based on the sheer fact they had to wait so long to see it happen. After countless listening sessions I can’t say I was blown away. Nas isn’t really all that impressive. Maybe he had too much on his plate lately so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for a revenge on a next collabo. Plus the beat isn’t very memorable either, it tends to just stroll by each time I spin the disc. Only thing about the song that makes me turn my head and lift my eyebrows is the interlude beat they hid behind it … now thàt is a beat these two should have murdered instead !!!
Luckily this is followed by “From the hills” (again with a confident Method Man) : a heavenly soul joint with Rae looking over his shoulder:

In the Polo store, fronting in war clothes, it been like this
From right in time when I was nine years old
I was a hot mess, smoking cheeba, running with stolen speakers
Dropped beepers, even wore a victory vest
I run with niggas, digging knots from niggas, running out the school
Stunting, back of the bus, flashing the ox
Rock the V-Gooses, everything we wore was name brand
Sold three lucy’s, just to get on call plan

This great song gets followed by two tracks that sound like OBFCL II material, the first ( “Last trip to Scotland “ ) persuading me more than the Alchemist produced “Ferry Boat Killaz”. Although Rae delivers, the harpsichord based instrumental doesn’t rock my boat really. The harpsichord rather gives me flashbacks of the “Amadeus” movie from the 80ies and the young Mozart with his annoying giggles , not something I desperately crave for when exploring this album.

No, then I rather spend time with Mathematic’s “Dart school” ( note the harp sample in the back !) which again proves the Wu Tang DJ/producer is getting his game back together. The promising title had me hoping for a traditional Wu Tang posse cut but the Chef decided to go in solo, alas. Next we get Molasses ft Rick Ross and Ghost. Producer Xtreme beats recycles the “Shadowboxin“ sample and adds horns a certain Bobby Digital would have been interested in too, making this an ode to the Wu sound, pure niceness !!!

Evidence surprisingly also gets a spot and brings us “The Scroll” , a track many might at first listen underestimate and ignore as it is a very relaxed cut. For those: please listen to this with the headphones on, preferably in the dark so you can dive into the soundscape … I’m sure you’ll agree this is one of the highlights of this already very good album. Equally impressive is “Masters of our fate” featuring Black Thought and a 1941 Winston Churchill speech sample.

As we get to the end of the album Rae goes into Wu mode again with the “Wu Chant” outro , a very Moongod and Ringz’ type of beat, aka dope as f…k , and the (unforgivably i-Tunes only) bonus track “Wu crime” ft GZA and Killah Priest. Especially the two guests bring their A-level game to the booth: GZA ‘s verse and its flow sound like something that was written around the Liquid swords era and Killah Priest also seems to be getting his groove back as he drops one of his best verses in years. Add the sinister BT beat and you get yet another GREAT track and highlight. The second bonus track produced by Havoc is not bad but unfortunately pales in comparison to the Uppercuts we just received near the end of this album.

Final conclusion:
A few songs could have been worked out to a far greater result and some would have fitted better on OBFCL II (or III) but Raekwon did EXACTLY as promised: he brought us a very good album with a very Wu orientated sound which should please any die hard Wu fan out there … and hopefully convince some new younger fans to join the loyal Wu following. Even with some flaws, some less interesting guest spots (and some OBFCL II leftovers ?) this album still has lot of replay value. So don’t miss out on this, you wouldn’t forgive yourself.

Feel free to (dis)agree.


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