Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cymbal #27:: The Saga Continues

"She says, 'you can't repeat the past,'/ I say 'You can't? What do you mean you can't?/Of course you can!' "
-Bob Dylan, Love and Theft, 2001.

Like the aging superheroes of Watchmen, the Wu Tang Clan have climbed into the old costumes and rebuilt the owlship. The year's most awaited album in hip-hop, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II, is finally out and sink or swim, everyone wants to do a victory lap. A swarm of bees is forming in the sky.

Raekwon (feat. Inspectah Deck, GZA, Ghostface Killah & Method Man) - House of Flying Daggers - 2009

It's all still there with all its charisma and power intact, the easy references to the mythos like an H.P. Lovecraft story. There's no patina of age on it - check the familiar dread rising in your throat even before the Dilla beat starts ravaging your diaphragm - "I can tell you two things. The Hunter had nothing to do with this. And it was not the work of thousands of men. In fact, (chilling pause) there was only five." The beat starts like a slug to the head. By the time the Method Man is rasping his visions throatily, you're already beyond response.

House of Flying Daggers follows in the tradition of the classic Protect Ya Neck lineup. But where Neck had the gritty sound of outlaws passing a mic around an oildrum fire, Daggers has the plush production of a thousand tower tall machines all pumping out darkness, stamping out blocks of chant.

Wu Tang Clan - Protect Ya Neck - 1993

In my opinion (as someone once told me, there's nothing humble about it), the greatest line-up track since Neck is Triumph. It's a brilliant name. Other MCs may boast; Wu Tang puts forth an exhibition of immense power, from which you cannot tear your eyes. No feat shall be repeated. The show starts at dusk.

Wu Tang Clan - Triumph - 1997

Through the marble arches of the imperial city pass first the exotic and bewildered beasts. Crocodiles on leashes; giraffes on leads. Teams of slaves yoked together march with their heads looking down. Soldiers pass displaying immense riches looted and earned in battle. There are amphorae of jewels, a dead king's head on a cushion. The chariots of the commanders progress regally and sage is burnt to propitiate the gods. At the cool white steps of the Senate, RZA tells breathless stories of battles in foreign lands. The historian's calm description follows in Masta Killas verse.

They're all superlative. But if I had to choose, I'd pick Protect Ya Neck. The Wu Tang may now have the power of emperors, but back when they were in the gutter looking up, their hunger made them vicious and their dreams made them visionary.

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