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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

Menacing Fiddles and Passion From Wu-Tang

*** 1/2 WU-TANG CLAN, "Wu-Tang Forever," Loud

June 01, 1997|Cheo Hodari Coker

The musical philosophy behind the Wu-Tang Clan's second album can best be explained by Ol' Dirty Bastard's slogan from his signature solo 1995 single "Shimmy, Shimmy Ya": keepin' it dirty, down to the floor.

The Clan's beats push the limit between cutting-edge hip-hop and industrial feedback, with jugular-clutching rhymes following their own melodic dictates and insular messages running the gamut from ancient maxims of the art of war to spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding from the Islamic Five Percent Nation.

Clocking in at two hours, this two-disc, 27-track collection starts in earnest with the brilliant "Reunited," in which producer RZA introduces menacing fiddles to his graveyard hoedown. Behind the rhymes lie exciting string movements that give the song an eerie edge that electric guitars just can't project.

But by the time "For Heaven's Sake" hits the speakers two cuts later, the listener is left proclaiming the song's title. It's such an overwhelming display of rhythmic cacophony, it stuns with its elegant madness, leaving mouth agape but head nodding.

No matter which of the Clan's members takes the microphone, be it Old Dirty Bastard or Method Man or Inspectah Dek or any of their six other partners, the listener is rapt for as long as the scepter is in the rapper's grasp. The beats, often minimal, only accentuate these stark voices.

While even the staunchest hard-core rap fan might consider this package an exercise in gross excess, it's actually seduction through function--the overwhelming passion of the music and the relentless nature of the rhyming makes the concept "Wu-Tang Forever" feel more like a reality than a folly.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent).

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Hear the Music

* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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