More than a decade after their gallant effrontery into the industry with "Enter the 36 Chambers" the sordid supergroup known as the Wu-Tang Clan has finally revealed their 9th and final chamber, the Masta Killa. From his first prolific words, "Homicide is illegal and death is the penalty!", to his long overdue debut, "No Said Date," Masta Killa has proven himself the most selfless, loyal member of the clan. He stood strong through the group's triumphant rise and reign, and the tragedy of their wistful decline back down to the underground. He has stood the sandstorm of time and laid murderous versus on almost every Wu-Tang release over the last ten years, keeping his sword sharp but never to unsheathe it for personal glorification. To say that MK has paid his dues is a gross understatement.
So one must ask, after 11 years, 4 group albums, innumerable affiliate albums, and other brother's solo careers running 3-4 albums long, what took him so long? What did it take to summon this shogun out of his humble hiding? In his own words, "you know when its time, you can feel when it's time." Timing was precisely the issue. Wu-Tang is in a fragile state. Their inability to readily call the 9 generals together for a group album, and the failed attempts by many member's solo campaigns to champion mass appeal, has left the kung-fu family frustrated and festering as a bunch of fallen rap legends who can't seem get it together as a group. Equally vexed are the clan's cult following of fans, who have been forsaken by the group's raw, scrofulous sound. In desperation, the Wu-Tangians have put up their "bat symbol," a huge portly W, in a last-ditch attempt to produce a savior.
As the most reliable scion in Shaolin, Masta Killa answered the call. Soaring out from his solemn recesses like the dark knight, the High Chief Jamal Arief comes to quell the masses. There is no doubt "No Said Date" is a solo album, but it is also a chance at collective healing. It summons all sides of the Wu-Tang academy to salve and reconcile this now distant family, and satisfy their cult culture of fans.
The album opens to a kung-fu movie like some lost parable in the clan's dark saga. A benevolent master is speaking to his last, loyal student. He sends the apprentice out into the world on a mission to find the confused students who left and have long since lost their way. Wu-Tang's corky use of kung fu movies has always held symbolic meaning, and it is hard not to hear a connection between the master's message and the current state of the clan.
Following the ambiguous intro, "Grab the Mic" starts things off right with step-to beat by Brock, and a hospitable, amiable opening by the High Chief:
"Yeah, it's like salutation, greeting
Ladies and gents, good evening
I'm the speaker for the evening
Get up out your chair, throw your hands in the air
Have drinks on me, hit it slow, though
Each to those, well potent
Some particle, compound into one article
The headline read, shall I proceed?
Hell yeah, well let the turntable spin
Like the chrome on the G wag' Benz, let's begin"
"Grab the Mic" is somewhat strange twist for expectant fans though. The album has opened on a foreign producer, contrary to RZA's contemporary control. It is still a solid, strong opening though, warning audiences that it is not 94' anymore and the new Wu sounds dope no matter who is behind the soundstage.
Next, RZA reestablish his seniority on the title track "No Said Date." RZA's production sounds tweaked as well, evolving toward the mood of the music with poignant violins and a scratching snare drum, rather than his classic, pounding bass beats. Masta Killa surprises as well, spitting the fastest lyrics of his career, and all the sudden surprises on "No Said Date" seem all but normal. The old, conducive chemistry between the RZA and his clansman is still there though, drawing out the best from MK:
"They said the God wasn't never comin' home
Grandma in a nursin' home, my mind is blown
I'm known to walk alone, but the fam
It's deep, yeah we all love heat
These military armed marine, sub machine gun
Legend of Brooklyn, master craftsman
Lord, when you droppin'?" No said date
Thought premeditated, well calculated
The air's been tested, the people can't wait
So, ahh -- we agreed to send one, to swim from lost and found
See truth be the life preserve, we can't drown"
"Last Drink" is not the club hit the title suggests, but it is a banger. Mathematics handles production and gallantly returns to the defiant sound that set the clan off as proud rebels. Masta Killa matches his tone by slashes at all his "sworn enemies" of the insipid rap industry. Dave West lightens the mood on "Love Spell" with an organic love song with chirping birds and giddy guitars.
The album warms back up with "The Future," a cute, quick skit where the young sons of the clan mimic the Wu style. It really hits the spot for worried Wu fans wondering where the group was going. Plus it opens up the floor for their begotten fathers to bring out the real heat on the next series of tracks. The old, odd couple, Raekwon and Ghostface, join the Masta on "D.T.D" to set the album off with a body slam. Next, "Whatever" keeps the momentum high with a Killa Bee collaboration of Streetlife and Prodigal Son. Mathematics covers both, proving he has a gift for Wu-bangers. He is frequently overshadowed, much like 4th Disciple, by the more prominent producers of the group. But his panache for adrenaline packed tracks never fails to raise pulses.
"Digi Warefare" is a techno-esque track with a futuristic feel and a light-speed pace. Its acceptance is subjective, some listeners might love the ambient eargasm, and others might not appreciate Choco taking the track so far from the hip-hop here on earth. U-God is marked for ‘additional vocals' in the song, if you can call a split-second, low grumbling mutter in the background ‘additional vocals.' His meager participation in this clan reunion might be running water off his recent squabbling with the clan, (http://www.wutangcorp.com/clan/news/show/435/) but no fan can say for sure. It would be atrocious to accuse his obscurity as expulsion, but I see it more of a "time out" punishment for acting disloyally.
RZA brings things back down to earth on "Old Man" with a corky organ that was fleeced straight from the Sanford and Son junkyard. Fresh out of the insane asylum, the one and only ODB, a.k.a Dirt McGirt, returns for the reunion and man is it great to hear him back with the clan. His maniacal maundering has always played the wild card in the group, and it just wasn't the same without him. "Old Man" has the maniac ranting about a BK whopper as his brothers, RZA and Masta Killa, complement his feral flow with a calm contrast.
The last leg of the album moves toward a classical approach. And Tru Masta, the king of authentic classicism, makes "Queen" undoubtedly one of the best tracks on the "No Said Date." Its soulful sampling and dusty drums fit Masta Killa's slow poetry perfectly.
"Her refinement was beautiful, I acknowledged her attraction
In passing, driven by a desire to know if she's taken
I was askin', "Is your heart vacant?
Excuse me, Miss, how you feel? Can we build?"
Could it be the mind you see, guidin' you to me?
Extendin' my hand to welcome you in paradise
Supreme observation, di-tect hesitation
Your mind flashed back to other shit you've been through
Others left you questionable, what's acceptable?
The first sight of this divine light might shy you
Warm words melt the ice between us
My thoughts penetrate and begin to break through"
"School" cuts in for a creative break. It starts off slow and steady with Killa killin' it. Then suddenly, the beat breaks open and RZA jumps in with his wheels spinning to set it off, leaving MK to sandwich the end as cold clean up. Another surprise pops up at the end of "School," well, if you call another unreleased 2-Pac interview a "surprise."
Tru Masta returns on "Silverbacks," accompanied by Inspectah Deck and GZA, for another solid classic. Tru Masta just has an idiosyncratic ease of calm confidence to his production style that ages his tracks considerably. Combine that these three swordsmen squaring off and you have a track gilded in gold. The album closes with "Masta Killa," a self titled ode to the east Asian martial arts that spawned his graceful style, not to mention his name, which he lifted from a Kun Fu movie.
"No Said Date" is a stellar album, but it still has a few slight discrepancies. First, the album is a little disjointed. Contradictory to past Wu releases, the album varies wildly from track to track. It makes unnatural moves like switching from the proud, defiant "Last Drink" to the pop-hearted "Love Spell." And "Digi Warefare" is dope in its own world, but doesn't fit with the rest of the album. "No Said Date" sports a production cast that would make any die-hard Wu fan piss his pants, but each producer tends to take the album in different direction. Mathematics consistently brings bangers to the table, Tru Masta comes correct with classics, RZA breathes creativity to the collection, and outside producers throw in variety- but the cohesion often inherent in Wu releases is missing.
The second qualm debate surrounds Masta Killa's fitful flow. Some people hear slow poetry, others find it boring. Unquestionably, MK's slow, stop-n-start style requires some effort from the listener to reveal the lyric's wisdom. But don't all good lyrics? Bottom line, Masta Killa does not drop even one mediocre verse on the entire album, some would say his career.
Overall, "No Said Date" is the collective combination of stellar performances across the board. From the macabre cover art to the included DVD, "No Said Date" caries its weight in gold. Even the ninja throwing-star on the disk itself is a subtle, symbolic plus, as if you look at it spinning in your CD player it slices through air "throwing darts" from your speakers. Exceptional effort has been put into every facet of this album. It should serve to quench the dry mouths of hardcore fans who have suffered to settle on mediocre clan releases, (cough-Tical: 0)
The 9th chapter is complete. The final chapter is finished. But that doesn't mean the Wu-Tang book is closed. If anything, "No Said Date" has reopened hope for the Wu-Tangians. And it doesn't do so by with futile attempts to resurrect their long lost patented sound. It says, "Stop trying to be what you used to be, or what today's market would like you to be, and just make dope music. "No Said Date" loosens the tenacious death grip the clan seems to have suffered under through their uneasy transition into modern hip-hop. By simply compounding the immense talent they hold, their power multiplies ten fold. Hopefully the co-operation "No Said Date" has exemplified will catch on contagiously. Inspectah Deck has already proclaimed a similar proposition on his next album "Return of the Rebel." "No Said Date" is a near classic album that will hold a place in any listener's archive for a long time to come.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: June 15, 2004