Friday, August 3, 2007

[098] Liquid Swords

Album: Liquid Swords
Artist: Genius/GZA
Release Date: November 1995
Label: Geffen
Producers: The RZA, 4th Disciple

"Picture bloodbaths and elevator shafts,
Like these murderous rhymes tight from genuine craft;
Check the print, it's where veterans spark the letterings,
Slow moving MC's is waiting for the editing"
- from "Duel Of The Iron Mic"

There are quite a few hard rock albums on this list, but there are none that would really qualify as "Metal". Liquid Swords, though, is heavy as fuck. Of the five great solo albums to follow Wu-Tang’s 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), this album marginally wins out as the strongest. This is due to many things, one of which is the absolute absence of self-doubt in Gary Grice’s voice. The man called The Genius made his presence felt on 36 Chambers, delivering the superb “Clan In Da Front” as well as one of the best verses on the album (his “short arms & deep pockets” closing of “Protect Ya Neck”). But on this album, GZA could be the most assured MC since Rakim. He’s a lyrical gymnast, a stone-faced assassin with a microphone, and at the time, he was the most gifted of the Wu-Tang MC’s (not to be passed by Ghostface for at least four more years). He could easily walk into a rhyme battle and kick lines as blistering as the title track’s “Niggaz styles are old like Mark 5 sneakers; Lyrics are weak like clock radio speakers”, drop the mic and leave to rapturous applause. It’s not so much that he’s heartless as he’s emotionally desensitized to the frightening realities of the post-crack NYC ghettos. Grice is older than most of the Clan; he was in high school when crack took over in the 5 boroughs. And like the Old School MC’s before him, he knows firsthand the escape that Hip-Hop offers from the unforgiving streets. The painstaking detail of the hustling and crime narratives “Cold World” and “Gold” illustrate the types of neighborhoods you do not want to be in after dark, and they rank on the same level as the best of Biggie and Nas; Scorsese would give his left arm to bring these tales to film. And in case you thought he was a one or two trick pony, he drops the head-spinning wordplay of “Labels” for good measure. And it’s not all GZA either; all the Wu members make appearances, none more breathtaking than Inspectah Deck stealing “Duel Of The Iron Mic” with “Adults kill for drugs plus the young bucks bust; Duckin’ handcuffs, throats get cut when dough rush”.

In the end though, GZA’s intricate delivery wouldn’t be so heavy without the peerless production of The RZA, who handles all but one track. It’s here that he sharpens the gritty, chopped up style introduced on 36 Chambers. Old Soul songs of the 60’s and 70’s are disemboweled for organ stabs, whining horns, and dusty snares, and RZA arranges the puzzle pieces for maximum chill. He’s kind of like the Hip-Hop John Carpenter, writing horror movie scores for Wu to rhyme over; it’s really no surprise that he parlayed his arranging skills into doing movie scores for real. In many ways, Liquid Swords is the natural conclusion of the rise of the “jeep beat” in early 90’s Hip-Hop, mixed for maximum low end; only 18 months later, Biggie and Puffy would drop “Hypnotize” on the world, and we’d enter the shiny suit era of Hip-Hop. Putting on GZA’s solo masterpiece will take you back to the time when Hip-Hop could still send shivers up your spine, and the buzz of the bass would surely shake the screws out of your trunk.

01. “Intro/Liquid Swords” [feat. The RZA]
02. “Duel Of The Iron Mic” [feat. Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck & Ol’ Dirty Bastard]
03. “Living In The World Today” [feat. Method Man]
04. “Gold”
05. “Cold World” [feat. Inspectah Deck & Life]
06. “Labels”
07. “4th Chamber” [feat. Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & The RZA]
08. “Shadowboxin’” [feat. Method Man]
09. “Hell’s Wind Staff” [feat. The RZA]/”Killah Hills 10304”
10. “Investigative Reports” [feat. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah & U-God]
11. “Swordsman”
12. “I Gotcha Back”
13. “B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)” [feat. Killah Priest]

"Liquid Swords" [feat. The RZA] [video]

No comments: