Monday, August 4, 2014

Revisiting Wu-Tang Clan's "Iron Flag" and "8 Diagrams"

This post will cover the 4th and 5th albums from the Wu-Tang Clan, respectively, 2001's "Iron Flag" and 2007's "8 Diagrams". I'll of course start with "Iron Flag".





After 2000's pretty good (but slept on) "The W", I was a little surprised to see the Clan come back the next year with a new album. At the time I remember being pretty hyped for this one, largely on the strength of "Uzi (Pinky Ring)", which had a decent spot on the radio believe it or not. And if my memory serves me correctly, I either copped this on the day of its release or  the week after (probably the latter), so it does hold some nostalgia vibes (after all this came out during my senior year in high school). I haven't bumped this one in quite some time, so we shall see if time has been kind to it or not.


Release date: December 18, 2001




1. In The Hood 
Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck (Featuring Street Life)
Produced By: The RZA

A fast paced opener right here, covering a topic that was not new to hip hop: the hood.
*3.5 out of 5*


2. Rules
Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, Raekwon, and Method Man (Featuring Street Life)
Produced By: Mathematics

"Who the fuck knocked our buildings down/Who the man behind the World Trade massacre, step up now/Where them 4 planes at huh, is you insane bitch/Fly that shit off my hood and get blown to bits" -Ghostface


This was very good, including a politically charged verse by Ghostface (even telling then president Bush to "sit down, I'm in charge of the war") and a show stealing, closing verse by Meth. In the end, all involved were on point with this one.
*4 out of 5*


3. Chrome Wheels
The RZA and Raekwon (Featuring 12 O' Clock, Prodigal Sunn, and Madame D)
Produced By: The RZA

Well it goes without saying that this song talks nothing about the title itself, but that's another issue, lol. It's merely ok, but clearly nothing special.
*3 out of 5*


4. Soul Power (Black Jungle)
Raekwon, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, and U-God (Featuring Flavor Flav)
Produced By: The RZA

I read a review on this album years back, and the reviewer questioned Flavor Flav's appearance. I didn't have an issue with it in 2001 and I certainly don't have an issue with it today (it's my 3rd favorite song on the album). Flav played his role well (only on the hook and the end of the song with Meth), the verses and the beat were all good. No complaints here. Also, now when I think about it, can you imagine what a song with ODB and Flavor Flav (over a RZA track) would've sounded like?? Oh man that would've been hip hop comedy gold right there!
*4 out of 5*


5. Uzi (Pinky Ring)
Produced By: The RZA



The album's first single as well as the best song on the album. I remember going crazy when I first heard this, and anytime you get the entire Clan on one song (sadly ODB was not present), you can guarantee something awesome, and they delivered in spades here. Believe it or not, this song did have some very brief radio play, which only lasted a few weeks, the month the album was released that is.
*5 out of 5*




6. One Of These Days
Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, and U-God
Produced By: Nick "Fury" Loftin

The title and a well timed sample courtesy of Donny Hathaway ("I Believe to My Soul") gives this a nice vibe, leading you to believe it would be an introspective song in a Wu-Tang form. It comes off like that in a way, but not fully, respectively. Good song though.
*3.5 out of 5*


7. Y'all Been Warned
Method Man, The RZA, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, and Masta Killa
Produced By: True Master

Clearly the second best on the album. All involved were feeling it over a dope True Master production. I also feel GZA would've worked on this song too.
*5 out of 5*



8. Babies
Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and GZA (Hook by Madame D)
Produced By: The RZA 

Pretty good song, featuring verses from Ghostface and Rae in true story form, while GZA brings everything full circle with his closing verse. The basis here is to save and protect our children at all costs.
*4 out of 5*


9. Radioactive (Four Assassins)
GZA, Raekwon, Method Man, and Masta Killa
Produced By: The RZA

Lyrically this was on point, especially the verses from GZA and Meth, but RZA's beat dragged this down a little.
*3 out of 5*


10. Back In The Game
Inspectah Deck, Method Man, GZA, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah (Featuring Ron Isley)
Produced By: Poke and Tone (Track Masters)

With all due respect to Mr. Isley, I feel he was a little out of place on this one. And speaking of out of place, a Track Masters production was out of place on a Wu-Tang album too I feel. As a song, it's very good even with a few issues.
*3.5 out of 5*

11. Iron Flag/The Glock
IF: Raekwon, Masta Killa, and Inspectah Deck
TG: U-God, Ghostface Killah, The RZA, U-God, Masta Killa, and Raekwon
Produced By: The RZA

The title track is fast paced and pretty good, no complaints. *4 out of 5*

To this day, I'm not sure why "The Glock" was not included in the original tracklisting, almost serving as an immediate bonus track. Decent song. *3 out of 5*


12. Dashing (Reasons)
Inspectah Deck and GZA
Produced By: The RZA

The verses from GZA and Deck turn an almost forgettable song into a decent one, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*



Once "Uzi (Pinky Ring) left the radio, whatever buzz this album had died so quickly it's not even funny. That's no knock on the Clan, but with hip hop always changing (even in late 2001), I don't want to say they were becoming irrelevant, but something was missing, plus this album received LESS attention than "The W" did. I remember liking it at the time, and in 2014, it still holds up well in spots, most notably with highlights such as the aforementioned "Uzi" and "Y'all Been Warned". What also could've helped this album was more of a presence from GZA. Don't get me wrong, he was on 5 out of the album's 12 songs, but he was missed on a few songs, especially "Y'all Been Warned". It's not on the level of the Clan's first three albums, but by itself it's a very good album, one I would recommend. 3.5 stars.


Next up..... 



Oh man, I'll have a lot to say about this album, but I'll save most of it for my final thoughts. I'll say that at the time I was not anticipating this one like their previous albums. I also haven't played this is SUCH a long time. Has time been kind to it? We shall see.



 
 Release date: December 11, 2007



1. Campfire
Method Man and Ghostface Killah (Featuring Cappadonna)
Produced By: The RZA

Well, "Bring Da Ruckus", "Reunited", "Triumph", and "Chamber Music" were all DOPE openers. This was not. While Meth delivered the best verse, Ghostface sounded like he'd rather be anywhere but on this track and Cappa came off so uninspired. RZA's plodding beat didn't help matters either. Not a good start to this album.
*2.5 out of 5*


2. Take It Back
Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, U-God, and Method Man
Produced By: Easy Mo Bee, Co Produced By: The RZA

"Take it back" is what Rae, Deck, Ghost, U-God, and Meth did on this banger, creating that true vintage Wu sound. I may be overrating this one a bit, but it sounds a little better today than it did in 2007.
*5 out of 5*




3. Get Them Out Ya Way Pa
Method Man, U-God, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon
Produced By: The RZA

Average hook aside, this was a decent, apply titled song. Again, Meth came with some heat on this one, and either it's just me, but everyone else seemingly phoned in their verses.
*3 out of 5*


4. Rushing Elephants
Raekwon, GZA, The RZA, and Masta Killa
Produced By: The RZA 

With all due respect to Rae, RZA, and Masta, I would've been just fine with this being a solo for GZA, who delivers a nice verse over a very busy RZA track.
*2 out of 5*


5. Unpredictable
Inspectah Deck and The RZA (Featuring Dexter Wiggle)
Produced By: The RZA

For someone who has crafted some epic tracks in the past, RZA's attempt here fails miserably (the beat is too busy and too experimental), complete with a lackluster hook, and a waste of an Inspectah Deck verse.
*2 out of 5*


6. The Heart Gently Weeps



Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man (Featuring Erykah Badu)
Produced By: The RZA, Co Produced By: George Drakoulias  

Oh man, I'm not sure what they were going for with this one, but needless to say it was really all over the place. I was not a fan of this one at all. Not good, not bad, but it would have a hard time finding its way in the middle.
*2 out of 5*


7. Wolves
U-God, Method Man, and Masta Killa (Featuring George Clinton)
Produced By: The RZA

I like this one right here, especially the Western style vibes applied by RZA.
*4 out of 5*


8. Gun Will Go
Raekwon, Method Man, and Masta Killa (Featuring Sunny Valentine)
Produced By: The RZA 

This was ok, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*


9. Sunlight
Performed and produced By: The RZA

This was about one minute too long and would've been that much better if it was shorter, which isn't saying too much.
*2 out of 5*


10. Stick Me For My Riches
Method Man, Inspectah Deck, The RZA, and GZA (Featuring Gerald Alston)
Produced By: Mathematics, Co Produced By: The RZA 

(Facepalm) We have definitely heard songs like this done before and better quite frankly.
*2 out of 5*


11. Starter
GZA, Inspectah Deck, and U-God (Featuring Street Life, Sunny Valentine, and Tash Mahogany)
Produced By: The RZA

At first you would think a song catered to the females would be out of place on an album like this, but this is one of the better songs on the album honestly. That's not saying much about the overall quality of the album, but still.
*3 out of 5*


12. Windmill
Raekwon, GZA, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, and Method Man (Featuring Cappadonna)
Produced By: The RZA 

I really wanted to like this one, but I did not feel RZA's beat and everyone's verse was affected obviously.
*2 out of 5*


13. Weak Spot
The RZA, Raekwon, and GZA
Produced By: The RZA, Co Produced By: George Drakoulias

Under a different set of circumstances, this could've been a banger, but it wasn't. I mean, it's relatively decent, but nothing more.
*2.5 out of 5*


14. Life Changes
Produced By: The RZA

In a VERY fitting closer to this, uh, album, we get the Clan's heartfelt tribute to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard (minus Ghostface, and him not appearing is still a mystery to this day, but it doesn't ruin the song). WITHOUT a doubt the BEST song on the album.
*5 out of 5*






Wow, "8 Diagrams" was a chore to sit through I'll tell you. For starters, Raekwon and Ghostface were clearly not fans of this album (and who can blame them), mostly due to the sound, the majority of which was courtesy of RZA. Speaking of which, that's the one major issue with this album: the production. Most of the beats were just too busy, plodding, uninspired, and too experimental for a Wu-Tang album, and I'm not sure why RZA thought any of it was a good fit for the Clan. The ONLY highlights to be found here were "Life Changes", "Take It Back", and "Wolves". Everything else was largely forgettable, and when you have MCs who are usually very talented on the mic just sound like they're going through the motions over not so good production, that doesn't make a good album. And going back to Ghostface for a moment, he released "The Big Doe Rehab" one week before this, and trust me when I say that it was a way better album than "8 Diagrams", and whether it was a coincidence or not that RZA played no part in any of the production on that album is still up for debate. Furthermore, in 2007, this album was almost on no one's radar at the time (not even mine) and to say that there was literally no buzz about this album would be an understatement. Although it didn't hit me until years later, the unfortunate passing of ODB affected the Clan on all levels as a group, as they haven't been on the same song since "9 Milli Bros", but oddly enough they're seemingly much better individually these days. As for "8 Diagrams", this is a 2.5 star album if I ever heard one (that rating too may be generous) and I can't objectively recommend this album, not even to the most hardcore Wu fan. Just peep the aforementioned 3 songs I mentioned and you'll be good.



As of this post, the seemingly long awaited "A Better Tomorrow" has no release date and I doubt if it'll ever see the light of day. Am I interested in it? Very little, and it pains me to say that about something Wu related. What I will say is if that album is anything like "8 Diagrams", by all means PLEASE leave it in a vault and do not subject fans like myself to another lackluster Wu-Tang album. I'll always be a fan of the crew, but "8 Diagrams" should not be their last album (officially or otherwise).

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