The year is 1996. Hip-hop stations all over the country, but particularly on the east coast, are showing tremendous rotation to the Wu-Tang Clan. Having released four albums between the nine members of the group (not counting pre-Clan discs from the RZA and the Genius), just about everyone is up on the Wu, regarding their music as an iconic, unique school of hip-hop that just can’t lose. The clique has enough members to cover all bases for their legion of fans, who would all disagree on who the illest member was despite sharing love for the group as a whole. Some say Method Man is the best, others say that it’s the Genius, while others yet insist that Ghost is on top. Even the unproven U-God got love. Sensibly enough, it’s the quietest member of the group that gets the least attention; Masta Killa, who seems to hide from cameras and whose spare rhyme style is not the most accessible, is at the bottom of the barrel.
Today, the Clan looks a lot weaker than it did back then. The RZA’s production output has diminished greatly, and the group’s latest solo albums have been mediocre on the whole (with the very notable exception of Ghostface’s Pretty Toney, which doesn’t carry the signature Wu-Tang sound at all). Method Man is the co-star of a sitcom that rivals Homeboys From Outer Space in horrendousness and U-God is publicly beefing with everybody else in the group. For a minute it seemed that nobody in the group is carrying the torch and releasing that dark, slightly twisted hip-hop we all love without any concern for the rest of the hip-hop world. But Masta Killa didn’t drop his solo album yet.
As fans gradually lost faith in other members of the group, MK became a lot more appealing, displaying great consistency and, with “One Blood Under W,” the ability to hold down songs by himself. By the time 2004, a great deal of people were excited for the release of his own album, No Said Date, which just could not possibly be as lazy and commercial as some of the weaker Clan records. Well, it’s out… and just about everybody who’s heard it is satisfied that it’s not.
The album starts out reassuringly with some kung-fu flick dialogue, and a nice, unobtrusive beat from newcomer Brock for the first song, “Grab The Microphone.” Killa’s flow is as on-point as ever, creating a relaxing, rhythmically interesting listening experience that’s occasionally sprinkled with dope visuals like “flow roll like water off the brim when it rain.” The RZA’s first production contribution, “No Said Date,” is a much more intense track, but the Masta handles it with an equal amount of prowess, conveying a sense of urgency without having to rely on screaming or using shock-value lyrics.
But unfortunately, No Said Date’s pacing is not nearly as consistent as it is at the beginning. Tracks like “Love Spell,” whose mediocre beat sounds even uglier when coupled with truly awful singing, and “Queen,” which just sounds unnatural, become must-skips after the first couple of listens, and even tracks with cool guest appearances such as “DTD” and “Silverbacks” soon become boring. There’s something in the album’s overall production that just doesn’t hold a listener’s attention, and after several listens, one has to narrow the forty-eight-minute-long record down to a handful of songs.
Which is not to say that No Said Date is a bad album. Those five or six songs with replay value are truly fresh, particularly the eccentric “School” (produced by the RZA, of course), which unexpectedly switches beats midway to a rapid-fire, light-hearted reflection on the good old days. Wu-Tang guest appearances are interesting on any record, and this one is no exception. Despite spitting characteristically hot verses, Ghost ( who insists, “I’m not a bullshit rapper, my gun really do go off like that”) and Raekwon can’t redeem the lifeless beat of “DTD.” The underappreciated Streetlife contributes an impressive verse to “Whatever,” and ODB silences those who claim that he isn’t a great musician by using the Big Mac song (“Two all-beef paties, special sauce,” etc.) to tie “Old Man” together.
Masta Killa’s album isn’t great by any means, but it does have plenty of great moments that make it worth checking for. You may have to keep your finger on the fast-forward button, but there is a good twenty minutes of fresh hip-hop that ought to be enough to satisfy all but the most demanding Wu-Tang fans. And in a time where hip-hop hasn’t seen a legitimately classic, well-rounded album in years, No Said Date holds up as a solid, entertaining and overall satisfying debut.
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