I’ve been reading Shea Serrano’s The Rap Year Book lately, where the author goes through each year from 1979 to 2015 and decides on which rap song from each of those years is the most important. One of the sections that caught my eye was about the Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 classic single, “C.R.E.A.M.” As transcendent as that song was, and still is, the thing that got me interested when reading through this section was the complete origin, and mathematics of how this group came together. The logistics are a little too in-depth to get into here, but that in itself has made the Clan one of the most polarizing musical groups in history. They’ve embodied everything it takes to be successful in the hip hop genre.
While their past two albums haven’t been as monumental as their first two projects, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) and Wu-Tang Forever (1997), it’s still gigantic when they release any type of project. While a number of the members have done some of their own features and solo projects, RZA rallied the boys together for another crack at greatness on their newest record, The Saga Continues.
What makes Wu-Tang so incredibly otherworldly was they did things in hip hop that wasn’t present prior to their formation. RZA was known for progressing production in rap, using dialogue and samples from kung-fu movies. While that was present here on their latest effort, a lot of lyrics were kind of expected. It seemed like they played it a little too safe at times.
For diehard fans, this is definitely an album for you. Mathematics turns the clock back tremendously on all of these tracks, and RZA adds his beloved samples from old movies on many skits. I enjoy being surprised though, and nothing here makes me jump out of my seat. A lot of the lyrics on this album were already said before and couldn’t you make an argument that the sound they try to go for on here has already been refined and mastered?
Sure, old rap heads will love the hard-nosed gangster rap on “Lesson Learn’d”and “Fast and Furious,” but the end of the album is where I personally saw a more creative detour. I like Ghostface Killah’s and Raekwon’s energy on “Frozen,” and I also really enjoyed Sean Price’s (out of all people) verse on “Pearl Harbor, where he takes shots at ghost writers (“Non-rappin’ rappers in the booth and they don’t write). Killah’s chorus in this song is the strongest on the entire record.
As usual, Wu-Tang shows why they are some of the greatest at what they do. After a kind of outdated beginning to this record, RZA and Mathematics try everything in their power to modernize their sound just a tad bit. The more diverse sound on “Why Why Why,” with some South American influences on the drums, meshes together nicely with R&B singer Swnkah’s voice. “G’d Up” is another instance of a great fusion of street rap and smooth R&B, that is masterfully pulled off by Mathematics. R-Mean’s verse is a standout, where he delivers clever lines about his personal life.
There’s definitely great aspects from Wu-Tang here, but for a group that prides itself on astute street lyricism, most of what they say on here has already been said. It wasn’t really until track 11 that I noticed a bit more freshness to their production and features. For me personally, I could have went back to any number of their classic tracks from the 90s, and could pick out the blatant similarities between those songs and these ones on the first half of The Saga Continues.
Old-school hip hop fans will love this record. In a day and age where newer rappers are all about the image and autotune, many will find this less glamorous style of hip hop much more listenable. In fact, I think it’s very listenable too. But it’s a sound that has already been perfected and refined before by the Wu-Tang Clan.