Wu-Tang is back and not selling their album to the highest bidder
It has been quite some time since we had a good Wu-Tang Clan album, especially since none of us will be alive to listen to Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. For all we know, it’s the best album the ruckus raisers have ever done. Instead, RZA and company throw us plebeians a bone by releasing The Saga Continues for public consumption. And frankly, it is the best album the Wu produced since The W. That isn’t to say that Iron Flag, 8 Diagrams, and A Better Tomorrow are bad, but rather underwhelming releases after producing three very good to legendary hip-hop albums to start off their discography.
The Saga Continues mixes it up and has longtime Wu-Tang DJ, Mathematics, produce all of the instrumentals for the album as RZA served as the executive producer. This was a refreshing decision for the group because Mathematics does a fantastic job on all of the instrumentals. The album starts off like any other Wu-tang album, with a boom-bap production, sampling an old Japanese samurai film, leading into the first song titled “Lesson Learn’d.”
The song starts off with the chorus from Redman and then the first verse is from Inspectah Deck — and Deck comes in hard. “I said one, two, three and to the fo’/I glide like there’s simply no traction on the flo’” are the first bars of the album. Suffice to say, Inspectah Deck and Redman kill their verses and Mathematics kills the beat; it’s exactly how you want a Wu-Tang album to start. The next song, “Fast and Furious,” also comes in hard with another fantastic instrumental, sampling two notes from Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya,” and two great verses from Hue Hef and the Chef himself, Raekwon. It’s a classic Wu-sounding song detailing taking a trip to Florida for their nefarious shenanigans.
The Saga Continues is sounding pretty good so far right? Sick beats and tight verses from Redman, Inspectah Deck, and Raekwon. It’s what every Wu-Tang Clan fan wants in an album. But wait, there’s more! After ‘Fast and Furious,” we have the one and only M-E-T-H-O-D Man just take over for the remainder of the first half of the album. He johnny-blazes each track with his legendary flow and slick lyrics. “I guarantee you the feds listening/So I be spittin’ in barcode” and “Each line pack a Fabolous punch, no diss to Ray J” are some of many fantastic lines scattered across tracks five, six, eight, and nine.
After track nine, “People Say,” we get a skit which serves an introduction to the RZA featured “Why Why Why.” It’s a powerful way to start the second half of the 18-track album. The de facto leader of the group discusses the social injustices of African Americans living in the United States. In the first verse, RZA rhymes, “Or shackled to a seat of a bus, a hundred of us/Life in America shouldn’t be so tough,” which is a reference to Inspectah Deck’s verse in the Wu’s most famous song “C.R.E.A.M.”: “Handcuffed in the back of a bus, forty of us/Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough.” I suspect that RZA increased the number to show that life for African Americans has gotten worse since the 1990s, but I’m not entirely sure. Hopefully, RZA can provide some insight in the coming weeks.
“Why Why Why” is definitely one of the standout tracks because of the lyrics and absolutely not because of RZA’s harsh voice and unorthodox flow — he consistently sounds like he has rocks in his mouth. “G’d Up” is the next song and it’s a fine song. One line of the hook, “Welcome to the big boy life,” takes away from the song as it’s a terribly lame line. Welcome to the big boy life? Just awful. What are we, twelve?
Unfortunately, the album should have just ended with the first twelve tracks; the rest of the album is lackluster and not memorable. The last two tracks, “Message” and the outro are fine to close out the album, but the two songs, “If What You Say Is True” and “My Only One,” are rather boring and dull, especially “My Only One.” The only GZA appearance on the album is in “If What You Say Is True” and the verse is weak and lazy, making the appearance disappointing. But then again, GZA mailed it in on A Better Tomorrow as well.
Despite very limited verses from Raekwon and Ghostface Killa (notice how I now just brought him up?), The Saga Continues does a good job capturing the essence of what we come to expect from a Wu-Tang record. There is a grit to production and the lyrics. It isn’t a rugged or raw as their earlier work, but that’s primarily due to the natural polish that comes with age and experience as a musician. If you cut out tracks thirteen through sixteen altogether, move “G’d Up” before the “Family” skit, and end the album with “Why Why Why,” “Message,” and the outro, you have a great album.
Method Man, Redman, Inspectah Deck, RZA, and Mathematics are in top form, carrying the brunt of the album. The featured artists are fine, but after not having a new Wu-Tang in over three years, Raekwon and Ghostface really should have been featured more on the album. That, plus the small track ordering issue and the useless tracks after “G’d Up” do take away from the album. The Saga Continues could have been great, but instead is very good. If you’re a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, then this is absolutely a must listen