Made in Brooklyn
(Nature Sounds; 2006)
By Chet Betz | 7 November 2007
No Said Date gave up “The Future”; Made In Brooklyn begins with “Then and Now”; will Masta Killa’s third one have Wu-kids voice-cracked and heavy, straining profanity and darkness through their mic grids, fulfilling the Zarathustran eternal recurrence that Masta seems to desire for the W? Sorely slept on No Said Date was a flawed shocker, a full-blooded if occasionally unsteady debut that served as a sharp reminder of Wu-Tang ethos and mythos and what it sounds like when you get the whole Olympus on one disc. Most of the Clan return on Brooklyn, and Masta Killa continues his maintenance of the legacy of which he grips his part. While Ghostface gives Ne-Yo daps, while RZA helps feed Tarantino’s blaxploitation, while GZA records with Cypress Hill’s better half, while Raekwon thinks sequel, while Inspectah Deck’s new one gets ignored (as is tradition), while Method Man acts for Alicia Keys, while who the fuck cares about U-God, while ODB goes on the greatest of lams: Masta Killa stands with both feet planted in the house that Wu built. Looking more the rabid Clan fan than the oblivious Clan member, he’s barking at the family to come back. Aw.
Suitably, Made In Brooklyn often sounds pre-36 Chambers, primitive and grimy and poorly mixed; when the album doesn’t fit that description, it’s usually stepping in the wrong direction. True, sometimes the rough-edged simplicity can only be called lazy, as is the case with Pete Rock’s limp horn-job on “Older Gods, Pt. 2” or MF Doom’s B-side of a B-side B-movie beat on “E.N.Y. House.” And, yes, Doom’s production styling has always been on the B, but everyone saw how it could work for a charismatic, Sam Fuller rapper like Ghostface, whereas shit-can drums and a murky string cycle cripple Masta’s poised mumbles. On “Brooklyn King” Dev 1’s drum loop and bass fragment combo is just as bare, but the exposed backbone is hard, rigid. That’s what Masta needs to narrow the conduit of his easy flow and launch his words on through; within half a minute the spit’s coming cold and black, harsh coffee that none but the sinister enjoy. We are sinister, though, aren’t we?
Killa’s counting on it. With his first verse he takes to his name and terms his skill through threatening allusions to electrocuting crowds or his words making listeners choke. In “Brooklyn King” he’s grim, casting himself as Death with “Timberland boot black hoodie / fitted black skully,” then admits that this thug rap is bullshit – but why quit now? His world lives this music and dies by it. The Reaper moves on, “See you in a town near you / Coming Wu”: somehow more in-your-face Wu-Tang than the whole of “9 Milli Bros.” PF Cuttin may build “It’s What It Is” on the same old few seconds of blaring brass, but it’s worth it for the way Masta imitates the trump’s announcement at 0:42, and it’s understood when he says “live and direct.” The death count in his verse rivals Rambo, Raekwon plays the calculating mafioso, and Ghostface, of course, brings the homicidal absurdity to its peak with “Wu-Tang Holocaust / Fuck around with me, you get a mouthful of murder sauce.” Masta Killa crams in the lion’s share of the remaining Wu on “Iron God Chamber,” a bouncy Whyz Ruger cut full of bad rapper delights like U-God actually deciding to say, “I’ll thermonuclear burn you / to human sacrifice / because I keep smashin’ mics / with the Passion of Christ,” and RZA making “Hades” rhyme with “blades,” and Method just letting us know that he “don’t trust no bitches.” In the context that Masta Killa’s established here, though, it all fits.
What doesn’t fit so much is “Let’s Get Into Something,” the album’s “Back Like That,” anonymous crooner Startel dominating the track length to the point that Masta Killa feels like an afterthought on his own song. Far more wtf-worthy, however, is reggaediculous “Lovely Lady,” the sound and content of which only has business on a Damian Marley album. That it closes Made In Brooklyn is beyond unfortunate, but it’s almost forgivable under the auspices of the rest of the record’s final third, which includes the solid “East MCs,” the gloaming single “Ringing Bells” (its central image and “God is the no. 1 killer” outro should have made it the obvious choice to end this album obsessed with death), and “Street Corner,” Deck, Killa and GZA rumbling over a slow jam much like they did on No Said Date’s “Silverbacks.” Failing to capture the slum night ache of True Master’s stunning composition, the “Street Corner” beat is a bit more beatific and lax, but again Deck and GZA come through with great late-album verses, and again there towers GZA’s observational entrapment of lives without privilege (though some of it sounds like a “Smothered Mate” recap).
Made In Brooklyn’s not as bold or striking or collected as No Said Date, but the sophomore effort’s a fine follow-up, nonetheless, and almost certainly doomed to the same neglect. As the Wu’s shadow-man, Masta Killa doesn’t have to deal as much with the general expectations, connotative personas or commercial growth notches that are foisted upon his brethren. He’s allowed to be their and his own watermark. He’s the one sending out Christmas cards. The remix of “Pass the Bone” covers GZA’s song from way back in 1990, and that’s not even necessarily a good idea, but it does go to show how heritage-conscious Masta Killa really is. For the Clan and its followers, his preservative function’s important; even if he’s not reaching new plateaus or audiences, one would hope that the Wu-faithful, at least, could appreciate what he’s cooking. There’s a faint hint of self-sacrifice.