As 2002 came to a close, GZA/Genius took us the fuck outta here with his fourth solo debut (third with GZA attatched to his name), Legend Of A Liquid Sword, with its title reflective of his unprecedented hip-hop classic, Liquid Swords. But this left fans a little uneasy, as in most cases, titling your album similar to a classic record of your past seems like a last ditch effort to hang on to past glories (Blueprint 2, Bacdafucup 2, Jealous Ones Still Envy, Still A G Thing, and the list goes on.) But GZA’s new Legend isn’t quite as guilty as the aforementioned, and actually stands up as a good enough album on its own.
While we may never return to the days of classic, more-dusty-than-digital, wall-to-wall RZA production, Legend Of A Liquid Sword realizes this, and travels outside the typical Wu-Tang Clan chambers. The album begins with GZA’s son re-enacting the Lone Wolf & Cub opening from Liquid Swords, proceeding into the excellent “Auto Bio”, where GZA breaks down his history, while also respectfully eyeing retirement over a classic soulful breakdown: “And when my job is done / it’s time to give those that’s comin’ up some run / so you can see where they from”. He also shows excellent work on “Did Ya Say That”, a bluesy romp where the always gimmick-less Genius re-examines how in the music industry, your money gets stuck to the gum under the table. These themes are also revisited on the title track, “Legend Of The Liquid Sword”, where Jaz-O employs Just Blaze like thundering bass-lines with the soulful vocals of Anthony Allen. And while GZA is best known as a solo artist for his witty-unpredictable extended metaphors found on classics like “Labels” and “Publicity”, this album gives us two in that vein, with each “Fame” and “Animal Planet”. “Fame” is propelled by Arabian Knight’s hard-hitting, RZA-approved, piano stabs, and tells a loose knit story made of celebrity last names, sure to strike a chord with fans of “Labels”. Meanwhile, “Animal Planet” does the same, this time taking Melle Mel’s theory of “it’s like a jungle sometimes”, comparing various street characters to the animals their actions most resemble. Here, GZA takes it back to basics as new comer Tyquan Walker re-employs the never-tiring classic soul samples, with Curtis Mayfield / Isaac Hayes’ “Man’s Temptation”, much like Nas just did on his own “Get Down”, with the James’ “Funky Drummer” and “The Boss”.
While these tracks are about as close as we’ll get to a 2002 version of Liquid Swords, the rest of the album falls into mediocrity. DJ Muggs’ “Luminal”, a portrayal of a serial killer is decent, but ultimately GZA’s narrative doesn’t lead up to any shocking conclusions. Tracks like Arabian Knight’s “Highway Robbery” and “Sparring Minds” almost hit the mark of classic Wu-Tang production, but other joints like “Fam”, RZA’s “Rough Cut”, and “Uncut Material” are each sleepy, much like many of the current Wu albums as of late.
In the end, Wu-Tang may never reclaim their crowns as kings of the east coast, but thankfully they have stopped with the overkill approach to releasing albums. While this doesn’t quite match up to the classic it’s title is derived from, it’s good to know that GZA, like Ghostface Killah, is still capable of delivering a dope album to his longtime fans.
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