Release Date: Dec 2, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rap, East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap
Released along with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin -- their locked-down, $5 million dollar, single-copy album-as-art release -- A Better Tomorrow is further proof that, in 2014, the Wu-Tang Clan are a concept or collective led by RZA, and not necessarily a group. Their previous 2007 effort, 8 Diagrams, was the first clue that things would never be the same post-Ol' Dirty Bastard, but they could be quite good, excellent even, as long as one doesn't expect the lean, mean Shaolin machine of the past. Like 8 Diagrams, A Better Tomorrow seemed quite unlikely to see release with key member Raekwon being a vocal holdout, and here, the festival circuit, post-ODB Wu-Tang rolls on with little of that holdout's help.
It’s a nightmare getting the Wu-Tang Clan together, so much so that there’s a film about it. 2007 documentary Rock The Bells followed promoter Chang Weisberg’s attempt to persuade all 10 members to perform at his festival of the same name. “Nigga, you can sit on the stage, just give me one minute, man,” yells an exasperated RZA down the phone to an awol Ol’ Dirty Bastard (four months before his death).
“The world won’t get no better if we just let it be.” It is with the spirit of Harold Melvin, that the Wu-Tang Clan returns with a message for A Better Tomorrow. The much anticipated album is the Clan’s sixth studio effort, and has generated substantial buzz dating back to 2012. Prior creative differences between Raekwon and RZA subsided peacefully in May of this year, culminating in the complete nine-man ensemble for recording.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The conflicts that arose when it came to the development of Wu-Tang Clan's 20th anniversary album, almost marred the milestone achievement. The friction between RZA and Raekwon curtailed the album's completion but once they came to an understanding, the group was able to produce an album worthy of this twenty year milestone.
It all started with Cher. Shaolin Shadowboxers the world over nearly fell off their chairs back in May when Forbes was granted an exclusive snippet of Wu-Tang Clan’s most outlandish project yet, the quite-literally one-of-a-kind album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Purportedly a record that’d been made secretly over five years (and is now securely encased in a lavish nickel and silver box), it wouldn’t be made commercially available, but would instead tour museums across the world before being sold to the highest bidder.
Wu-Tang Clan's reputation has persisted even as their ostensible influence over the hip-hop genre has receded, thanks mostly to the distinct, hydra-headed makeup of the supergroup's nine-man roster. Originally presented as cartoon archetypes, Wu-Tang's eight surviving original members (along with promoted second-stringer Cappadonna) have by now all distinguished themselves via varyingly successful solo efforts, giving rise to both a colorful collection of voices and a predictable amount of static over control of the clique. Most of the recent upheaval has developed around a factional rift between mastermind/producer RZA and staunch traditionalist Raekwon, who apparently possess different mindsets about the level of experimentation appropriate for a Wu-Tang release.
It’s tempting to treat what is being rumored to be the final Wu-Tang Clan album with an unnecessary amount of reverence. On “Felt,” Masta Killa gives us an inkling of why. Remember what it was like the first time you listened to “Protect Ya Neck?” Remember when Wu-Tang was so far ahead of their time, most of us really believed RZA when he said they’d return on a comet — at least figuratively.
The story of the Wu-Tang’s first album in seven years, 21 years after their first, is – like the kung-fu movies they love to sample – one of internecine rivalry, conflict and impenetrable dialogue. The RZA, producer and de facto leader of the legendary rap crew, wanted to make a final record. Raekwon, perhaps the group’s finest rapper, didn’t want to be involved if RZA was the boss.
A Better Tomorrow should have marked last year’s 20th anniversary of the hip-hop crew’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), but intra-Wu relations stymied its release. Friction between top Wu dogs RZA and Raekwon now resolved, the reunited Wu effort sounds a lot better than the bickering suggested. There’s kung-fu fighting and sampled film dialogue, and their old school tag-team roll is present on tracks such as Mistaken Identity, while a sample of the late ODB leads the charge on the emblematic Ruckus in B Minor.
One of the first voices you hear on the Wu-Tang Clan's first group album in eight years is that of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard. Intended to convey the group's ongoing relevance, it also brings to mind ODB's most infamous utterance, "Wu-Tang is for the children. " That phrase seems particularly pertinent when considering A Better Tomorrow, given the group's veteran status.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) turned 20 last fall, commemorated in a litany of glowing reminiscences and a lengthy intercontinental festival tour. There was a clean-cut finality to the proceedings, a sense that the group was sending off a movement that had finally run its course. Producer and de facto group leader RZA thought he’d get the guys together for one last job and spent the year trying to will a new Wu-Tang album into existence in time for 36 Chambers’ November anniversary.
Wu-Tang Clan :: A Better TomorrowWarner Bros.Author: Grant JonesI'm sorry RZA, but Raekwon was right.If you've been following the well-documented differences between RZA and Raekwon, you'll know that both had different visions of how the first Wu-Tang Clan album in 7 years would turn out. RZA has grown as a producer, moving on to motion picture soundtracks and taking his martial arts influences on to produce his own film ("The Man With The Iron Fists"). Raekwon on the other hand, has experienced a renaissance in his career following 2009's "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2", going on to release some albums that weren't "Immobilarity".
Obligation isn’t a good motivator when it comes to making art. On some occasions, it serves as an extra bit of oxygen to fuel the fire. But obligation doesn’t translate into drive, no matter how noble it is. That’s what’s been guiding A Better Tomorrow through the turmoil and toward its quiet release: This is what the fans want — no, this is what the fans deserve.
All nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan have finally joined forces for their first album in seven years – but it sounds more like one of RZA's soundtrack projects gone haywire. Glutted with live instruments and tricky structures, the production is heavy on grind-house twists – Ennio Morricone gone electro ("Felt"), Bollywood groove ("Ron O'Neal"), spy-flick tension ("Necklace") and even the strummy drama of a good Godfather rip ("Ruckus in B Minor"). But all those live drums and orchestral embellishments rob the Wu of their trademark claustrophobic, gritty, sample--based style.
Every Wu-Tang Clan album is a reunion, a measure of the power of the Wu-Tang brand to counteract all the forces pulling apart a coalition of nine rappers and at least that many agendas. Wu-Tang’s sixth studio album, “A Better Tomorrow,” arrives just over a year late to honor the 20th anniversary of its groundbreaking 1993 debut, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). ” That album shook up hip-hop with RZA’s brooding, grimy production and with densely allusive raps: violent street tales, raunchy boasts, abstract wordplay, science jargon, philosophical musings, rude humor, nihilism, aspiration.
The iconic W distress symbol had been flickering in the sky of a city no longer the undisputed center of the hip-hop universe. But often times, heroes reemerge only to thicken the plot. Though it was rough—the group’s past two years have been dominated by infighting (Raekwon equated his odds of appearing on the album to “climbing up a fuckin’ mountain if you got on slippers”) and pushed release dates (would have dropped last year for the 20th anniversary of the seminal Enter The Wu-Tang)—A Better Tomorrow still meant new music from the Wu-Tang Clan, something that can never be overlooked.
The battle for the soul of the Wu-Tang Clan is quite evident on the superstar group’s first record in seven years. Producer RZA is moving in a more mainstream direction that seems uncomfortable for a number of the MCs. Throughout, there are short bursts of lyrical excellence, especially from GZA, whose artfully shaped verses shine. The production, often incorporating live instrumentation and some squishy hooks, often seems antithetical to the vintage dirty Wu sound.
Forever never seems that long until you're grown, and after 21 years the Wu-Tang's claim to immortality is under heavy questioning. It's been a full seven years since their last group outing, 8 Diagrams, but far from being refreshed the clan has returned tired, grumpy and overweight. A Better Tomorrow is billed as a 20th anniversary celebration, but it arrives a year after the fact, without any hit singles and with the collective barely able to disguise their total disinterest.
For an album touting the future, A Better Tomorrow is all about yesterday, with Wu-Tang head honcho RZA reflecting on the rap group's legacy overtop uneven callback production. It was initially designed to mark the 20th anniversary of their landmark debut, 1993's Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), but WTC couldn't get their shit together last year, which taints and dates the new record's sentimentality. The best songs (Ruckus In B Minor, 40th Street Black/We Will Fight, Keep Watch) often contain samples from or lyrical allusions to beloved Wu triumphs.
“Miracle” is the worst track the Wu-Tang Clan has ever recorded, and it’s not even a close race. A twinkling, schmaltzy hook about (yes) “miracles” descends every minute or so to interrupt a series of by-the-numbers verses. Masta Killa doesn’t even try: “A live scene theme from a Godfather saga / A Martin Scorsese classic and I’m the author,” he begins, before presumably falling asleep in the recording booth.