Album review: Chef Raekwon's 'Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang'
Three years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan revolted. Disenchanted by the RZA’s operatic direction, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Method Man opted for a Puritan approach, returning to the essence on 2007’s “8 Diagrams”: kung fu clips, spectral soul samples, cryptic criminal slang, dirt-nap drums, even a snippet of Ol Dirty Bastard. After all, as that late clown prince once said, they like it raw.
Like its immediate predecessor, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2,” Raekwon’s modus operandi on “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” is to make you forget the decade-era fugue that followed “Wu-Tang Forever.” Busy directing his first feature film, the RZA is nowhere to be found. Instead, Raekwon recruits a production team compromised of longtime Clan affiliates (Mathematics, Bronze Nazareth, Cilvaringz) and likeminded cellar-dwellers (Evidence, Alchemist, Scram Jones), who faithfully re-create the RZA’s sword-swinging and bell-ringing aesthetic.
The Chef also recruits Rick Ross and Lloyd Banks to go along with fellow ’90s icons Busta Rhymes, Nas and Black Thought, as well as the remaining relevant Clansmen. Most impressive is the way in which the diffuse cast is seamlessly assimilated into the Wu cosmology (save for the awkward Jim Jones-collaboration “Rock N’ Roll”).
On “From the Hills,” Raheem DeVaughn channels OutKast via Curtis Mayfield, while Method Man and the Chef re-create gritty days of being stick-up kids escaping through sewers. “Molasses” finds Ross, Raekwon and Ghostface riffing on the GZA’s “Shadowboxing” as they hang out at the “Stephen King mansion.”
Out of the clouds of smoke and “40 slammin’ while eating salmon,” Raekwon possesses a crystalline vision. “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” is his successful quest to return to the days when it was simple, blessed with the wisdom to know which philosophies work.
— Jeff Weiss
“Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang”
Ice H20/EMI Records
Three and a half stars