Raekwon said in 1993 that the Wu has something that everyone wanted to hear. He was very right. The Wu-Tang revolution cooled down eventually, but it took a literal swarm of secondary artists and a serious falling off on the part of most members for that to happen. Seriously, only Ghostface has been consistently on point in the last several years. This fact makes projects like “Think Differently” more valid. Back when random second-generation Wu-Tangers were dropping albums while we were waiting for the real thing, the frustration messed with our expectations. Now that only a few original members are really making moves, funky collaborations such as this can be met with a “why not” attitude.
The concept behind this record is simple. Dreddy Kruger, one of the aforementioned secondary artists, has orchestrated a collection of collaborations between Wu affiliates and some of the brightest stars of the underground. This is a testament to Wu-Tang’s ever-present power, because the indie artists assembled are all impressive. Ras Kass makes two appearances fresh off a bid in jail, and Del pops up twice as well. MF Doom comes through for a tantalizing duet with RZA, complete with a beat from the head of the Wu. More names? Well, there is J-Live, RA the Rugged Man, and the two separate halves of Cannibal Ox. Casual, Planet Asia, C-Rayz-Walzâ€¦you get the idea. The Wu-Tang half of this marriage is mostly the affiliates, with two songs thankfully featuring GZA. The big rainbow Wu-Tang symbol on the front seems almost like false advertising, especially when the liner notes reveal that the vast majority of the record is produced by Bronze Nazareth, who is hardly the Abbott of the clan.
The in-house producer for this album handles himself rather well. The aptly named “Slow Blues” is driven mostly by a grinding electric guitar which jumps all over the place, providing an equally fitting foundation for the exotic collection of emcees. A female emcee from Russia, Byata, accompanies Vast Aire, Prodigal Sunn, and Timbo King in a surprisingly effective posse cut. Nazareth’s production on the opening “Lyrical Swords” isn’t quite as sharp, but the duo of Ras Kass and GZA handle things with ease. It is really great to hear Ras Kass’ voice again, and his highly strained, emotional delivery contrasts beautifully with the Genius’ practiced drawl.
Few songs are actually weak, but some of the haphazardly constructed group tracks fail simply because they are not very inspired. “Think Differently” and “Still Grimey” are alright, but neither the beats nor the many emcees are especially compelling. Next to someone like Ras Kass, the artists featured on these tracks are pedestrian. They all deliver some competent bars, but a posse cut with four decent verses and a similar beat is ultimately worth skipping.
The biggest disappointment on the album is “Biochemical Equation,” the anticipated meeting of RZA and Doom. Extensive notes describing each song’s inception accompany the album as a nice bonus, but in this case Kruger informs us that “produced by: RZA” doesn’t actually mean what it says. Apparently RZA just sent Doom a loop, and Doom sped it up himself and then added drums on the hook. Regardless, the production fits the mood, but the rappers do not attain any chemistry, choosing instead to cling to their own sections of the song. “Biochemical Equation” is interesting, sure, but both Doom and RZA seem to be mailing it in just a bit. Far from what one might hope, the final product is just another nice little song on this collection.
A handful of skits are an unnecessary addition, but because they are musically oriented, they don’t disrupt the already choppy flow any more. There is an ODB tribute session that lasts a couple minutes, and several “infomercials” that feature the vocals of independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who has worked with the RZA twice before on film.
Either Del was having an off week, or he is just never gonna mix with the Wu. His voice sounds lazier than usual on both of his contributions, and his solo track is incredibly disappointing. His flow seems to have left him, and he is reduced to wandering across the track with no apparent intentions. The hook does not help things. His collaboration with Aesop Rock is much better. Preservation’s beat is flawless in fitting right over Aesop’s double-jointed style, and Del has cleaned up his act a bit for the occasion. He still just doesn’t sound quite right over the crisp blaxploitation funk that laces the record, but he doesn’t ruin the song for Aesop.
J-Live and RA the Rugged Man surprised me, because I just couldn’t imagine their voices side by side. RA mostly reduces his growl to calm proportions, and Preservation hooks up another nice production to tie the track together. The chemistry is still the slightest bit awkward, but I’ll take those two emcees over a solid beat any day. Preservation proves his place among the producers on the album with two excellent tracks that stay within the record’s new-school Wu vibe.
A listing of nineteen tracks is pretty steep, but the infomercials cut into the running time. The sheer number of rappers involved helps make the album a true group effort, but since very few actually shine, the final product is essentially a swamp of great indie artists and marginal Wu-affiliates. Just looking at the back of the jewel case will make plenty of people scoop it up, just from the words “RZA & MF Doom” and “GZA & Ras Kass.” The production team, headed by Bronze Nazareth, makes the rest happen. In the spots when the production fails, the guests are not adept enough to salvage anything. Hardcore Wu fans will salivate over this release, and for good reason, because there is enough goodness to fill them up. The almost total absence of the real Wu-Tang hurts badly, though, and the sheer volume of material requires a sacrifice of some quality. Check this out, though, there is a lot more good than bad on “Think Differently.”