Words by Jesse Fairfax
Defining Hip-Hop’s divine purpose for over two decades now, the Wu-Tang Clan has united people from all walks of life regardless of age, race, and gender. Likened to The Beatles or Rolling Stones by enthusiasts, the Wu’s cultish following remains devoted to their platform centered around kung-fu and lessons from the Five Percent Nation as well as the school of hard knocks. Originally masterminded by their lead producer and advisor RZA, the nine-man unit’s varying degrees of success birthed ego driven conflicts that made it difficult for them to release an album together since 2007’s 8 Diagrams. Whether Wu-Tang has truly squashed their differences is anyone’s guess, but nonetheless A Better Tomorrow has been released to a world eager for their return.
Faced with proving a sustained relevance in the wake of their public fallouts, the Wu-Tang Clan hopes memories of their hungrier potent days will be enough to muster up interest in 2014. Not long into A Better Tomorrow, it becomes readily evident why Raekwon was vocally opposed to this project’s mere existence: RZA’s direction and tutelage can’t be trusted these days. The opener “Ruckus In B Minor” features co-production from the iconic elder guru Rick Rubin, but its incomplete and unfinished sound is sure to leave listeners as confused as Shaolin’s army must have been in the studio. Known for their strength in numbers, here they struggle from a poorly mixed track and a lack of vocal coaching as their rhymes aren’t loud enough and also off beat at times.
Though they fall short for most of the album, there is the attempt to represent the Wu-Tang Clan’s essence with contributions from all of their key players including cut and pasted Ol’ Dirty Bastard vocals. U-God’s deep tone has remained recognizable over the years, but his inconsistencies show he’s well past his prime despite sporadic sharpness. Meanwhile, Method Man has been left in charge of carrying the load as the Clan’s biggest star, (luckily adequate amidst his team’s blunders) and Cappadonna’s vocal delivery still manages to impress. Reflective of current events dealing with systematic injustice, “Mistaken Identity” comes close to rehashing their old energy (with the added bonus of live instrumentation), with “Keep Watch” being another intermittent reminder of their potential given its trademark sampling of soul.
Well intentioned yet uninspired, the Wu-Tang Clan takes notes from the book of Bad Boy’s Hitmen crew, jacking the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes classic “Wake Up Everybody” on the album’s title track. Equally confusing is closing things off sampling The O’Jays hit “Family Reunion,” a cheap and lazy trick considering their place as former innovators. RZA makes good on his long running mission to supply listeners with morsels of wisdom, but A Better Tomorrow is ultimately a collection of bad ideas that requires far too much patience to suffer through.