Category Archives: GZA

Genius/ GZA – Liquid Swords

Genius/ GZA
Liquid Swords
November 7, 1995
MCA RecordsUMG
085/100
GZA - Liquid Swords
1. Liquid Swords (feat. RZA) // 2. Duel of the Iron Mic (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa & Inspectah Deck) // 3. Living In the World Today (feat. RZA & Method Man) // 4. Gold (feat. Method Man) // 5. Cold World (feat. GZA, Inspectah Deck & Life) // 6. Labels (feat. RZA) // 7. 4th Chamber (feat. Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA) // 8. Shadowboxin’ (feat. Method Man) // 9a. Hell’s Wind Staff  /9b. Killah Hills 10304 (feat. RZA & Ol’ Dirty Bastard) // 10. Investigative Reports (feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 11. Swordsman // 12. I Gotcha Back (feat. RZA) // 13. B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) (performed by Killah Priest)

GZA’s Liquid Swords is by a wide consensus amongst Clan-fanboys considered the absolute finest of the solo-albums that any of the Wu’s nine members produced ever.
While personally this reviewer would give Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that particular assessment (I’m admittedly not a much of a connoisseur) he does recognise it as being an extremely good rap album.

Here’s what it has going for it:
GZA for the time being (the time being 1995) was the best MC in the clan in at least the aspect of rapping for rapping’s sake. Rae and Ghost had better story telling raps, ODB and Meth had more distinct sounding voices and charisma (and hence more pop appeal and better-selling album) and RZA may have been the mastermind and the artiste out of the group, but nobody had individual lines like GZA did. Off course good punchlines don’t necessarily make good songs (word to Canibus) but GZA had a large enough attention span, as well as a smooth, calm delivery to ensure that his recording were cohesive enough.
Also Liquid Swords is the first Wu-solo album that features all of the other Clan-members alongside  its main attraction in guest capacity. Besides R&B singer Life and religious ranter Killah Priest no B-teamers were allowed near the project. This ensured several good things:
1. GZA couldn’t afford to self-indulge too much because he always was in company in the booth, which helped prevent stupid-ass songs like Stay Out of Bars off his forgotten Cold Chillin’-debut Words From the Genius, Vol. 1.
2. The people he was surrounded with were as talented as he was so he had to put in an effort on each song not to lose the spotligh.
3. He worked with people he was comfortable with and was proven to have chemistry with.
Finally Liquid Swords had the monolithic production courtesy of his cousin and Clan ringleader RZA at a time when that guaranteed banging beats. Prince Rakeem had in the two years prior created almost four complete albums of fantastic and unmistakable production for the entire Clan, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon (guest starring Ghostface Killah) respectively and showed no sings of slowing down with Liquid Swords (although in truth by this time probably was working towards a burn-out because Liquid Swords was the penultimate Wu-solo album not handles almost exclusively by Bobby Digital, bar his own albums. And along with RZA leaving the studio every once in a while, the guarantee of Wu-solo albums being hot by default disappeared, which means that either this album or Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, depending on who you ask, marks the end of the group’s golden era.).

The Genius had released an album prior to this one four years earlier when there was no such thing as the Wu, on Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie’s legendary old school hip-hop label Cold Chillin’ Records. That album had surprisingly mediocre beats (by the usually reliable Easy-Mo-Bee) and had the man performing mistifying pop-rap/ house-rap songs such as the Wu-jack swing number (which is exactly as shitty as that sounds) Come Do Me. Everyone has to start somewhere I suppose. Words From a Genius, Vol. 1 is however not the place to start your GZA experience. Liquid Swords is superior in every aspect.
It’s hard to imagine any one of the Wu’s fans being disappointed with Liquid Swords when it dropped. It has everything one could’ve come to expect from the Clan so far: battle raps, religious imagery, chess references, nerdy gangsta raps, eerie yet warm beats and kung-fu samples breaking it all up. One could argue that the Wu were playing it safe by not offering their fans but the fans know that sticking to the script in this case was actually a good thing.

Despite both Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records (The both of which are name-checked along with a myriad of other labels, most of which have gone bankrupt by now, on Labels.) habing already risen to the forefront of the hip-hop genre and to the top of the charts by ’95 with different, distinct R&B-infused sounds this album didn’t follow the trend and pretended the mainstream didn’t exist. There zero songs for the ladies, null jams for the clubs and no songs for the radio.
In stead we get typical prime, grimy Wu material that is perfect for small, marijuana-laced social gatherings.
The title track has a catchy hook though, and songs like Duel of the Iron MicGold and Shadowboxin’ to which Meth and ODB lend their voices have the most pop appeal, given that you’re into the Wu-æsthetic, but even these relatively accessible songs are grimier than most rap album’s songs for the streets. It was this uncompromising attitude to hip-hop that is the Clan’s bread and butter and is characteristic of their best work. (Their bids for radio play conversely are almost universely considered shitty by the fans.)
Duel of the Iron Mic4th Chamber, Shadowboxin‘, Duel of the Iron MicCold World and Investigative Reports are some of the best Wu-collabos put to wax while the title track, GoldLabelsSwordsmanHells Wind Staff/ Killah Hills 10304 and I Gotcha’ Back allow GZA to take the spotlight.

Liquid Swords is a prime example of the Wu-movement at the peak of its powers, everything just works. There are no real weak spots, bar maybe the closing track B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) which is a self-important religious rant. Still RZA and GZA can’t be blamed for that one since it’s a Killah Priest solo-shot with a 4th Disciple beat. And even that song doesn’t entirely suck.

Best tracks
Liquid Swords
Duel of the Iron Mic
Cold World
Labels
4th Chamber
Shadowboxin’

Recommendations
Pick it up.


the Genius – Words From the Genius, volume 1

the Genius
Words from the Genius, volume 1
Februari 19, 1991
Cold Chillin’ Records/ Reprise Records/ Warner Bros. Records/ WMG
060/100
the Genius - Words From the Genius

1. Come Do Me // 2. Phony As Ya Wanna Be // 3. True Fresh M.C. // 4. The Genius Is Slammin’ // 5. Words From a Genius // 6. Who’s Your Rhymin’ Hero // 7. Feel the Pain // 8. Those Were the Days // 9. Life of a Drug Dealer // 10. Stop the Nonsense // 11.  Living Foul // 12. Drama // 13. Stay Out of Bars // 14. What Silly Girls Are Made Of // 15.  Superfreak

The story of the Wu-Tang clan is a long one. One that, god willingly, will take this blog and any uneventful reader through a stack of 214 albums – and counting – released the group as a whole, its members, its affiliates and even through soundtracks of films the group’s leader, the RZA, scored.

The obvious starting point would be Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) since it is the album that actually started the movement. Fate however would have it that one of the ten core members of the clan; Gary “GZA/Genius” Grice actually had released an abum before the Clan existed. Words from the Genius is that album.

Released on the Juice Crew’s record label Cold Chillin’ Records in februari of 1991 and produced by Big Daddy Kane’s beatmaker Easy Mo Bee doesn’t show a trace of RZA, Meth, Rae, Ghost, Deck, U-God or ODB, which isn’t strange considering where and when this was released. What is strage is that there are no assists from Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan or Marley Marl. Considering that he was signed to their label and was a complete unknown at the moment one would think that a guest verse by at least one of these legends would both be a major selling point and something that shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange.

But no, this is just Easy and GZA and the occasional no-name producer for the entirety of Words from the Genius with zero guest appearances, which in today’s rap music landscape is almost unthinkable.

Words From the Genius‘ instrumentals shouldn’t be compared to the dark cinematic instrumentals the RZA would serve up on Enter the Wu-Tang. Easy Mo Bee’s classic old school beats have little to do with Prince Rakeem, in stead one should put it toe-to-toe with albums by the aforementioned Kane and Biz Markie, classic, swinging and a bit simplistic but still comfortably above the old school average. Still this album released at the end of the period in which this style of rap was popular doesn’t add much to Cold Chillin’ Records’ list of achievements as Kane and Biz had done just about everything there was to do with this particular style of rap. Also since nobody purchased it it didn’t earn anybody a gold plaque.

As for GZA himself, sounds exactly how he would on subsequent releases, which is to say he’s in fine form, all that’s different this time around is the beats. Lyrical themes include GZA’s mic superiority over other rappers (Genius is Slammin’), nostalgia (Those Were the Days) and the dangers of pubs (Don’t Go Into bars).

As a whole Words is pleasant, jazzy oldschool affair that’s fine when it is on but evaporates immediately from the listener’s conscience when it stops spinning. It’s a pretty consistent release, the only song that outright sucks is the Wu-jack swing opener Come Do Me. The rest is just fine, but nothing special.

Best tracks
Those Were the Days
Drama
Genius Is Slammin’
Stay Out of Bars

Recommendations
If you’re a fan of the Cold Chillin’ records brand of rap music and you haven’t yet heard this you should definitely give this a spin. Fans of the Wu needn’t really bother.