Members of the Wu-Tang Clan have described themselves collectively using a variety of terms, from Voltron to brothers. And like brothers, they fight, perhaps most notably following the release of their 2007 album 8 Diagrams when Raekwon and Ghostface Killah revealed they weren’t happy with the album due to the RZA’s experimental production. Gone were the sounds of the dark streets as RZA traded in his dust blunt for a conductor’s baton as the Wu-Tang sound went orchestral. Raekwon announced that he and several other members would do a Wu-Tang album without RZA named Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, and return to their signature mafia stories and kung-fu skits. Indeed, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is exactly that as Raekwon continues his revival as a must-have guest verse and the keeper of the flame of the Shaolin style that defined the Wu, with features by Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Inspectah Deck but production by people not named RZA.
In the grand tradition of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah’s more heralded works, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang has enough crime and swordplay to make you want to break out the bubblegoose and spray paint your Wallabees. As an additional treat, Nas makes a triumphant return to the Raekwon discography with “Rich and Black”, as he revisits his Escobar persona from “The Firm”-era, complete with phone tap and don references. While Nas and the Wu don’t collaborate as much as they should, each time has been memorable, from Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse” to Mobb Deep’s “Eye for an Eye”. Just as Raekwon, Nas, and Biggie played up the “boss” persona at some point in their careers, the current “boss” figure in hip-hop, Rick Ross, fits right in beside the venerable duo of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, a pairing that I sometimes imagine as a don and his deranged hitman. Ross’ incredible streak of great music continues on an Xtreme beat that sounds custom made for the Miami rapper. It definitely makes a Ross feature on the next Raekwon album mandatory:
Pick of the litter, have this n***** picking paper up
Twitter thug, I’m the timeline strangler
Get ’em up, banging dangerous as angel dust
Cuban Linx smoking stink in the Brink’s trunk
I run with killas who snort powder, extort cowards
Ankle monitors under garments, so fuck showers.
And if that wasn’t enough as far as quality guest verses go, Black Thought lends a verse to “Masters Of Our Fate” with former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the hook! Winston’s no Nate Dogg (rest in peace to the voice of G-funk), but his “Salvation will not be denied us” speech to the U.S. Congress during World War II makes for an inspirational chorus.
Aside from the dreadful “Rock N Roll”, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is an album that accurately mimics the influential early style of the absent Abbot (RZA). The absence of RZA creates a situation similar to the one surrounding the Game’s Doctor’s Advocate, in which producers did their best Dr. Dre impression even though Dre’s not actually on the album (though with all the name drops it certainly seemed like he was). Raekwon set out to make a RZA-less album and yet wound up with an album that sounded like, well, a RZA album, albeit a RZA album from the mid-90s (the RZA that Raekwon apparently prefers). The cinematic theme that was central to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’s success is also present in Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang thanks to Raekwon’s vivid descriptions of the life of a mob boss. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is as influenced by the Cuban Linx… albums as it is by Scarface, The Godfather, and kung-fu films.
Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang could have easily been titled Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…PT III, which was thankfully shot down as a possible album title. As ludicrous as that album title sounds, you can never be too sure because rappers lack creativity nowadays, from naming their album Classic Album I Put Out In The ’90s 2 to Ra Diggs being a rapper name when there’s already a Rah Digga out there. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is very much a trip back to the original Wu-Tang sound that Raekwon was referring to during the 8 Diagrams controversy. But Raekwon ends the album with a chant of “WU-TANG! WU-TANG!” over the classic “L’estasi Dell’oro” by Ennio Morricone from the The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly score to emphasize that at the end of the day, the Wu-Tang Clan is stronger that any perceived tension between the RZA and the rest of the members. Even though RZA wasn’t a part of the album, his fingerprints are all over it and it wouldn’t have been possible without him.[audio:http://potholesinmyblog.flywheelsites.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/09-raekwon-rich_and_black_ft._nas.mp3|titles=Raekwon – Rich And Black (Feat. Nas)]