Masta Killa

No Said Date

(Nature Sounds; 2004)

By Chet Betz | 7 November 2007

Forgive all introspection and self-reflection, but I am a visual-dependent lad. Blue cover art will have me proclaiming an album’s music to be “cool” and “refreshing” like the “ocean.” Slanted and Enchanted goes hand in hand with images of cracked graffiti walls and summer buffoonery. I receive a promo in nothing but a clear plastic case with a press release of pure text, and I’m listening to Brita spew.

Masta Killa of the Wu-Tang Clan has finally dropped his debut album, its cover a murky ash collage of samurai battlefields and armor with a metallic logo backed by a bright splash of red violence. I sit with my hands typing on crushed breastplate scales, and the words scroll across the glint on a corpse’s horned helmet. My ass sinks a crater into the topsoil that could be coal put through a pepper grinder, the dark hue reflected at only a slightly lighter shade by the sky above. Lazily, I type a blunt reference to Kurosawa’s Ran.

I flip the CD case over, and the mere font of the track listing sends me to a Harlem record store with every rap CD ever rapped and wrapped to cop. I’m sifting through the local section, an imagistic bog of generic layouts crafted by the semi-talented graphic relatives of the “artists.” I find No Said Date, pop in the bonus DVD, and Masta Killa does his thing in front of a sunny crowd, but even his bright green Celtics wear can’t hide his worn ruggedness. He looks like the sort of man that might suddenly howl himself into a werewolf. The DVD material from the recording studio seems to come from a secret Wu haven deep beneath NYC. I imagine Masta Killa had retreated to that dank place and waited for years to pass as he readied his solo statement with the support of the entire Clan. That’s right, they’re all here.

I unfold the booklet so that the track list within becomes a triptych, and I know that I’m doomed to perceive the album in three sections. The first ends with “The Future” skit, the second with “Old Man,” and the third ends with the album. I expect No Said Date to be front-loaded like most hip-hop, but the second section is as strong as the first, if not stronger, and the final four tracks are strongest. All of the songs are of modest, appropriate lengths — only a few over four minutes, and not by much.

With “Grab the Microphone,” Masta Killa lounges on a black leather couch in his underground lair as he lets the verse and hook tumble like a chill martini shaker in his mouth while Brock nods at the boards. “No Said Date” would be a clear album stand-out, but RZA builds the hook on the same sample at the core of OutKast’s “Skew It On The Bar-B.” The resemblance to the Organized Noize banger annoys; I keep waiting for the Raekwon verse to drop. The bombastic “Last Drink” doesn’t quite work as the Mathematics beat haphazardly cymbal crashes along, and the “Cheers” theme song sample at the end ushers in a floating George Wendt head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah” crooning from some R&B flamer mars the otherwise excellent “Love Spell.” Nevertheless, I’m cruising along with Masta Killa’s smooth flow as I watch him calmly slay the sunlight.

Mathematics escapes the claustrophobic, short-loop repetition of “Last Drink” and stretches a bit with “D.T.D.” Raekwon and Ghostface are the first Clan members to step in, and thus begins the album’s second section. The Mathematics beat for “Whatever” is a lot of fun, but it sounds like it would have been more at home on the late afternoon Bronx streets of The Pretty Toney Album than in the middle of No Said Date, Masta Killa’s night crawler. “Digi Warfare” returns me to the black dune battlefield wasteland, but now the bodies have risen. They glimmer with Tsui Hark magic and strobe lights. Their glowstick swords spark at contact in a battle that has become a rave.

Then Ol’ Dirty Bastard arrives on the scene and tears me away from the futuristic fight club and the Wu haven and throws me in the back of his stinking Oldsmobile along with RZA and Masta Killa. ODB rolls up to a McDonald’s in mid-day and orders with a mixture of senility and retardation: “I said, I said two beef patties, special sauce, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, on a sesame seed bun, on a sesame seed bun, you big dummy!” Not only is “Old Man” as repugnant and degrading as the diapers of the elderly, but the track is a complete mood-killer, one that sticks out like a sore, old-dirty-bastard-infected cock.

Thankfully, the heroic third section arrives, and Masta Killa kicks Ol’ Dirty Bastard out of the driver’s seat, grabs the wheel, and heads into a silky Vegas night with “Queen.” RZA points at an abandoned high school and flips turntables out of the passenger dashboard. Over window licker keys and a thudding drum, Masta Killa raps, “Bangin’ on the lunchroom table/ I used to spectate/ And watch some of the MC greats throw verses back and forth/ I didn’t have the heart to step forth/ I used to take it home to write some of my own/ But still I wasn’t ready to touch the microphone.” About a minute in, RZA drops his verse and switches the beat up completely. The True Master produced “Silverbacks” tenderly plucks the heart’s bass strings with weed-crusted digits and features magnificent verses from Inspectah Deck and GZA. Together, “School” and “Silverbacks” make the best Wu-Tang one-two punch that I can recall.

With a dynamic Oriental orchestration, the final track celebrates Masta Killa’s rise to the iron mic. A few sprouts of green garnish the dark plains, and the resurrected samurai bow before Masta Killa’s stage. His words spear through the mist of his blue-blood spit: “What I do to eat/ Is nothing in comparison to what I do to keep/ Self upright and exact.” The song ends, I fold up the triptych, put the CD away, and let the Japanese war epic and the New York City hideout fade. Then I reach for the next glass of Brita spew.