The story behind Raekwon’s Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang LP is loosely based around the kung-fu flick of the same name – two warring factions with similar styles that ultimately realize they are one in the same. In the case of Raekwon, this is a chance for him to do a new LP unsupervised by RZA, more closely rooted to his Staten Island upbringing. We’ve seen this kind of thing before with Rae’s disappointing Immobilarity LP, which was panned by critics and fans alike. So after releasing a classic LP with Only Built For Cuban Linx 2 (rated @@@@@ here on HHS), can Rae follow-up with something equally strong, or another disappointment?
Lyrically, Raekwon’s darts are sharper than ever. Countless times throughout the LP, he spits with his own unique cadence and vocabulary style, putting words together like only he can, leaving lyric heads laughing out loud as his choice of sentence structure. The most extravagant of these moments of course comes on his duet with Nas “Rich & Black”, which find the two competing for the spotlight, building ultra-descriptive verses on top of one another. The same can be said for “Chop Chop Ninja” and “Snake Pond”, both of which find Rae directing his own brand of Shaw Brothers-style visuals with Blu-Ray clear lyrics.
On the production front, in all actuality, little has changed, as many of the same producers employed throughout Wu-Tang history are present, from Cilvaringz (“Silver Rings”) to Bronze Nazareth (“Butter Knives”) to Scram Jones (“Last Trip To Scotland”) to Mathematics (“Dart School”), ultimately keeping the sound in tact. The Kenny Dope produced “From The Hills” celebrates the classic sound of Raekwon with ceremonial movie-score horns and a falsetto hook from Raheem DeVaughn, circa Wu-96. Alchemist’s “Ferry Boat Killaz” also seems right at home here, combining the best elements of his own production style and what is expected of nine-diagram phoenix.
Heads may be offended by “Rock ‘N Roll”, by far the most polished track on the album, complete with auto-tuned hook from Jim Jones, but it works. While completely removed from the true Wu-Tang sound, Khalil’s abrasive production actually ends up fitting Raekwon and Ghost well, while Jim Jones delivers a hilarious verse comparing various drugs to classic rock acts. It’s some powerful shit.
Like it’s namesake, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang may lack the touch of RZA’s pointy-ringed fingers, but ultimately this is a Wu-Tang LP, through and through. While it is a slight bit altered with some cleaner production in places, it’s an LP that in the end delivers just as well as Ghostface’s Apollo Kid. While it may not be Cuban Linx 3 (that’s coming later), it’s a grower that demands a second chance, still finding Raekwon sharp as any Wu-Tang sword.
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