Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Wu-Tang Clan Journey: "Liquid Swords"

In 1997, I remember watching an edition of MTV's "Ultrasound" which focused on the Wu. When they spoke with GZA, he said something about his "Liquid Swords" that has stuck with me to this day: He said "liquid swords is all about being sharp with your tongue," which is a simple yet VERY effective way in describing this album in a nutshell. So, during the course of this part of the journey, if it seems like my words are minimal outside of talking about how good/great the songs are, just know that it all comes back to how GZA described this album!

Release date: November 7, 1995

All songs produced by The RZA except #13,  which was produced by 4th Disciple

1. "Liquid Swords"
Additional Vocals by The RZA

“This track is just braggadocios. It isn’t meant to stand for anything. I’m talking about my skills and how I’m better than the rest. Usually I take a beat home and write to it for a few days, but it wasn’t like that with this track. I think RZA played the beat for me and I just spit to it right there. The hook was actually a routine from around ‘84 that me, RZA, and Ol' Dirty would do.”

Much props to for providing the above quotes from an interview with GZA, and of course he accurately describes this song so well. It's also one of many classics that effectively showcase his sharp and precise wordplay on the mic. Awesome material, one of the greatest openers of all time.
*5 out of 5*

"Energy is felt once the cards are dealt/Wit the impact of roundhouse kicks from black belts"

"I don't waste ink, nigga I think/I drop megaton bombs more faster than you blink/Cause rhyme thoughts travel at a tremendous speed/Clouds of smoke, of natural blends of weed/Only under one circumstance that's if I'm blunted/Turn that shit up, my Clan in the front want it"

"I'm on a mission that niggas say is impossible/But when I swing my swords they all choppable"

"Niggas are fascinated wit how the shit begin/Get vaccinated, my logo is branded in your skin"

2. "Duel of the Iron Mic"
Featuring Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck and Ol Dirty Bastard

"Duel of the iron mic/It's the 52 fatal strikes!" -ODB

Oh man, THIS joint right here still makes me go crazy when I bump it today. This is what we would call "vintage Wu-Tang" and to say that it's awesome all around would be a complete understatement. Quite frankly, this is one of the dopest songs, Wu-Tang specifically and hip hop in general, I've ever heard and literally everything these men said is so quotable; trust me, I'd be listing the song word for word if I placed any lines here. GZA comes with the TIGHT opening verse; Masta continues the momentum with his verse in the middle, and Deck, usually the king of the opening verse, closes this classic on a high note. Completely awesome.
*5 out of 5*

3. "Living In The World Today

"My rhyme gross weight vehicle combination/Was too heavy for the Chevys that's chased out the station/Double edged was the guillotine that beheaded it/Gassed up, fuckin' wit some regular unleaded shit"

"MCs are gunned down like being down wit mad trucks/Then God struck, religious niggas call it bad luck"

"I'm just swingin swords strictly based on keyboards/Unbalanced like elephants and ants on see-saws"

"Hard to define it, when narrow out the gate/For phat tapes and then played out, and out of date/Then I construct my thoughts on site to renovate"

Loyal reader, the sharp, lyrical precision from this man must be heard to be appreciated, no question about that. ANOTHER dope song here.
*5 out of 5*

"Now who could ever say they heard of this/My muthafuckin' style is MAD murderous!"

4. "Gold"

Much props (and credit) goes to Steve "Flash" Juon from His following assessment of this classic serves as the perfect description:

"The song shows off his talent for the wielding metaphor, not similies, which is what you're used to hearing from MCs, but ACTUAL metaphorical reflection. What is Gold to the GZA? In the song it has double meaning- it's the dope on the streets to a drug dealer, but it's also the ill-gotten profits to be made from the slang and bang. Unlike some of his contemporaries though, GZA is not out to glorify its practice. His song presents it for the brutal endeavor it is."

WELL said.
*5 out of 5*

5. "Cold World"
Featuring Inspectah Deck 

Props (and credit) again goes to for an accurate description of this Inspectah Deck assisted banger/classic:

"The story told in GZA’s Cold World paints vivid imagery of social problems within the hoods of the ghetto. This song not only gives you an image, but provides situations and the consequences that come in part with them. A “cold world” is what communities that are struggling but often overlooked even though right under our noses, are referred too. This story gives you a first person narrative of the worst. Not only does the context and instrumental revolve around a dark, deep mood, but so does the music video of the song."

Again, WELL said. I also liked how RZA used the sounds of the wind blowing in the background to fully capture the "cold" sound. Incredible.
*5 out of 5*

6. "Labels"

Although there's a clear message here (sheer warnings about the possible dangers of dealing with record labels), the thing that always made this song stand out was GZA's use of the "extended metaphor" (or metaphorical reflection, but the former term is more appropriate here), and the way he utilizes each label in his lines is something that (again) must be heard to be appreciated, and in my view, this song is still appreciated today. Tight stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

7. "4th Chamber"
Featuring Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest and The RZA

"Stand up, you're outta luck like two dogs stuck/Ironman be sippin Rum, out of Stanley cups, unflammable/Noriega, aiming nozzles/Stay windy in Chicago, spine tingle, mind boggles" -Ghostface

"I ran the dark ages, Constantine and great Henry the 8th/Built wit Genghis Khan, the wreck suede Wally don" -Ghostface

"I'm lively, my dome piece is like building stones in Greece/Our poems are deep from ancient thrones I speak" -Killah Priest

"Rollin' with the Lamb, Twelve Tribes, 144,000 chosen/Protons Electrons Always Cause Explosions" -RZA

"I ain't hard to see, my seeds needs God degree/I got mouths to feed, unnecessary beef is more cows to breed" -GZA

"Now watch me blow him out his shoes without clues/Cause I won't hesitate to detonate, I'm short fused" -GZA

Man, much like "Duel Of The Iron Mic," this is another classic I would call "vintage Wu-Tang" and it's JUST as awesome. I remember I threw this joint on back in the day for my long time friend Shaun, and he went crazy, much like I did, because of how it simply BANGED in the system. It's also no surprise that all 4 MCs come with some extremely dope verses over an equally dope RZA track. And speaking of the dope, the accompanying video was just that as well.
*5 out of 5*

8. "Shadowboxin"
Featuring Method Man

When I first bumped this one, again, I went crazy and couldn't stop bobbin my head to save my life. I thought this was one of the best things I ever heard at the time. Also, I heard a few years back from people that thought Meth murked, if you will, GZA on his own track. Let me tell you something, while Meth did deliver two outstanding verses, in no way did you "murk" GZA on his own track. In fact, GZA's verse was just as dope and he more than held his own alongside Meth. Furthermore, Meth's opening verse could be nominated as one of the greatest opening verses of all time, and while it may have seemed like it was almost impossible to follow, as mentioned GZA held his own. Classic material.
*5 out of 5*

9. "Hellz Wind Staff/Killah Hills 10304"

GZA flexed his storytelling muscles here in "the life of a drug dealer" with this pretty good narrative, straight out of the "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" playbook. Whoever may have said GZA can't tell stories should (re)visit this one.
*5 out of 5*

10. "Investigative Reports"
Featuring Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and U-God

This is what I would call "the reports of the streets of Staten Island from a noticeable Wu-Tang perspective." In an interview with, which is where the "Liquid Swords" comments may have come from, GZA talks about this a bit ( credited with this one too):

"I don’t remember this one that much. RZA kicked us the beat and Rae just set it off. RZA decided to put all that news footage in there and U-God did the hook and I just followed it up. This one was just all of us doing our parts. I think it was just a simple track we put together."

More dope stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

11. "Swordsman"

" So look, listen, observe and also respect this jewel/Drawed up, detect and reflect this/Light I shine, because my power is refined/Through the truth, which manifest through eternal minds"

Wow, the sharp, lyrical precision of this man continues to amaze me on all levels. Not only does this song, a long time personal favorite of mine, feature said sharp lyricism on full display, but there's also a semi hidden message here: feed your own brain and don't believe everything you hear and/or read.  
*5 out of 5*

12. "I Got Cha Back"
Additional vocals by The RZA

 "You know your town is dangerous/When you see the strangest kid, come home from doing a bid nothin' changes/What is the meaning of crime/Is it Criminals Robbing Innocent Muthafuckas Everytime/Little shorties take walks to the school yard/Tryin' to solve the puzzle to why's life so hard/Then as soon as they reach the playground, blaow!/Shots ring off and now one of em laid down/It's so hard to escape the gunfire/I wish I could rule it out like an umpire/But it's an everlasting game/And it never cease to exist, only the players change"

This joint also appeared on the soundtrack to the movie "Fresh" which came out in 1993. In short, described this song best:

"GZA breaks down the cyclical nature of inner city violence among the youth"

Growing up during this time in the 1990s, it was not all wine and roses, and the inner city violence was a big problem in our communities then. GZA's descriptive, hopeful account always spoke volumes on this issue. Classic.
*5 out of 5*

*13. B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)
Killah Priest

There was a period when I all but avoided this bonus track, not because I didn't like Killah Priest, but because I always thought the previous song was the best way to close this album. When I finally did sit down and listen to it, it came to me that Killah Priest dropped some serious jewels from a biblical perspective, as well as calling out reverends who claimed to preach the word of God but have other agendas off the record. I may not have heard much of Priest's material post 1998, but I can honestly say this joint may be the best thing he's ever done. And much props to GZA for allowing this to close the album.
*5 out of 5*

Wow, just wow. I know I've owned this album since it's release in 1995 and it's my #6 favorite album of all time, but just sitting here revisiting it again, I find myself liking (and appreciating) it THAT much more. Lyrically, this is one of the sharpest and precise albums you'll ever hear, and don't get me started on the production. RZA was simply firing on all cylinders behind the boards at this point, and this album may possibly be the ONLY album that can give "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" a run for it's money in terms of the best produced album from top to bottom, no doubt. Also, Wu-Tang, as a crew and individually, were at their absolute peak in '95, and looking back on it, that may be their strongest year ever on all levels. Not only did this CLASSIC GZA album drop towards the end of the year, ODB's debut "Return To The 36 Chambers (The Dirty Version)" and Raekwon's incredible "OB4CL" also dropped the same year; they had a respectable presence on radio and TV (plus magazine covers); Meth's star was increasing due to his razor sharp "All I Need" remix with Mary J. Blige and the first collaboration with Redman in the form of "How High," etc. They were on top of the world at the point, deservedly so, and it was GREAT to have grown up during this period and witness all of this in real time as it happened. It was certified Gold on January 11, 1996, but part of me can't believe it hasn't hit Platinum (or better) yet, but that's a VERY minor grip. GZA, my hats off to you and the rest of the Clan for this awesome, incredible, 5 star album! Thank YOU!!!!!

Next up, Ghostface's debut, "Ironman."

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