The Swarm - Volume 1
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Earning his place in the annals of hip jop history alongside the likes of Def Jam's Russell Simmons and Sugar Hills Sylvia Robinson, the Wu Tang Clan's RZA now faces the test of retaining his position as the anti-Puff Daddy. Putting forth original members with a number of new disciples, RZA presents the antidote to elements of Wu Mania that have crossed into mainstream R&B. Showing a more socially conscious side, The Beggaz "On The Strength" reflects on the value of a positive upbringing, while Remedy's "Never Again" is an emotional Holocaust questioning--perfect to the point of simplicity. Musically, RZA gets involved with both trademarked "Shaolin" inspired beats and subtle harpsichord/string melodies, often seeming discordant, yet tying seamlessly with the flows of Shyheim on "Co-defendant" and the excellent Masta Killa/Raekwon 'Execute Them'. There may be one too many tracks on here (15 in total), but it's an honest picture of the next stage of the Wu Tang Clan, if not with the strength of individualism shown by the forefathers several years ago. --Found Sounds
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The album begins with one of its highlights, a film sample taken from 'The Swarm' starring Michael Caine. I actually quite enjoy the film snippets that now-traditionally begin Wu Tang albums, and hearing Michael Caine's distinctive voice make it all the more enjoyable. However, when Michael Caine is providing the most enjoyable part of a hip hop album you know something's amiss.
Along with Caine, Ghostface Killah brings an exciting voice to this album. His track 'Cobra Clutch' is one of the best efforts on the album. Make no mistake though, that does not make it a classic hip hop track, merely one of the best of an awful bunch. The Mathematics production is dull and in fact, the repetitive sample is pretty annoying, but Ghostface is as verbally dextrous as ever and manages to take the track from mediocrity to something slightly better.
Despite Ghostface's displaying his significant talents, the rest of the MCs obviously haven't paid attention. From the opener 'The Legacy' by AIG to 'Concrete Jungle' by Sunz of Man to the last track 'Fatal Sting' by Black Knights of the North Star, every rap is poor. To be fair though, it isn't the lower-tier bees that aren't up to scratch; Rza, Raekwon, Masta Killa and Method Man all deliver substandard verses.
The production on the whole is marginally better than the words, but not by much. 'And Justice For All' is a passable piece of Rza production, but certainly no better than passable. However, the combination of Killa Army and Method Man can't rap well enough on this track to propel it above mediocrity. The somewhat preposterous chorus of, "We never fall / like skyscrapers we stand tall / and justice for all" simply runs home how below par this release is. The only other semi-decent piece of production is found on 'Ba****ds' by the Ruthless Ba****ds. The sinister piano sample is reminiscent of Mobb Deep's excellent 'The Infamous' LP.
The one entirely quality track is '97 Mentality' by Cappadonna. The Rza produces it and while it is nowhere near his most exciting production it is head and shoulders above everything else on this album. Cappadonna, to his credit delivers some of his best rhymes; certainly up to this release he had nothing as good as this track to show for himself.
One decent and three average tracks from sixteen is a damning indictment and when the best track on a Wu album is from Cappadonna, you know something is seriously wrong. I guess that it is quite admirable that the Wu Tang Clan are using their fame to bring their less established friends to the fore - but, frankly they should be ashamed to put the Wu Tang brand on it. Two stars then, one for the four tolerable tracks and a bonus one for including the voice of Michael Caine.
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