2017's The Saga Continues is billed as a Wu-Tang album, and plenty of major and minor members of the Wu-Tang family are on board for the project, but it's not until you read the liner notes that you find out who the real star of this show is. Mathematics, the MC-turned-DJ who learned the ropes of production from RZA and is said to have designed the Wu-Tang's W logo, produced and co-wrote all 18 tracks on The Saga Continues, and he's learned to replicate the sound of Wu-Tang's classic era with impressive accuracy. He doesn't quite equal the scratchy tension of RZA's peak-period work, but Mathematics fills The Saga Continues with dark, moody beats, atmospheric keyboard patches, snatches of classic soul sides, and samples from vintage kung-fu movies.
In recent years, a certain kind of New York City rap experienced a resurgence of sorts. Ushered in by the likes of Action Bronson, Joey Badass, and Your Old Droog, among others, this sound deftly updates a throwback. With an appeal in no way limited to the confines of the five boroughs, it provides a comparatively conservative sonic foil to the ascendent SoundCloud mumble rap that staunch old heads and lyrical miracle workers express endless disdain over.
Nearly as soon as The Saga Continues had been announced, Wu-Tang Clan fans began to joke the album existed solely to spite pharma/rap/Twitter villain Martin Shrekli. For those that live under a more pleasant rock than ours, he had, after all, bought up the only copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, only to hoard it and engage in bizarre beef with Wu member Ghostface Killah when called out for his business tactics. While he is namedropped here, that's certainly a more romantic notion than the reality.
In the last 25 years, the Wu-Tang Clan has become part of the cultural wallpaper, a presence more passively felt than actively appreciated. These days, the most exciting thing about a new Wu-Tang album is the drama surrounding its creation and release. For 2014's A Better Tomorrow, it was the intra-Clan scuffling that nearly derailed the group's first album in seven years.