Raekwon - Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
Record Label: Ice H20 / EMI Records
Release Date: March 9, 2011
Originally intended to be a full Wu-Tang album minus production from the group's de facto leader RZA, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang was eventually announced as a solo Raekwon project as production began. Unhappy with the overly experimental sound RZA crafted on the group's last collaborative album 8 Diagrams, Raekwon brought together a slew of various producers to help return to the gritty sound that made the Wu-Tang Clan so famous in the first place. As the name signifies, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is a combination of the street-level hip-hop of Staten Island and the high concepts typical of a Wu-Tang release, and it does a great job of bringing together new production and Raekwon's signature lyricism in an interesting way.
Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang opens with its title track, led in by a piece of dialog from the 1981 film that inspired both the Clan's name as well as the album's. Even as the intro track, “Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang” is one of the hardest of the whole album, carried by an intense beat and dramatic strings that complement Raekwon's smooth delivery. From the onset, it's apparent Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is meant to be a nostalgic look back on the Wu's glory days. Classic sound effects cut their way through the production at regular intervals, solidifying the old-school sound Raekwon hoped the producers could emulate.
Unfortunately, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang does contain a few missteps. “Silver Rings” is a fantastic track featuring both Ghostface Killah's unique lyrical delivery and the competent production of Wu collaborator Cilvaringz, but suffers from being the shortest track on the album. The following track, however, is the real problem. The Wu-Tang Clan typically do a great job of treading the line between bad ass and corny that naturally comes with the territory they inhabit. The intro and subsequent chorus to “Chop Chop Ninja” totally disregards that line and veers straight into the realm of cheesy. While Estelle's vocals are great in and of themselves, her “true keys to being a ninja” feel out of place even on a Wu album, and completely erase the high “Silver Rings” was responsible for.
Ghostface's second feature comes a few tracks later on “Rock 'N Roll,” a completely uninspired track that would probably find great success on mainstream radio. Instead of sticking to the atmospheric Wu-Tang style, DJ Khalil produced completely unoriginal fluff that ruins any sort of flow or rhythm Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang has going through its midpoint. “Rock 'N Roll” was obviously produced to entice radio play, and is probably the biggest mistake Raekwon makes throughout the whole album.
Luckily, Ghostface is brought back one more time. “Molasses” is a slick, uncomplicated track produced by Xtreme. Carried by a basic beat, beautiful horns, and Rick Ross' signature grunts, “Molasses” is almost the polar opposite of “Rock 'N Roll,” as it abandons the Wu-Tang sound without compromising its own integrity. It goes down smooth thanks to fantastic verses by both of its features and production that lets the superstars do their thing with little interruption.
Other highlights include the light yet intense “Butter Knives,” the East vs. West dichotomy featured on “Snake Pond,” and the soulful contributions of Raheem DeVaughn on “From the Hills.” The final track "Masters of Our Fate" is an inspiring piece of production and lyrical prowess, featuring an intro that highlights pieces of Winston Churchill's most famous speeches as well as a verse by Black Thought. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang fortunately evens out and at times overpowers some of its own glaring errors, making for an album that's less than perfect but still offers quite a few impressive spotlights.
On Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, Raekwon has crafted a sound that carries the same atmospheric, gritty Wu-Tang style while also pushing its boundaries into today's hip-hop world. After surmounting the immense pressure of creating a sequel album, Raekwon seems much more laid back in both his delivery and lyrical style. Luckily, that's far from a hindrance. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is an album that flows along at a steady pace, pushing hard when it needs to while still remaining a very smooth journey. The various producers that were brought together do a competent job of emulating the classic Wu-Tang sound, but are at times overshadowed by a few uninspired pieces. Overall, Raekwon crafted a decent album that does many things right with only a few missteps. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is a worthy addition to the group's legacy, thanks in part to fantastic features from both Wu-Tang members and outside influences, but doesn't offer the same staying power of earlier releases.
Great review. While Raekwon is one of my favorite lyricists of all time, the collab tracks are really the only ones I find myself listening to on repeat. Those tracks also have the sickest beats on the whole album. With that said, Ross and Nas both outshine The Chef on each of their respective songs. When it comes to the Wu, I'll stick with Ghost due to his consistency.
I cant tell if I should pick this up tomorrow along with Thursday and Foo Fighters or if I should finally give only built for cuban 2 a shot...iv been holding off cuz Im so in love with the first one that I might hate it.