Disparate, dissatisfied and demoralised they may be today, but in the mid-Nineties, the Wu-Tang Clan were on top. Working together or as a group, Clan members released albums at dizzying speed, throwing dart after poisonous dart into the hip hop continuum over a two-year spell of insane creativity that ultimately burned them out before their time.
One of the most acclaimed discs from that era was Liquid Swords, by The Genius, aka "Gza" (or Gary, as his mother calls him). The album was a claustrophobic, heady mix of swirling beats that conjured an atmosphere of doom and dread, the aural experience of a city in decay and in need of redemption. It was the sound of group producer The Rza at his finest, and Gza didn't miss the opportunity: he crafted a series of rhymes perfectly weighted to the material, his honed lines invoking chess and martial arts and verbal swordplay into a gripping album that has stood up since as a standout example from rap's mid-decade highpoint.
Gza himself has seldom come close to repeating the success of Liquid Swords, which is probably why, like fellow Clansmen Raekwon and Ghostface, he now takes the easy way out by touring his classic to crowds of young hipsters who can recite every metaphor in their sleep. Performing albums in their entirety has taken on new meaning in recent years, with the iPod-aided breakdown of the once-sacrosanct long player leading artists to take their music to the streets and ensure it's heard the way it was intended. Whether Gza sticks to the script or busts out "other Gza/Wu-Tang shit" (as the flyer promises), it's a good opportunity to hear one of the original rhyme-slingers work his magic.
Image by Alan Nakkash