#347: Liquid Swords, GZA
As always, I’m out of my depth with the Wu-Tang Clan. Check out my review of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… for some truly unimpressive takes. You know why? The Wu-Tang Clan is smarter than me. I have to look up so much stuff! I was grateful for this one’s Genius page, where GZA and other Wu-Tang members shed light on what they’re talking about.
As the Wu’s “spiritual head”, it follows that GZA seems to have complete control over every aspect of this record. RS calls his delivery “economical,” which feels too mundane a word for what he accomplishes here. The production from RZA is masterful, too, and markedly different than the treatment he gave Cuban Linx.
One common thread through all of the WTC records we’ve seen, though, is a love of kung fu movies. The title is lifted from the movie Legend of the Liquid Sword, and there are at least six lengthy samples from the movie Shogun Assassin. (Which, fun fact, is also the movie shown at the end of Kill Bill: Vol. 2.) Opener “Liquid Swords” lifts from the movie a child’s monologue about his nobly murderous father, after which GZA and RZA show up to smoke cocaine/ To act insane. “Duel Of The Iron Mic” and “Cold World” both lean into the violent mythology of wuxia tales, as well.
Keeping with the way of the samurai, the record mostly relies on understated beats and a laid black flow. As a punk dirtbag, though, I got excited whenever the beats got a little rougher. “Gold,” a song about the plight of the hard-nosed drug dealer, matches its subject matter with a nasty beat. “Hell’s Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304” has a sound bite of actual Hell’s Angels.
I also appreciated the songs where GZA drops some wordly, world-weary advice. As the first member of the Clan to get a record deal, you take him seriously when he warns you to be wary of “Labels.” “Swordsman” warns you to think for yourself, and “I Gotcha Back” is a mistrustful message of support, warning you to watch your front, where you are just as likely to be stabbed.
Best of all, GZA features all nine of his Wu-Tang brethren. Some of the songs have featured verses that outmatch GZA’s verses, like Method Man’s verse on “Shadowboxin’” and Ghostface Killah’s on “4th Chamber.” And “Investigative Reports” opens with a welcome verse from Raekwon, who has a higher pitched voice than the rest of them but just as much swagger. And “Living In The World Today” celebrates their considerable legacy, reminding us all that they changed slang forever. (Protect Ya Neck, anyone?)
The rap game is more full of beef than a slaughterhouse, so in some ways, it’s really nice to listen to a group of dudes that do nothing but lift each other up. Can’t wait for the next one.
Least Favorite Song: “B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth).” Legitimately, I loved this one, until Killah Priest got to the part where women are evil. Shut up.
Fun Fact: GZA released a song for NASA!