Raekwon - Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang

Posted March 2, 2011
Tags: Raekwon,

I just spent the last hour searching for the perfect analogy to describe Raekwon’s place in...

Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang Album Review

I just spent the last hour searching for the perfect analogy to describe Raekwon’s place in the game, and I failed. There just may not be another rapper quite like him. For 16 or 18 years, depending on whether you start counting at Wu-Tang or his solo work, the man’s been putting out solid albums, including two classics (OB4CL and OB4CL2). But unlike his peers with similar longevity, he never really had a down period. Sure Immobilarity and The Lex Diamond Story didn’t light the world on fire, but they’re certainly not considered black marks on his resume (like Jay’s Kingdom Come). Unlike the majority of his peers, including many of his Wu-Tang brethren, he was never seduced by video cameras or business ventures, and in comparison to elder statesman like Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes who, it must be said, sound past their primes, Rae sounds as good as ever (if not better than ever) on the mic. More than any other rapper I can think of, The Chef has simply made really f**king dope hip-hop for a really long time.

In some ways that consistency works against Rae. In the same way that we no longer were impressed when Jordan dropped 30 – and why would we be? He did it ever night – we’ve become complacent in our appreciation of Raekwon. The man simply doesn’t make wack music, ever, and so in a sense we’re lulled to sleep by his greatness. So let me be clear: Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, his fifth solo album, is dope. Seriously. Can we all just take a moment to soak that in?

Ok, soaking over. In describing Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang’s concept he said, “It’s like me…before I actually became part of Wu-Tang. Before that, I was on the block. I was living in Shaolin. So this album just shows the street side of me, challenging the great side of Wu-Tang. Which is almost like how T.I. did T.I. vs. T.I.P.” In other words, you can think of this like a Wu-Tang album, if Raekwon was its only member. Or, alternatively, like a Raekwon solo album made to pay homage to the Wu’s style. Make sense? No? It doesn’t really matter. All that matters is the music.

Butter Knives is exactly what I’m talking about when I talk about Chef-related complacency. I was guilty of it. When the album’s lead single first dropped I thought, oh yeah, another solid Raekwon cut. But in the context of an entire album you truly realize how ill it is. There aren’t many who could command a track so completely, but he’s spent years perfecting his craft, and it shows in his unflinching performance. It’s the same story on Ferry Boat Killaz, Dart School and The Scroll, all records that demonstrate a lyrical style that’s purely street, but with just touches of the abstract poetry his homeboy Ghostface Killah is so famous for: “I’m uptown frontin the fans know what gave me grammars / when it’s over I’m gonna fly to my lady mansion / and get riced up, some Japanese baby salmon.” No, I don’t really know what that means, but I do know it sounds fresh as hell when The Chef cooks it up.

Of course Raekwon is hardly alone on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, and while the bevy of guest features provide the album’s low points, those points aren’t all that loud. Not to pick on Busta twice in the same review, but his work on the down tempo Crane Style is forgettable at best, as is Inspectah Deck and Estelle’s work on Chop Chop Ninja (although Estelle does sound like she’s having the time of her life crooning about ninjas). By the same token, allow me to allay the fears purists undoubtedly had when they saw the album’s tracklist: Jim Jones is decent on Rock N’ Roll, Lloyd Banks works on the oddly titled Last Trip to Scotland and Rick Ross sounds flat out nice on Molasses. Even better, hip-hop history is made twice, first when Rae and Nas reunite to recapture Verbal Intercourse’s energy on Rich & Black (even if Nas’ verse is old) and together Black Thought and the Chef make Masters of Our Fate absolutely epic.

I could spend the last few words of this review fretting about ranking Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang in Raekwon’s catalog – not as good as OB4CL/OB4CL2, better than Immobilarity/Lex Diamond/Wu-Massacre for the record – but I don’t want to end looking at the small picture. Instead, lets use this album as an opportunity to praise a living hip-hop legend. Lord knows the man has earned it.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted March 2, 2011
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