GZA - Legend Of The Liquid Sword      
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written by NewJeruPoet    
Wu-Tang Clan is slowly trying to redeem themselves. Ghostface Killah's last 2 LPs along with "Iron Flag", the Wu returned making some well-respected music but did not reach the success that was gained in their earlier years. Gza aka The Genius was one of the least popular members but he always was one of the most respected on a lyrical level. His voice does not change often and his delivery (while on point) remains somewhat redundant sounding. For Wu fans and critics, Gza's lyrics got the attention of hip-hop lovers. His first solo album with the Wu was considered a classic. "Liquid Swords" was dark and gritty and sandwiched between the successful "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" (Raekwon) and "Ironman" LP (Ghostface). After the 3rd solo LP (2nd while in the Wu family) "Beneath The Surface", Gza disappointed many people. Now, as Wu-Tang is in the process of redemption, Gza/Genius is attempting to regain his thrown that he sat on when "Liquid Swords" was released. His latest LP, "Legend Of The Liquid Sword" displays his obvious attempt at reclaiming previous success. "Legend" is a thicker LP than "Beneath The Surface" but it does not have that Rza production that the original "Liquid Swords" had. Still, Gza remains faithful to the Wu-tang style. The beats thump hard and the loops are short and effective. This simple yet lush arrangement of sound makes the listener focus on Gza's rhymes.

The best songs possess that delicate balance where Gza and the production work well together. "Auto Bio" (produced by Waxx) uses a very light and simple keyboard melody that is contrasted by a very lush orchestra loop reminiscent of Blaxploitation films. (It's the same loop used in Prodigy's "H.N.I.C."). With fierce confidence, he delivers both simplistic and deep rhymes about his life. "...I was born, with the mic in my hand / Then I took it from Medina, to the S.I. land / I pulled up on the block / Got out the truck, it was the first of pit stops / The era of the spinnin tops, the birth of hip-hop..." The hook is done well too as it compliments the loop. "Silent" (featuring Ghostface Killah & Streetlife) is very cool posse cut produced by Bink. All 3 emcees do an excellent job on the mic. Without a hook, the rhymes and the beat are infectious. Ghost sounds hungry as ever. "Sparring Minds" features Inspectah Deck and was produced by Arabian Knight. The thick blues guitar sound gives the track a gritty and dark mood. Of course, Gza and Deck rock the mic. "Fame" and "Animal Planet" follow the same formula as Gza's past lyrical exercises like "Publicity" and "Labels". On "Fame", Gza strings along different celebrities in every line and on "Animal Planet", he attempts to do the same using the metaphor of the ghetto being a jungle. "Fame" (produced by Arabian Knight) is the most clever of the two. "...They was told not to ride in Patty's Hearse / and stay out of Charles' Manson / Took Abraham's Lincoln through the Todd Bridges expansion / Willis Reid's a map that marks the spot showing / On his left George Burns a blunt William's holding..." The beat and piano loop is very basic but a nice violin loop creeps in along with some very cool scratching (which Wu-tang should use more). "Animal Planet" does not work as well on lyrical level but the production does. The vocal samples and the beat create the darkness and mystery of streets in the urban jungle. The Rza produced, "Rough Cut" features Prodigal Sunn & 12 O'clock has a catchy up-beat sounding chorus along with some 90's deliveries. It's very bright-sounding for a Gza LP but it does work. That classic Wu-tang feel comes back with "Fam (Members Only)" featuring Rza and Masta Killa was produced by Mathematics. A sped-up vocal sample is even used with a thick snare and karate samples. Once again, all 3 emcees bring their own flavor to the stew.

Other songs have catchy hooks that only Wu-tang can pull off. "Did Ya Say That" (produced by Boola) is one of the catchiest hooks on the album. Gza rhymes about the insanity and pitfalls of the record industry. Gza's high-pitched voice on the half-sung hook sticks in the listener's head. "Knock, Knock" (produced by Waxx) is another extremely catchy track in the same spirit as "Breaker, Breaker". Gza basically yells the hook but the LP is edited on some songs. Since this was one of the LP's major singles, the hook feels a little tampered. "Knock! Knock! Who the {scratch} is banging on my door?!?!" The loop sounds slightly like Rakim's "Microphone Fiend" brings and intense energy to Gza. The edited version of the song placed on the explicit version LP makes me feel cheated.

Some songs have hooks performed by other people. They all work but they do not amaze. "Highway Robbery" featuring Governor Two's (produced by Arabian Knight) does not have anything special in the production but Gza does give a solid performance on the mic. The reggae hook by Governor Two's also adds a nice variation to the album. "Stay In Line" (featuring Santi White) is a moody little track with a cool driving rhythm and melody along with keyboard-led horns. The sung hook is mellow and glides with the beat well. Still, the song can be categorized as a quality filler track. The title track "The Legend Of The Liquid Sword" (produced by Jaz-O) features Anthony Allen on the hook. Once again, the very simple keyboard melody gives Gza plenty of room to flex his lyrical muscles over the beat. Allen sings like he's doing a Curtis Mayfield impression. Still, the song does work even though it is not mind-blowing.

There are some tracks that take a while to grow on the listener. "Luminal" (produced by DJ Muggs) has no hook at all except for some fake news footage sounds. Gza tells an eerie tale over a hypnotic beat. The final track "Uncut Material" was completely produced by Gza himself. Alone on the mic too, Gza has a conversation with himself on the hook. It turns out to be a cool track. While "Legend" does not have any bad songs and can be considered a quality Wu-Tang product, there are some problems with this album. First, Gza edited some of the tracks so he would not get an "explicit lyrics" sticker. It did not work. The sticker is there but the curses are not. I like my hip-hop dirty and explicit (especially Wu-Tang Clan!) This made me feel cheated in a way. Second, "Liquid Swords" is a tough LP to top. Nas has the same problem with "Illmatic". Beastie Boys have it with "Paul's Boutique". Even though he made different LPs, every future Gza LP will always be compared to his classic "Liquid Swords". Sure, "Legend" is nowhere near as dope as "Liquid Swords" but it is much better than "Beneath The Surface". "Legend" is just as dark but there are some catchy hooks and deep lyrics. Also, the guests generally take a back seat on this album. One good thing about this album is that Gza's vocal performances vary. On "Did Ya Say Dat", he uses a high-pitched half-singing voice. It shows that he's taking some chances. Third, the simple loops and beats (although lush and full) do not always hit or inspire the heart of the listener. If you are not a strong fan of Wu-Tang or Gza, this LP will either have to grow on the listener or they will have to be in the mood for it. Wu-Tang family producers Rza and Mathematics only produce one song each. Even though a good portion of the beats do hit hard, their presence would be appreciated.

"The Legend Of The Liquid Sword" is part of the Wu-Tang Clan's comeback. He even fell a little bit with his last solo LP "Beneath The Surface". Even though "Surface" was decent, "Legend" redeems The Gza. Here, Gza took time and honed craft. This is an album for Wu-Tang fans and fans of Gza. While some catchy hooks may bring some new listeners, only the true die-hard Wu-Tang Clan / Gza fans will appreciate this LP. It is ironic that Gza named this LP "Legend Of The Liquid Sword" since he will always be compared (or made reference to) his solo classic "Liquid Swords". While Ghostface Killah continues to release quality Wu-Tang LPS and we wait for Method Man to release something else, Gza's "Legend Of The Liquid Sword" will satisfy the listener's thirst for dark, hardcore lyricism.

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