Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon
(Def Jam; 2010)
By Clayton Purdom | 1 April 2010
It’s impossible not to view this as a follow-up to Raekwon’s 09 triumph (and CMG AOTY) Only Built for Cuban Linx 2, announced in its direct wake and driven to appeal to a very specific portion of the record-buying Venn diagram: say, the people who hated the last Clipse record but can speak fluently about Detroit rap. As such it’s a wholly worthy follow-up, strange and wonderfully tight, but brutally flawed all the same. The problem isn’t what’s here but what isn’t: namely, more. The trio’s beat selection is unimpeachable—better than Cuban Linx 2’s—and throughout the three best emcees in the Wu-Tang incinerate verse after verse, their mic chemistry a two-decade strong bond that here has an almost elemental interplay: lightning starting a fire, fire melting ice, water conducting more lightning. (Meth is fire, you figure out the rest.) But when opener “Criminology 2.5” fades out after two minutes, right on track to revivify the age-old beat, the listener is left hungry—no problem for an opening track, right, but then similarly sequel-ly “Meth vs Chef 2” pops up and burns for, well, two more minutes, and the listener is left slightly hungry again, and then the record dissolves into…a skit? And thus exeunt the first 20% of this record.
Point being that at less than thirty minutes Wu-Massacre is an exceedingly brief glimpse of a great record, and I fault it not for the brevity of its runtime but its inability to fully explore any of the ideas hit upon. Illmatic (1994) and Beauty & the Beat (2005) each run about five minutes longer than this and succeed as two of hip-hop’s most satisfying Album albums, and that might’ve been all the longer that this record needed to go. Because, good God, the kernels hit upon here are hot: even with three guest spots, “Youngstown Heist” shudders with fury and a bullying Ghostface verse and fades away at a too-brief 150 seconds; all three emcees hit the brassy chintz of “Pimpin’ Chipp” like a French Connection chase scene, and it’s gone as fast as Popeye Doyle; Raekwon’s lusty paean to “Miranda” disappears after one ice-cold verse that begs for a follow-up. You get the idea. Really, only RZA-produced highlight “Our Dreams” bangs with the bright pop clarity of a single, full of beat switch-ups and whole-thought verses.
What’s so bizarre about this—and particularly the singularity of the RZA-produced track—is that these three emcees have every right on the planet to capitalize upon their mutual popularity, shear themselves of deadweight and cut a pop joint. In theory, this is exactly what we wanted. But I think the problem is that nobody ever turned to Wu (after Tical , at least) for a singles record, and it was Cuban Linx 2’s ability to cohere conceptually that endeared it to so many audiences and resuscitated Rae’s credibility and sales. It worked better as a self-contained album than any Wu record since Pretty Toney (2004). And so it’s ironic that sans mush-brained RZA and sans Wu hangers-on these three robust artists fail to produce a classic. Because what is missing here might just be some muddle and sprawl; a blunted interlude, a seven-minute slow jam, a lazy Masta Killa sex rap. Cuban Linx 2 was a glorious mess, but Wu-Massacre throws so many punches I feel at times like I’m listening to a promotional album sampler for some amazing full-length to be released later in the year. The two Scram Jones tracks at the end arc up in intensity until Method Man rides the big synthy bounce out, lending the record in its conclusion a tantalizing sense of introduction: a whiff of what might come.
But this is hip-hop we’re talking about, home of the never-finished “project” and of potential collaborations hinted at constantly but left envisioned with all the permanence of smoky marijuana swirl. (I had a friend that used to do the same thing about starting a cassette label.) I have zero expectations that we will ever see another Wu-Massacre record and am sorta just happy that we have this Wu-Massacre record, rushed as it feels to audiences at near-completion lest it be mired in a Cuban Linx 2–esque label quagmire. In an alternate universe, Raekwon just dropped the best rap record of the year again, but we’re stuck in this universe, with this record. So, what have we here? Well, what do we hear? Mic performances scuzzy with intensity—Method Man at a pitched, venom-filled snarl, Ghost embracing a newfound role as a chest-poking dickhead, Raekwon flush with mic bravado—beats that we can only fault for being too soulful, too rich, packed too tight with emceeing for our liking that when it cuts out thirty minutes too soon we yearn for another runthrough. But that’s the thing about a record half as long as it should be: it sounds pretty good on repeat.