Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Tommy Boy
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap
P.O.S. :: Chill, dummyDoomtree RecordsAuthor: Patrick TaylorI've been a fan of Stefon "P.O.S." Alexander since his debut nearly 10 years ago. On "Audition" and 2009's "Never Better," he proved himself to be one of the few artists who could successfully meld punk rock and hip-hop. Fellow Minnesotans ….
The Wu-Tang Clan is an empire. You know this, because between the occasional group album, the solo full-lengths, and the extracurricular activities, they’re always giving you a reminder. A remarkable thing about the Wu, though, is that they’ve largely kept their fundamental rawness intact, despite de facto leader RZA’s divisively progressive vision.
With his Wu-Tang colleague Ghostface off doing ambitious concept albums while team leader RZA offers million-dollar LPs as art pieces, Method Man's The Meth Lab is a ramshackle delight, coming nine years after his last solo joint and not giving a damn. Walking into the room with a shrug and then slaying the competition is what Meth does best, and as the title track drops the old and utterly brilliant reference "Like 'Confessions of a Video Vixen,' we by the book," it's obvious he's on point here, and remains so throughout the album. Halfway through, the vengeful "Water" paints the Wu-Tang's great anchorman as a pathos-filled soul doling out moral judgments ("They done killed the homie's brother, what you supposed to do with that?/Who gonna tell his baby mother that her dude ain't comin' back"), while "Rain All Day" is the kind of wicked Wu swaggering, humorous, enemy-kicking anthem ("You monkeys hangin' 'round like you gorillas") that got many fans addicted in the first place.
While it's billed as a Method Man solo album, The Meth Lab is ostensibly an album on which Method Man prominently features his crew. After last year's ill-fated Wu-Tang album A Better Tomorrow, The Meth Lab sounds more like the typically gritty lane we are accustomed to seeing Method Man in. It's Method Man's first release attributed to his name in nine years, and given the ascendance that Wu-Tang peers like Ghostface Killah have attained through taking a collaborative approach to their recent projects, it's understandable that Method Man would deem this the best time to re-enter the chamber.
Aging is never easy to do. Growing old in the public eye is even harder. As Hip Hop’s OGs enter their 40’s and 50’s, some have faded away, opting to spend time with their families rather than cooped up in a studio. Others have been less inclined to pass the mic, staging career revivals and making new music for diehard fans that have yet to give up on their favorite rappers.
Back in the Nineties, you didn't need a Ph.D. in Wu-Tang Clan science to get with Method Man, the Staten Island crew's laid-back, approachable, gravel-voiced pop star. Meth has found success as an actor in the 2000s — most famously as Cheese on The Wire — but he can still bring the pain. His first album since 2006 is a proudly nostalgic testament to the Shaolin way, full of vintage, gritty New York beats, cameos from pals like Redman (plus Wu brothers Inspectah Deck and Raekwon), and a chill, shooting-the-shit vibe: "Zero drama, I'm such a vet/No need for checkin' my cuts, just cut the check," Meth rhymes.
Let’s be totally honest, it was only a matter of time before Method Man succumbed to the temptation of making a poor Methamphetamine pun in the wake of Breaking Bad. Everyone was thinking it. Probably 'I really hope he doesn’t do it' but we were thinking it nonetheless. With the release of The Meth Lab, that fateful day has finally arrived and it marks a distinct, unfortunate and disappointing turn in the career of a Wu-Tang legend.
If you've been keeping up with Method Man over the past decade or so, the question isn’t whether he will make embarrassing "Breaking Bad" references on an album called The Meth Lab, it’s how many times will he make a reference, the likely range being "too many" to "far too many. " This is how Johnny Blaze does nowadays—after kicking off 8 Diagrams with a promise to "bring the sexy back like Timbaland and Timberlake," he’s followed with countless other, similarly demoralizing punchlines that are at least a year past their spoilage date. Method Man has always been expected to be Wu-Tang Clan's mainstream emissary, and his lyrics mirror their currently tangential relationship with relevancy.
Method Man’s first solo record in nine years should come with an asterisk, as the revered Wu-Tang Clan MC basically plays master of ceremonies for a showcase of underexposed Staten Island-area rappers and a few Wu peers and associates. With the feel of a mixtape instead of a proper solo effort, this seems like a bridge to his upcoming “Crystal Meth”; ultimately the music is more Jesse Pinkman than Walter White-grade Meth. When he does appear, Method Man is mostly in a lower gear (“Water”), only rising up to inspired heights intermittently.