Release Date: Aug 26, 2016
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rap, Alternative/Indie Rock
This collaboration between Interpol’s Paul Banks and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA began after the pair met in a New York City tequila bar and went on to regularly play chess together. Like their matches, Anything But Words is an intricate meeting of minds – on one side, Interpol’s dark elegance. On the other, RZA’s assured, distinctive flow and his influential production techniques and beatmaking.
While Banks & Steelz — the union of Interpol's Paul Banks and Wu-Tang Clan's RZA (under his Bobby Steelz moniker) — may get some unfortunate comparisons to Killer Mike and El-P's Run the Jewels project, this is a whole different beast. It's a sleek, wild, lightning-fast panther to RTJ's charging rhinoceros. Banks provides vocals, RZA handles raps, and both contribute to production, with the odd assist from folks like Kid Harpoon and Andrew Wyatt.Anything But Words is at its best when it raises the tempo: the high-energy "Giants" and the thumping "Ana Electronic" are easily the album's highlights, combining comfortable rock backdrops with some razor-sharp RZA verses.
On paper this sounds like a bizarre collaboration – RZA, the unofficial head of Wu-Tang Clan releasing an album with the Paul Banks, lead singer of the notoriously gloomy Interpol. For extra bewilderment, Florence Welch guests on vocals. Fortunately, what initially sounds like something that will never work out turns out to make perfect sense, with both RZA and Banks sounding rejuvenated and more energised than they have done in a long time by their day jobs.
Cross-genre collaborations don't always land as expected. When combining riffs and rhymes, there's a high risk that descriptors like "rap-rock" and even "nu-metal" will creep up to cloud objectivity, recalling ghosts from the late '90s. On Anything But Words, the debut effort from Banks & Steelz, two seemingly disparate forces mesh so well that it sounds like they were meant to be together all along.
It's hard to imagine how Paul Banks (the brooding lead singer of Interpol) and RZA (the de-facto leader of Wu-Tang Clan) ever came together as friends or musicians, but it's a fairly simple story of admiration and mutual respect. After Banks referenced RZA as an influence while promoting his solo album, a mutual friend brought the two together. Over a breakfast of mezcal and a dinner of noodles in Chinatown, Banks & Steelz was formed.
As Interpol’s heart and (perpetually morose) soul, Paul Banks was a leading voice of the indie rock revitalization of the early 2000s. He and his bandmates have continued to push the evolution of post-rock, finding new ways to soar with recent efforts like 2014’s El Pintor. And yet all the time he’s been this modern-day rock star, Banks has been building to life as a rap kingpin.
Wu-Tang Clan badass RZA and Interpol frontman Paul Banks began writing together in 2011, and this, their eventual album, doesn’t sound unlike what you’d imagine Interpol smooshed with Wu-Tang Clan to sound like. There’s 70s lounge-funk (Conceal), OutKast stylings (Giant) and guest verses from Kool Keith (Sword in the Stone), Ghostface Killah (Love + War) and Florence Welch (on the Lana Del Rey-ish woozy cowbell-pop track Wild Season), like a retro-futuristic soundtrack to a canned Baz Luhrmann gangster film. And yet songs such as Speedway Sonora are surely just Interpol offcuts: the very same guitar sound and detached broodiness, only with RZA’s hard-hitting raps on top.
If you squint hard enough, a collaboration between RZA and Interpol’s Paul Banks makes a certain kind of sense. There’s a complementary starkness between Interpol’s icicled post-punk and the hip-hop RZA perfected with Wu-Tang Clan. It’s even possible to imagine Banks’ aura of gloom re-sparking some of the wilder, more macabre impulses of RZA’s Gravediggaz days.
Make way Big Grams, there's a new rap/indie rock collabo on the festival circuit. Banks & Steelz unites Wu-Tang sensei RZA with Paul Banks, frontman for sullen post-alternative breakouts Interpol. The duo blazes from the get-go, "Giant," wherein the MC's breathless power-to-the-people rhymes unfold into Banks' melodic radio rock hook.
Though it may seem as Paul Banks and RZA (under his moniker Bobby Steelz) come from entirely separate musical worlds, they have more in common than you might think. Banks traveled throughout his childhood, but he, like RZA, made a name for himself in New York City. Both men were the masterminds of two highly influential New York music groups: indie rockers Interpol for Banks and the legendary Wu-Tang Clan for RZA.