Quick! SAT quiz: Wu-Tang is to kung fu as Killarmy is to ________. If you answered 'military' you win...
...this review (Sorry, I'm all out of Pastor Troy handouts, needed coasters). "Fear, Love & War" was Killarmy's third album in four years, proving they weren't just another Wu-Syndicate. This is probably due to 4th Disciple fulfilling the role of producer instead of RZA. Even with the in-house beef always grilling at the Wu manor, the one thing all members, affiliates, and fans will agree on is that RZA overextends himself on projects. He constantly commits himself to groups and affiliates without discretion, much like P. Diddy and the sap slow release schedule at Bad Boy. Coincidentally, Killarmy dropped their release grenade just a few months before the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Their notoriously militant message could not have been needed more. Finally, Killarmy's adrenaline-pumped war antics could hold a literal cause as well as figuratively.
Ironically, the title accurately depicts the state of the nation after 9/11. The country was wrapped in Fear, after, for the first time since Pearl Harbor, the United States faced foreign aggression on their own turf. Love for this country and its citizens united a nation that for once forgot about its differences and discrepancies. And combined, Fear and Love brought forth the tool of War to wield our revenge. Unconsciously, Killarmy combined all of these elements into "Fear, Love & War" to rzarect a nation.
Straight from the jump off trumpets call to war tanks and machine gun rattle, beating up the background as Killarmy re-ups for another term. 4th Disciple takes us into "The Push" with one of the most beautifully fluid transitions from thematic intro to opening track I've ever heard. I would say it even rivals Biggie's "Life After Death" transition from thematic intro into "Somebody's Gotta Die." In the latter, rain is used to eclipse the intro's voice over and fluidly flow into the following track. 4th Disciple takes a more creative approach than Puffy's production by actually mimicking the intro's war-zone tone and battle rattle in the instrumentals of "The Push." Piercing violin strings whine over doomsday drums like wounded soldiers crying over the bombshells banging your speakers. The transition from thematic soundstage to battle-ridden beats is so smooth it's almost impossible to tell when the CD flips over to track 2. Berretta 9 preserves this terrifying authenticity with Killarmy's patent war slang:
"Yo, watch for the shrapnel admiral
Didn't know the kid was tactful
My missiles whistle at you, splat you, subtract you
Surrender all, we got you
Blitzkrieg, fatigues bleed, it's natural
The Army, take out your front line calmly - you like that"
4th Disciple, who is completely underestimated by his sidekick fašade in the Wu family, carries this fluid, cohesiveness through the entire CD with daunting ferocity. Unlike many producers today who use samples for a cheap, catchy hook, 4th Disciple weaves strong sampling into the beat itself just as if it were drum pattern or piano rift. The result can be exhilarating, as with the ensuing "Militant."
On the fourth track, "Originators", 4th Disciple hands over production to Falling Down. Contrary to his alias, Falling Down keeps the production strong with an elegant mixture of throaty violins and a precarious piano sample, dancing over swishing, sweeping snare drums. Also, on "Originators," the first problem in "Fear Love & War" quickly becomes apparent in the context of Killarmy's lyrics. Yes, as you've seen they cleverly integrate war themes into their rhymes using military slang. However, it rarely extends past that level of creative linguistics. Wu-Tang also utilized samurai slang stylistically. But more importantly, symbolically to portray a greater message to the hip-hop community. Groups like Killarmy and Gravediggaz were the clan's way of moving past the rap industry and into the minds and bodies of the black community. This was apparent on Killarmy's first two CDs, where their 'call to arms' was directed at revving up their listeners to fight against a system that is obviously set against them. Somehow though, this idea was lost in the gun talk and battle prattle. Killarmy might create an authentic style in their war chattering, but they don't extend their lyrics to send a socially relevant message. Not only does this waste of visionary tactics dilute their message, but lines like, "We wild like Hitler, drunk on German Heinekens," destroy much of the credibility the group was building on in earlier albums.
Although a few songs buff out some tangible correlations ("The Push"), the majority of "Fear Love & War" seems devoid of direction and purpose. In fact, 4th Disciple seems to be the only one still relishing in the group's original vision. His desperate efforts still breathe hope into the group, such as on the skit immediately following "Originators," where he resurrects the solider in us all with boot camp blow horns and a military march drum pattern so authentic it made me salute the Wu in the middle of rush hour traffic.
Moving on, "Sweatshop" reveals the unaccredited guest appearance of Frukwan from Gravediggaz, while U-God showed up on the jewel case just for being looped over the chorus on track 2. "Street Monopoly" resounds the production team's superior weight on the album, while Killarmy's lyrics ride shotgun. "Trilogy" does the same with a bouncy bass line. Finally, the furious pace of the album comes to a refreshing break on "Feel It." 4th Disciple surprises us here by diverting so completely from the war pulse thus far and sculpting a slow, refreshing soliloquy. True to its name, it is impossible to not feel it. Killarmy also surprises us by stepping up to instill some honest content into their rhymes and immersing themselves into 4th Disciple's musical derivative.
"Have you ever seen a grown man cry?
Have you ever asked a grown man why?
Why do ya feel that way inside?
Sometimes I had to swallow my pride and settle for less
Lord don't settle for less, you more like the best
to me, as I pull my head out my skully
and I give praise due to those who mean something to me
Moms, you incredible, you raised me all by yourself
Regardless of the situation, there was food in the shelf
Pops, you abandoned me, you left me all alone
in this cold warzone, I had to fence for my own
My sister Candey, probably the only one that understands me
Girl, I love you to death, you never turned your back on me
La familia sick, I wish I had the hands to heal you quick
And rid you of a disease you livin' with
A young father, I've been blessed with two little girls
You two jewels more precious than diamonds or pearls
A part of me from a different perspective
And any woman that I'm dealin' with is gonna have to respect it
On the outside there's negativity, please kill it
cause on the inside me and my team'll make you feel it"
A skit follows, which is smoothed over nicely by 4th Disciple's crowd cheering transfer into "Whatever We Want." 4th Disciple uses the theme of a roaring crowd throughout the album. The theme reminds the audience of the ominous power they hold as a roaring mob, an unstoppable militia. 4th Disciple opens up the audience's military, mob mentality in hopes that somebody in Killarmy will step up to lead this surging crowd in a useful direction, instead of just spitting garrulous, gratuitous lyrics. Killa Sin comes in with some welcomed skepticism of ol', "Rooftop binocular, why's they keep hoverin'? / Somehow, someway, you know they comin', kid." But the effort is short-lived by other members trying to out-do each other in complexity instead of relevancy.
Afterwards, another skit sandwiches, which makes three so far. Perceivably this would be a problem. However, 4th Disciple steps in again to carry the album. (I wonder if his back is hurting yet.) Once again, he plots a militant, musical backbone to the brainless Killarmy commentary, cohesively bridging these breaks, much like Ghostface's use of retro music over the skits on "Bulletproof Wallets."
The carpet-bombing continues on "Monster," "The Hit," and "One To Grow On." Solid production drills out more credible gems, providing saxophones, trumpets defiant drums for solid speaker slamming. "Fear, Love & War" has definitely presevered the intensity of their previous albums, only it lacks content. "Day One," is one of the few exceptions however, where the album's concept comes into play. First to note is the exemplary production from Rebel Dainja, the albums second outside producer. He raises an already high production bar to orchestra heights with well... an orchestra. "Day One" climactically reaches the pathos of war, the tyranny and emotion enthralled in monumental loss of life, instead of the blood-pumping intensity the listener has been subject to for a majority of the tracks thus far. It perfectly overtones the song's concept of camaraderie found between soldiers who have been brought together from the pains of struggle, and the emotion of war. "Day One," portrays camaraderie through Killarmy's six man wedding. At this time two members were fighting, two more were in and out of institutions, and the leftovers were hung out to dry. "Day One" would be a perfect moment to summon all the members back onto one song, despite the turmoil and internal beef. Ironically, 9th Prince and P.R. Terrorist were the only ones put on the track, for some unfathomable reason. The two trade nostalgic, and sometimes embarrassing, memories back and forth; but the chorus really brings the concept together best:
"(You my man, you my dunn, you my son since day one)
My comrade, my soldier, I'm the gun, you the holster
(I'm the trigge,r you the finger, I'm the hand, you the banger)
Most of all you my nigga (Day one)
We the day and the night, the punch and the spike
You the butcher, I'm the knife, biggest story of our life
(You're the foot, I'm the boot, the soldier I salute
and that's the truth, day one)"
"Spoken Word" follows, another vague and pointless skit. Which surely would have halted the album's momentum, if it weren't once again saved by a smooth musical transition. Mike "Trauma" D, the final outside producer, bangs out 2 of the last 3 tracks. On "Nonchalantly," as with his production predecessors, D doesn't disappoint. His eerie, distorted backdrop of reverberating cries furnishes a spooky mood for the ever ominous, now notorious - patient piano. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't touch Havoc's patented piano play on "Shook Ones" or "Quiet Storm," but it works well off the now-established, dark, mood setter. 4th Disciple interjects himself back in on "The Rule," with another powerful use of soulful sampling. Finally, Trauma closes things out with "Lady Sings the Blues." Trauma creates a punchy lullaby with dreamy, echoing piano keys and, as the name suggests, the first real female vocals on the album. Killarmy's lyric bump up a notch, as heard on the similarly empathetic tracks, "Feel It" and "Day One." This closing track seems to solidify the direction of Killarmy. The soldier inside seems to be fading, but the heart is growing.
"All the, dirt that I did, all the pain that I gave
All the wilding out I did when my earth said 'behave'
All them, niggas I stuck on my hungry-ass days
All them, drugs that I slung with intent to get paid
Was for the better things in life - something I felt I deserved
Nobody else gonna feed me, I'd be kicked to the curb"
Now, this album was a sleeper, even for Wu-Tang fanatics. You might be asking yourself how a solid album from a consistent group could just slip through the cracks? Well, Killarmy had other factors tearing into their reputation and product accountability around that same time. The Washington DC snipers were caught with Killarmy CD's in their car. The negative publicity politicians were brewing up about rap music topped it off nicely. First, you have sixty-year old senators quoting Eminem's flamboyantly violent lyrics, and then two black men get caught sniping suburbanites and suddenly their musical tastes become a pincushion for discussion. As soon as the suspects were found to be African-American, police and reporters were probably furiously shifting through their CD case, and the name KILLARMY couldn't have stood out more. After listening to the group's militant message, the media was given everything they needed to turn Killarmy into an easy scapegoat for the shooters. Ridiculously obtuse quotes were being linked between the group and the shooters, such as "word is bond" and "5%." Suddenly, century long sayings such as 'my word is my bond' became Killarmy dogma, and the cultural beliefs of The Nation of Gods and Earths were overshadowed by the overeager media and petrified politicians. To blatantly accuse a miniscule, underground rap group of somehow brainwashing two Jamaican immigrants into murdering innocent civilians is more preposterous than Cappadonna making a comeback.
If politicians would stop trying to pass the blame off on musicians, as they have done since the 30's, they might have time to focus on the social and economic inequalities that create these problems. The Killarmy controversy was yet another undeserved attack on rap by politicians and law enforcement alike, trying to smother out the voice of black culture and discredit and destabilize the black community. Which, ironically, is just what the group preached about. Their war wasn't with ordinary citizens, but with the socio-political forces bearing down on their communities. Well, it's easy to conclude why you won't find Killarmy stocked on store shelves; their image and reputation were irreputably damaged, because a scapegoat is easier to blame than society.
Still, "Fear, Love & War" is worth picking up, whether Killarmy has a bad rep or not. 4th Disciple does everything right here, EVERYTHING. Not only does he come with consistently dope beats, but he hands the fans an extremely cohesive album. As for lyrics, Killarmy aren't necessarily terrible rappers, as this review might have projected. At times their members' marksmanship will reintroduce you to a solid group of rappers. The problem is they don't stay consistent, and can't seem to level out with the quality of the beats. Overall, "Fear, Love and War" was another strong album from the Killarmy crew, a solid buy for consumers and a gem for Wu miners alike.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: April 20, 2004