What’s in a name? A lot if you’re the Wu-Tang Clan. Seeing “Wu” stamped on a project immediately places it within a 20 year legacy of hardcore New York hip-hop. It invokes fond memories of countless group and solo albums, of all time classic hip-hop tracks, and innovative conceptual music videos. The sounds of buzzing bees and swords clashing fill your ears, and snippets of classic kung-fu flicks play in your mind like pressing play on a virtual iPod. It may make you want to pour out a beer for the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard even if you’re not drinking one at the time. “Wu” is a powerful word and “Wu-Tang Clan” is an even more powerful endorsement. It guarantees hundreds of thousands of units shipped to stores. For those with the W tatted on their arms, it guarantees an instant sale.
With such great power comes great responsibility. The founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan must carefully consider what is and isn’t worthy of carrying their name and logo to not tarnish their legacy. In theory seeing the Clan’s logo on a project should be the hip-hop equivalent of a Good Housekeeping seal, letting the buyer know it is a quality product that will deliver on all promises. Not all seals are worth the paper they are printed on though. Take the infamous “Nintendo Seal of Quality” for example, used on retail video game boxes in the 1980’s. The significance of the seal to the home consumer was poorly explained, and often misguided the consumer to believe Nintendo ENDORSED the contents as a good game the buyer would enjoy. After hundreds of poor quality shooters, platformers and RPG’s came out all carrying the “Nintendo Seal of Quality” on the box it was readily apparent the seal was little more than a rubber stamp that did not guarantee an enjoyable game. It endorsed the cartridge would work and virtually nothing else.
One would assume when Wu-Tang Clan use their logo themselves to release an album on their own label that’s a “legit” seal of approval. Method Man’s third cousin twice removed or the rapper who made one cameo on a Shyheim album might CLAIM Wu, but “Pollen: The Swarm Part Three” is an officially endorsed product. The compilation is printed and manufactured by the Wu Music Group and the Clan logo appears everywhere on the product – even the spine of the disc uses it once on either side of the title. Unfortunately the value of their logo has been substantially diminished in the last five years. The time and money the Wu could waste to stamp out all perpetrators and frauds using their logo is so ridiculous one can hardly fault them if they don’t bother. “Caveat emptor” is the watchword – a little caution can serve the consumer well. Consumers will check to see if it’s endorsed by an original member of the Clan, released on the Wu’s record label, or produced by RZA before spending their hard earned money.
“The Swarm Part Three” checks two out of those three boxes, and while there are no liner notes or production notes in this slimline release RZA offered this endorsement in a press release: “These tracks are ready to prove to Wu-Tang fans that real Hip Hop is less about the bling and more about expression.” At least one third of the 15 tracks on this compilation represent the logo and legacy of Wu-Tang Clan well, including one that’s attributed to the group themselves called “Assed Out.” It’s a bit of a stretch given the only members of the group on the song are Method Man and GZA, and the song is only 150 seconds long, but the high octane beat and strong bars from both men are quality throughout. Meth returns again on “M.E.F.” belching and swaggering like only he can. You can literally picture him scratching his balls and spitting out a toothpick for “my niggaz in Park Hill projects” during his non-stop three minute rap. Ghostface and his affiliates Solomon Childs and Trife Diesel live up to the title of “Smooth Sailing” nicely over classic R&B samples and blowing trumpets. Streetlife’s “Faced Down” is a menacing flow over a dirty bassline, and “The Testimony” is exactly the kind of spooky spiritual hip-hop song we’ve come to expect from Killah Priest (Remedy guest stars).
Beyond those songs “The Swarm Part Three” is a hot mess. “Dirts the Boogie” was heavily touted before the album’s release as a never before released Ol’ Dirty Bastard song, and to be honest it should have stayed that way. It can be argued the song is “classic ODB” given he drunkenly slurs and shouts his way through this performance, and he may have been quite literally pissing his pants as he delivered the rap. The problem here is that the beat is thinner than tissue paper, Dirty’s performance is not comical or charming in any way, and his son Y.D.B. Boy Jones adds nothing to the track despite his sobriety. As a selling point ANY of the songs in the previous paragraph would have been a better endorsement of this CD. On the other hand it’s not a boring song – it’s terrible enough to stand out on this disc – which is more than I can say about tracks like “Roll With Killer Bees” and “Headline.” They’re not great, they’re not bad, they’re just boring. The beats don’t bump and hooks like “they say we no damn good, they say we too damn hood/I say I’m misunderstood, come follow me if you would” are just lazy. “No Game Around Here” may be one of the most apropo titles in rap history for all the wrong reasons, and “Flight of the Killer Bees” is such an lukewarm piano based track and Prodigal Sunn rap one wonders why they didn’t end the album a song earlier on the arguably better “Transporting.”
In conclusion the Wu-Tang Clan have successfully diminished the value of their own seal of approval without the help of anybody else. Lifetime supporters of the Clan will genuinely want to believe that this is a renewal of their energy, the spark that will carry both the original crew and their swarm of affiliates into the next decade, but that spark is a fizzle at best. Even the third of the album that’s worth listening to seems like material that would have been released as the B-side of a twelve inch single – not really hot enough to make the cut of a classic Wu-Tang group or solo album. Before you spend $8-$15 on this album, caveat emptor. Many die-hards will want to own this one no matter what just because it’s officially endorsed by the Wu. Some will be more wary having been burned by substandard products that carried the Wu emblem officially or otherwise. A few will just choose the worthy tracks to purchase a la carte and skip the rest – they have the right idea.