Release Date: Mar 8, 2011
Record label: Ice H2o Records
With 2009's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, Raekwon managed to conjure a satisfying sequel to one of rap's most hallowed albums. The pressure's off now, and on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, Rae sounds at ease — as loquacious as ever, unfurling martial-arts-movie allusions and street-crime narratives in a weave of internal rhymes.
Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt. II was a success in every sense: it made money, the critics loved it, rapheads both young and old embraced it and it did more to repair the somewhat tarnished Wu reputation than the tepidly-received 8 Diagrams could. Perhaps most importantly, it established Raekwon as the most consistently reliable member of the Clan.
At this point, Wu-Tang is about nostalgia. The classic template, from the kung fu samples and RZA production blueprint to the rapper's trademark styles, was well-established more than a decade ago. Staying in that lane hasn't always paid creative dividends for the Clan-- there are a few post-millennial Wu records that are hardly essential-- but Raekwon has managed to avoid the obvious pitfalls.
The name Wu-Tang comes from a 1981 kung-fu film called Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang, several audio samples of which the members of the rap ensemble used in their 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The very foundation of the Wu-Tang, an idea brought to life by ring leader The RZA, is to preserve the essence that is hip hop; ergo, no R&B hooks or pop construction; rather, free verses and unstructured rhymes, stylistic devices and poetic conceit, tales of the ghetto, guns, and of real fucking gangstas, grimy beats, and heavily percussive instrumentals. In other words, pure unadulterated rap.
It’s interesting to me how many of the basic arguments for and against Apollo Kids can be made for Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang as well. If Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… 2 was largely an apology for Raekwon’s previous two solo efforts, Shaolin is Raekwon doing those two albums properly. Like Apollo Kids, it’s a very simple, straightforward listen.
I live in Tokyo, a crucial, safe-ish distance from the earthquake. But I didn’t know that yet on Friday, when I stood braced under the door to my porch, watching electric cables slap like double dutch ropes. I had never felt anything like it, tremors as deep as ocean waves, like snowboarding standing still. In fact I’d spent most of my life totally sure of the ground beneath my feet, both literally, since I’m originally from Texas, and metaphorically, since I come from about the most stable background you can imagine.
Back in 2007, conflicts within the Wu-Tang Clan were rife, as the group released their fifth album, 8 Diagrams, to the dissatisfaction of some of its key members. Among those unhappy were Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, claiming that RZA’s increasingly experimental production style had strayed from the classic Wu-Tang sound. Here lies the origin of Shaolin Vs.
Around the time following Wu-Tang Clan’s 8 Diagrams, a disgruntled faction of the Wu was rumored to be releasing an album titled Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. That project never came to fruition. However, Raekwon – who originally came up with the title Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang – opted to use the name for ….
The fallout from Wu-Tang Clan’s last album, which has found several of the group’s members battling over ownership of its signature mythology, has also helped to point out which of them haven’t fully left the nest. The two main objectors to the production on 8 Diagrams were Raekwon and Ghostface, both disavowing any connection to the album after its release, reporting their intention to make their own Wu-Tang project without group mastermind RZA. For Ghostface, who’s hopped from one weird permutation to another in his successful career, the group’s kung fu symbols are just another set of toys, but they appear to be a more serious issue for Raekwon, who spends the entirety of Shaolin vs.
After releasing Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… in 1995, Raekwon took four years to produce a follow-up, the disappointing Immobilarity. It seems that Raekwon is determined not to repeat Immobilarity’s mistakes -- an overly long gestation period, a production palette that strayed from the classic kung-fu noir of the Wu-Tang -- and so Shaolin vs Wu-Tang arrives just 18 months after Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. With Shaolin vs Wu-Tang added to last year’s undercooked yet serviceable collaboration with Method Man and Ghostface, Wu Massacre, and the mixtape Cocainism Vol 2, there’s been a surprising plethora of Raekwon material as of late, where previously he released music at a tortoise’s speed.
So, you’re a founding member of the legendary hip-hip combo [a]Wu-Tang Clan[/a]. And your fans are extremely pissed because you went and done a track with that [a]Justin Bieber[/a].So you decide to kick it old school, and you get in your old pals [b]Ghostface[/b] and [b]Rick Ross[/b] and [b]Busta[/b] and [a]Method Man[/a]. And hey, [a]Estelle[/a]’s a fan, so why don’t you put her on the track [b]‘Chop Chop Ninja’[/b]? And, tell you what, we’ll use samples from westerns – like the hammy [b]‘Snake Pond’[/b]!There’d better be a track to please the manager, let’s use the box-ticking [b]‘Rock N Roll’[/b], complete with Auto-Tune and [a]Pendulum[/a]-esque breakdown.
A great fifth album from the Wu-Tang rapper, but not quite another catalogue classic. Mike Diver 2011 One of the few Wu-Tang rappers to have successfully forged a critically validated solo career, Corey Woods aka Raekwon has been riding a fresh wave of respect since 2009’s sequel to his acclaimed 1995 debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Shaolin vs Wu-Tang, the man’s fifth LP in total, lacks the consistency and truly focused lyrical content of its predecessor, but should be considered another success amongst so many mundane releases in the Wu-family catalogue.