With the release of 1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Clan set out to revolutionize hip-hop. Their vicious lyrics gleamed with intelligence, and the atonal evil of producer RZA’s beats was a jolt to the jazzy East Coast hip-hop of the early ’90s. 1994 and 1995 saw a barrage of stellar solo albums from most of the nine Clan members, including GZA’s 1995 debut, Liquid Swords.
On Liquid Swords, GZA’s more unorthodox stoned style and sheer poetic talent received the spotlight that was often trained on more infamous Wu cohorts such as Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Method Man. GZA’s second album, Beneath the Surface, was a disappointment to some fans, and GZA found himself in the background again after its release. Now, with the decline of RZA into mediocrity, Method Man into deodorant commercials and Ol’ Dirty into prison, GZA has an opportunity to stand out once again.
The riskily titled Legend of the Liquid Sword may not be the return to classic Wu that it claims to be, but it is nonetheless a memory-jogging album on GZA’s part. Much of the album’s production is a throwback to the familiar blend of soul samples, dissonant string loops and ghostly keyboard riffs of the Wu of old. However, the beats are not merely monotonous clones of vintage RZA gems — they move beyond and to some extent even reinvent the standard RZA set. In fact, the one beat that RZA does produce on Legend is arguably the album’s weakest.
GZA’s poetic ability is as clear and omnipresent as ever in this album. On “Fame,” he displays his knack for wordplay by weaving rhymes and a plot about greed around the names of celebrities (“Jeffrey Lyons stuck with a thorn from George’s Bush”). On “Animal Planet,” he runs with the frequently used metaphor of urban life as a jungle (“Elephants for security that move tons of leaves”).
With the release of Legend, GZA reminds listeners what being the “Genius” is all about. While many MCs’ skills decay with the passing of time and the amassing of money, GZA’s talent seems only to increase with age and experience.