“Shame on you when you step through to the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, BROOKLYN ZOO!!“
If it wasn’t immediately obvious where the Brooklyn Zu got their name from, the album cover for “Chamber #9, Verse 32” leaves little doubt. The group is described as being “Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Brooklyn Zu,” with the obvious implication that fans of the late great Russell Jones should support this project too. I’m sure that was the theory, but I’m not sure there was enough juice to squeeze out of the Wu’s fanbase in 2009. It had only been five years since ODB passed away, and a little over 15 since the Clan’s major label debut as a crew, so nostalgia for the Wu had yet to reach a fever pitch. To compound the Zu’s problem the market had been flooded with hundreds of Wu-Tang Clan affiliates, with diminishing returns for each rapper or producer who attempted to recapture the magic of the original Wu.
To their credit at least two members of the Zu had legitimate connections to the Wu. 12 O’Clock and Murdock were actual blood cousins of ODB, so if anyone deserved to be called “ODB’s Brooklyn Zu” they certainly did. Buddha Monk is described as “Ol’ Dirty’s hype man” and recognizable to hardcore Wu fans for dropping his own material throughout the 1990’s. Things get a little tenuous after that. You might know the names Shorty Shit Stain and Raison the Zu Keeper, but then again you might not — either way they are officially part of Brooklyn Zu. They had enough members and enough motivation to record “Chamber #9, Verse 32” and release it, but it could be argued they waited too long to do it.
Case in point — GZA released “Legend of the Liquid Sword” back in 2002 and the single “Knock, Knock” that year. While it proves their Wu credentials to have Gary Grice record a sequel, it would have been more impactful to do it when The Genius first put it out. Seven years later the connection could easily be missed and to make matters worse the track doesn’t have the energy of Jay Waxx’ original track. A lot of this album seems to fall into the “member berries” formula of expecting deep familiarity with the Wu as opposed to standing on their own two. “Cold World” could have used Inspectah Deck or GZA reprising their performances from the similarly named track but once again the sequel suffers by comparison.
A rare high moment is the Devious produced “Eat Ya Food” featuring Masta Killa and Killah Priest. This song actually manages to capture the raw energy of early 1990’s Wu, and has memorable (if crass) one liners like “I seen more pussy than that white boy Larry Flynt.” That’s a lot of poontang, Wu-Tang. There’s something amusing about the cool demeanor of Priest compared to the energy of the Zu, which he accurately describes in his own words: “I’m cool as ice on the mic.” Yes sir, you are.
Listen to “Chamber #9, Verse 32” long enough and you’ll be conflicted about whether or not their familial ties to the Wu were to the Zu’s benefit. There’s clearly talent here, and 12 O’Clock had an air of intrigue about him ever since first popping up as the 12 O’Clock Assassin in the Wu’s heyday. That said they can’t seem to escape the long shadow of Ol’ Dirty Bastard or his own family of killer bees on the swarm, and when the best tracks feature better known Wu emcees it feels like the Brooklyn Zu couldn’t exist without them. Even “Get That Cheese” gets elevated by Shyheim a/k/a The Rugged Child. He briefly held some fame as the Wu’s child prodigy, but it would be fair to say he’s as obscure as the Zu themselves today.
That’s what ultimately sinks the Brooklyn Zu album — obscure Wu members relying on other obscure Wu members instead of trying to hold it down and create their own identity. Once in a while somebody steps up and actually does it, but not often enough for my liking. “So Much to Say” is what this album could have been and ultimately wasn’t, and Yoel Beats gave them a gothic backdrop that matched their bars nicely.
I want to like “Chamber #9, Verse 32” more than I do, especially since it bothers me that both 12 O’Clock and Murdock were killed in 2021. In no way do I want to disrespect the dead, and I know their families are still grieving this senseless tragedy, so I offer my condolences to them and to all of the Brooklyn Zu’s fans. I can only be honest and say that the Zu seemed to rely on their famous cousin ODB to propel them into the spotlight, and when he passed they had a hard time picking up the torch and running with it. I can see the goal they were heading toward, but on this album at least they didn’t quite reach the finish line.