In some ways nothing has changed since I reviewed “Liquid Swords” for a Back to the Lab feature over 10 years ago. Fancy new packaging or not, this album is still essentially the same as it was in 1995. It is the raw and fiercely untempered lyricism of a man whose crew had for all intents and purposes taken over the East coast (or at least the New York area) and captured the imagination of rap fans across the United States and around the world. It is still that album today, although as you can see from the accompanying video, they have decided to add a few extra things to it for 2012.



So now we have a brand new “Liquid Swords” for a brand new era, and if we’re all being honest, there is a LOT that has changed in the last 10 years. Aside from a post 9/11 downturn, the economy had a solid run for a few years there in the 2000’s, and hip-hop still seemed to be the predominant driving force behind pop culture. The irony is that the recession should have brought rap to the forefront in an even greater degree, given its birth is well acknowledged as the voice of the disenfranchised using technology in previously unenvisioned ways to make their feelings known. That didn’t happen. As rappers continued to flaunt an increasingly dishonest extravagance, even the most ardent supporters of the arts had to admit the musical aspect of the culture seemed out of step with day to day reality. While a small minority had the balls to say “it ain’t all good” the mainstream that for so many years tried to ignore rap forcefed us all the least redeeming parts of it.

Perhaps it is time for a remastered edition of “Liquid Swords” then, with or without the accompanying chess set and instrumental album. Those things are nice to look at, perhaps even enjoyable, but at the heart of the matter is what’s served on the platter and that’s what Gary Grice has to say. It may be the newly cleaned up sound that makes me think the words of “Investigative Reports” are more relevant than before, but I know that the “slow recovery” of the economy hasn’t trickled down to places like the South side of Chicago, the mean streets of Compton, the Queensbridge projects or the North side of Omaha. This is what we see on the news and hear in our cities on a daily basis:

“Callin all cars, callin all cars! Ghetto
Psychos, armed and dangerous, leavin mad scars on those
who are found bound, gagged and shot when they blast the spot
Victims took off like astronauts
Get with this, even your best can’t
come on down, you’re the next contestant!
Get your pockets dug from all your Chemical Bank-ins
Caught him at the red light – on Putnam Avenue and Franklin
They used to heat up the cipher with a shot that was hyper
than your average JFK sniper
He just came home to Spofford
Rollin like Kaufman, and laid that ass out like carpet
Stop the stutterin boy, save the planes for the five-oh
Then praise the God – chk-a-chk POW!
They release shots and premeditate to grab…
…and then they jet back to the lab
And then remain in Shaolin, an endangered island
Where shorties lose blood by the gallon”

Shorties lose blood by the gallon – while rappers floss in Bentleys that they don’t own but are just renting. I’m not saying it’s wrong to aspire to CREAM and the American dream, but in an instant on demand society nobody wants to wait to earn their share of the good life over a lifetime. Everything moves faster, but nothing moves forward. Maybe it’s time for some “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” even if Killah Priest is the one delivering those vocals instead of GZA, because we could all do with a little more consideration in our thoughts and actions – not just for ourselves but for the consequences to the young ones who look up to all the materialism in rap. Somebody needs to sit shorties down and tell them that get rich quick schemes only lead to pine boxes. Intellect should be a weapon of survival when you’re “Living in the World Today” of 2012.

“Criminal subliminal minded rappers find it
Hard to define it, when narrow is the gate
for fat tapes and then played out and out of date
Then I construct my thoughts on site to renovate
And from that point, the God made a statement
Draftin tracements, replacements in basements
materials in sheet-rock, to sound proof the beat box
and microscopic optics received through the boxes
obnoxious topic, major labels, flavor tropical
Punchlines, that’s unstoppable
Ring like shots from glocks that attract cops
around the clubs and try to shut down the hip-hop
But we only increase if everything is peace
Father U C King the police”

Peep the knowledge and the storytelling even if you don’t buy the deluxe edition, because GZA and the Wu-Tang have a lot of jewels to share and offer equal if not VASTLY greater entertainment in the beats and rhymes to go along with it. Only the song “Labels” sounds dated now, because so many of the entities he mentions have been folded, dissolved or merged. It’s a historical artifact on an otherwise up-to-date album, one which is more important now that hip-hop needs a refresher on the essence of skills and the value of balancing the materialistic with the intellectual.

GZA :: Liquid Swords - The Chess Box