8 Diagrams (Loud/SRC/Universal)
By Ben Westhoff
The long awaited fifth Wu-Tang Clan album, 8 Diagrams, just leaked, and it’s fucking solid. After just a few listens, it’s already in my 2007 top ten, and it will surely battle Graduation for supremacy on hip hop critics’ year-end lists. That said, it has little in common with Kanye West’s latest; the hooks are much more subtle and there’s nothing radio friendly.
The back story is almost as juicy as the album itself. Not too long after Ghostface Killah complained publicly about Wu ringleader and beat maker RZA’s handling of the Clan’s finances, Raekwon came out in favor of all-out mutiny. In an interview with Missinfo.tv, he calls RZA a “hip hop hippie,” adding: “When we listened to the finals of the finals, we was like, ‘Nah, this album is rushed, that’s not it, it’s not what we want it to be […] The album ain’t weak, it just ain’t what y’all may be expecting […]We make ‘punch you in the face’ music.”
There’s truth to much of what he’s saying, but the album is still amazing. Though the minimalist production and movie samples evoke Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 8 Diagrams is not exactly bringing da muthafucking ruckus. It doesn’t kick into high gear until the fourth track, “Rushing Elephants,” which has a safari-movie feel. It would have fit in well on the Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture album -- same with “Unpredictable.”
Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and GZA are in fine form, as is Ghost, even though he appears on only 4 or 5 tracks and, oddly, not on the appropriately beautiful/chaotic ODB tribute, “Life Changes.” But his inspired eccentricity on “The Heart Gently Weeps” turns what would have been a George Harrison-experiment-gone-awry into a powerhouse. (Something about shopping at Pathmark, spilling milk on his kicks, and then getting into a shootout with someone whose uncle he killed by selling him bad dope.)
The lyrics on the album will take a while to unravel, but that’s a good thing, right? Same with the beats, which are heavy on guitar samples, light on heavy bass, and never cheesy. Though nothing immediately slaps you in the face, 8 Diagrams has legs.