Friday, September 07, 2007
Wu-Tang Forever: Reminiscin' With Zilla Rocca
There are many possible words or phrases I could potentially employ to introduce today's guest writer, Zilla Rocca. Producer. MC. CEO of Beat Garden Entertainment. One-half of the dynamic duo, Clean Guns. Marketing strategist. Hustler. Authentic hip-hop junkie. Needless to say, ZR stays forever on his grind, and currently holds way more titles than your average rap heavyweight.
Since music writers/bloggers/basement critics tend to respect Zilla's artistry as much as his hustle, many different sites have featured the man and/or his music at one time or another. We all know that it's my style to show up fashionably late for the party, but then it's only polite to compensate by showing up with a pretty spectacular gift.
Instead of doing a straight-up Q&A with Zilla, I decided to take an approach that I hoped would shed some light on the essence of what drives this unstoppable machine. I asked him to write about an LP that had made a significant impact on his life. What I got in return was this insightful retrospective on Wu-Tang Clan's Forever LP---an album that undoubtedly fueled my enthusiasm and belief in the powers of hip-hop as well.
Much gratitude for being with us, Zilla. Your turn to break it down...Scholar
Last year, Jay-Z said he released Kingdom Come because hip hop needed more events to stir up anticipation. Sorry Shawn, but if you wanted an event, you had to be a hip hop fan on June 3, 1997 when Wu-Tang Forever dropped.
Talk about a build-up that actually paid off. Granted, about 3% of double albums are a good idea front to back, but that didn’t matter when Wu-Tang Forever dropped.
What mattered is that daytime hip hop radio would play “Triumph,” “It’s Yourz,” and “Reunited” whenever the hell they felt like it! What mattered is the video for “Triumph,” a five minute lyrical excursion with NO HOOK, was on TRL, Rap City and local cable video shows every day. Even if you weren’t a fan of Wu before that album came out, you at least borrowed your older brother’s double cassette from his ’95 Pontiac Grand Am to hear what the fuss was all about.
For a kid like me still learning to MC at this time, this album was a thorough practicum. You had Ol Dirty’s wild swagger and courage. You had Inspectah Deck’s precise and thoughtfully raw punchlines. You had Method Man’s charisma, flow and hardcore metaphors. You had GZA’s briefly wise narrative. You had Rae and Ghost’s Mafioso slang sprinkled with vivid storytelling and abstract shit. You had RZA’s metaphysical, mathematical off-beat flow that influenced Wu-affiliates down to white rappers named Caleb (if you’ve been in a cipher with a white guy wearing cargo shorts and dirty Saucony’s, you know what I’m talking about). And for shits and giggles, there was Masta Killa, U-God, Cappadonna and Street Life.
What I really liked about this album besides the insane lyrics was the production. RZA really could’ve just made beats that sounded like holdovers from all the classics he had in the bag prior to Forever. By bringing in a live sound (“Reunited,” “Triumph”) and allowing then up-and-comers True Master, 4th Disciple, Mathematics and Deck into the fold, Ruler Zig Zag Zig REALLY took some chances by expanding without losing the hardcore Wu sound (“For Heaven’s Sake,” “Severe Punishment”).
The album still had some gritty, overly distorted 36 Chambers moments (“Ghetto Boys,” “Heaterz,” and Raekwon’s verse on “Triumph”) blended with technically clean music and vocals. Unlike the great Wu solo albums before it, Forever didn’t stick to one cohesive style or sound. Hell, “Black Shampoo” is still the weirdest song to be on a multi-platinum mega-rap album. But it was different. It was thought provoking. It was definitely overkill. It was MASSIVE in hip hop.
Here’s a few of my personal favorites from the record that are somewhat overlooked:
“Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours”
This is the classic example of a beat that is simple enough to let the MC’s shine without getting boring. The piano loop coupled with a vocal sample that sounds like it’s saying “Oooh” is just dark enough without being gothic. Add three of the greatest flows on top in Raekwon, Method Man and Ghost and this track is curtains!
Method Man’s cadence and inflection is almost a hook in itself sandwiched between Rae and Ghost. “I remember sticking fiends at the one-six-ooh, when we was STARVING, DUCKING five-oh, PAYING them dues.” I honestly believe that Method Man’s appearances on Forever are still his best work by far. He was easily among the best MCs of 1997 alongside Inspectah Deck and Biggie.
This song was also ill because Ghost’s last 4 bars are spit acapella as his voice fades out, leaving you to wondering what would happen to Big Bolo, who stacked his shit, financed a Volvo and copped his shot from a small coffeeshop in Soho.
“As High As Wu-Tang Get”
The bass line alone on this song would make Dilla, Dr. Dre and Erick Sermon mouthwash with battery acid. The drums are almost an afterthought. Bass lines played and EQ’d like this, you will only hear on a hip hop record. Eat shit, Wynton Marsalis.
Without any recognizable samples, this track has sparse hits of keys and bended synths that don’t get in the way of the vocals (something RZA doesn’t get enough credit for when juggling a diverse group of characters).
Interestingly enough, amid ODB’s whino-singing and Method Man’s impeccable flow, GZA appears on this song (he only appeared on 7 of 28 songs). There’s a reason his name is the Genius: “Yo, too many songs, weak rhymes and mad long, make it brief son, half short and twice strong.” GZA unknowingly summed up the career of most mixtape rappers in 2007 while staking claim as the Most Efficient MC of All Time.
"Bells Of War"
Songs like this is why I really am a diehard Wu fan. The beat provides a somber and sad feel provided by the Tom Scott sample “Sneakin in the Back.” The Clansmen respond by dropping insanely descriptive and deep jewels with laid back flows.
U-God: “Words seem to zing on down to Beijing, when we touch down you crown renowned kings”
Method Man: “The smell of fear makes my nostrils FLARE, truth or DARE, ask yourself can you COM-pare, to these n*ggas in the hood, Johnny B. Good or he be gone, yeah”
Masta Killa: “We came to punish the glutton with a substance that can’t be contained, Wu-Tang”
RZA: “I stay high/hi like treble, those who oppose get plucked like rose petals, arresting and holding, penetrate forbidden regions, wack MC’s only lasting one season”
Ghostface: “Fix your sawed off, Wu-Tang tore me off the cross, all you saw was white meat skin hanging off”
There’s a small interlude in the middle where Raekwon converses with a mentally retarded man about Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. It finishes off with RZA telling us that we won’t even understand half this shit ‘til the year 2G (he was right), and that’s the formula for a solid album cut.
“Hellz Wind Staff”
Thankfully, this song didn’t appear on Liquid Swords—it’s too hectic for the GZA’s masterpiece. However, it fits right at home on Forever; it’s like a sequel to Disc One’s “Severe Punishment.”
I think if this song ended up on a solo Clansmen album, it would be a certified Wu classic. “Hellz Wind Staff” is definitely a progression of the 36 Chambers sound—fast paced, dirty kung fu samples, various sound effects and a gang of MC’s just killing shit. Even Street Life manages to catch wreck!
To me, this was an overlooked album cut because the energy of the track and the delivery of each MC’s verse is tailor made for a live show. While Street Life, Raekwon and Method Man all body the track, few can match the opening bar from Ghostface:
“Ayyo break that n*gga arm fast as a fuck”
That ranks right up there with the visually entertaining line “Throwing n*ggas off airplanes ‘cause cash rules” from “Criminology.” Ghost knows how to come off more visually authentic as a crime boss in a mere 2 bars than the entire combined efforts of the Firm album.
Plus, Inspectah Deck, who treated Forever as his coming out party, dropped one of MANY serious heatrocks on this beat.
“With the force like Luke Skywalker, rhyme author, orchestrate mind torture, live performer, bit the mic sayonora, borderline to insane I rain firewater.”
I literally ripped off Inspectah Deck’s entire style of MCing from 1997-1999. Can you blame me? Rebel INS is that dude!
I really don’t recall anyone my age at the time who didn’t own this album. Sadly, I can’t imagine that many people STILL own this album. We all know what happened to Wu after this record and the climate of hip hop from ’98 until now. And while Forever didn’t completely change the culture like 36 Chambers, it most definitely had a ridiculous impact on hip hop fans who didn’t want to hear “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” all damn day.
It’s Wu, motherfuckers. Wu-Tang, motherfuckers!
In addition to blessing us with his thoughts, Zilla also was good enough to share a couple of his mixtape joints to accompany his post. Witness the witty, unpredictable Zilla as he and his compadres rhyme over a couple of classic Wu-related beats...
"Shadowboxin' Freestyle"---Clean Guns & DAME (from an upcoming mixtape on yadibox.com)
"Run Freestyle"---Clean Guns (from the Living In Harmony Mixtape)
The first mixtape will be available soon on yadibox. The site is currently experiencing some technical issues, but keep checking back until you succeed...
The Living In Harmony mixtape can be purchased here.
Word From Zilla's Moms:
"You can't be lucky all the time but you can be smart everyday."---Mos Def