THE BREAKDOWN: Return Of The Wu Tang


BY M. EMANUEL When the BREAKDOWN first got word that all eight living members of the Wu-Tang Clan were heading to the studio to prep their fifth collective effort, 8 Diagrams, the news was met with cautious optimism. An admitted fan of the Wu’s classics, in part because the early albums formed the sonic backdrop for the high school incarnation of the BREAKDOWN, allegiance to the Wu has been downgraded, somewhat, from fanatic in the mid-nineties to mere respectful reverence in the post-new millennium. Still, while the promise of the new album, in stores yesterday, may not have registered as the “most anticipated” release of the year, the new project still generated enough curiosity to warrant an Insta-Review and a trip down memory lane.

Fortunately for Wu-Tang diehards, the album hearkens back to the early Wu years and represents a much-needed shot of nostalgia from rap’s once most dominant supergroup. The Wu collective — which sparked clothing lines, video games, new city slang, Gambino-inspired rhymes and spurred an entire generation of hip-hop heads to throw on Timberland boots, black skullies and chase C.R.E.A.M. — may not hold sway over the hip-hop public as it once did, but 8 Diagrams displays the sharp lyricism and intricate production that engendered a fan base across the globe.

The opening track, Campfire begins with a sample touting the importance of justice, honesty, and patience — the hallmarks of the Wu’s storied career. As the beat drops, it invokes a slight chill to hear Method Man going for broke over RZA’s production. It feels like it’s ’94 all over again. Meth takes a second to remind listeners that he ‘s “still got a wicked flow.” And in fact he does, delivering inspired verses throughout the album. It’s no secret in hip-hop circles that Method shines best when surrounded by his Wu brethren and this effort further solidifies that hypothesis. We can only hope that he will be able to deliver this type of sustained output for an entire solo release.


As expected, Ghostface Killah also shines throughout the album with his characteristic stream-of-conscience flow. It’s funny to think that when the Wu first dropped, most fans anointed Method as the most talented of the group in part due to his charismatic everyman flow and witty punchlines. As time has passed, Ghostface, has proven to be the most consistent Wu member as far as solo releases, and anointed as the nicest in the Wu by many. His position on “Caesar’s throne” intact, it’s Ghost’s urgent narration on the standout gem of the album, “The Heart Gently Weeps,” that really demonstrates how gifted he is as an MC. The song samples the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — rumored to have cost an arm and two legs — and features Erykah Badu on the chorus while Ghost describes an attempt on his life in the supermarket of all places. Only Ghostface could pull the story together with his distinctive flair and eye for detail, backed by slashing guitar riffs and heavy drums. Other standouts include Take It Back” with a beat reminiscent of Ghostface’s Daytona 500, Weak Spot and Life Changes, a heartfelt tribute to ODB.

Overall, the album does lose some steam upon repeated listen. Once the excitement of hearing the Wu back in form (and all together) subsides, there is some unevenness to the album. The beginning is strong but loses some of its direction in the middle, as the album doesn’t push a clear cohesive theme that was standard on previous Wu offerings. In addition, some of the lyrical performances by the traditionally rewind-worthy Inspectah Deck and GZA, while definitely solid, don’t rise to the level of extraordinary. Grade: B


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The easiest word to describe M. Emanuel is “complex.” At least as it relates to tastes and interest, he offers a varied palate for that which inspires thought or emotion. Typically framed against the backdrop of hip-hop culture, but with a sharp awareness of what preceded the culture and what is now influenced by it, he’s intrigued by the intersection of commerce and art. It’s a rather natural position and balance of contrast that one would expect from a former college radio DJ turned corporate attorney who collects sneakers on the side and still writes rhymes from time to time. While we can’t expect to hear a full-length anytime soon, you can expect unique and hopefully enlightening insight from someone who, while navigating the world of corporate politics, has always kept his ear to the pavement. Hailing from Virginia, but now firmly entrenched in the 215, M. Emanuel focuses his daily grind in the areas of intellectual property and entertainment law. His many interests include music, film, the arts, fashion, sports, and travel, holding hands on the beach, shots of Patron, and making it rain.

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