Liquid Swords: Rap Genius on the Rap Genius

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Each Wu-Tang Clan album can be seen as one artist taking a “Wu theme” and applying it to their work. Raekwon took the criminal aspects of his life and forged for himself a grimy tale of the gangster and the criminal classes in Intro. Similarly, Method Man took the weed-induced haze that permeated songs such as (M.E.T.H.O.D. Man)[/method-man-method-man-lyrics] and stretched it over the whole of Tical. Ghostface Killah took his hype-mic presence, RZA took his scientific mind and O.D.B.…just took himself. Nothing else was needed.

So what did GZA choose as his theme on Liquid Swords?

Simple: he took the role of the “Wu-Tang Fighters,” whose skits drive Chamber of Fear, the deadly opponents of the Shaolin in the old kung-fu flicks. Built around clips and skits from Shogun Assassin, the album follows the journey of a tribe of warriors who are part kung-fu masters, part samurai, and part New York hoods. GZA re-invented each member of the Wu as a ancient warrior and crowned himself as their head assassin. As he simply states:

I be the body dropper, the heartbeat stopper
Child educator, plus head amputator

If you will, Liquid Swords it is the Wu-Tangiest of the Wu albums. Filled with the martial art madness, the grim lifestyle and lyrical genius place it in the top tier of hip-hop albums. The original Wu cover had mystery and menace; This album has more, much more:

Liquid Swords is different. The comicbook cover, with warriors emblazoned with the symbol of the GZA battling over a chess board, is a clue to what is coming. We ain’t in Kansas any more:

GZA peppers the whole album with wordplay that at first glance seems simple, but that reveals itself to be dazzling. Most songs have at least ten quotables, lines that you will find yourself repeating verbatim. The album is filled with stand-out lines, rom the story of Muhammad blowing people up with champagne bottles on “Hell’s Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304” to something seemingly as simple as

We were on the same ship when the slaves were checked
I had to pull your card, you was on the top deck

To break it down at first the, line seems a testament to GZA’s cunning and swift hands. Secondly, it serves as a reference to the treatment of African slaves on their forced journey across The Atlantic. Only on perhaps the second, third or fourth listen will you catch the card/deck/check wordplay. That is one line taken at random — find your own and enjoy each one.

Each track is deep, with haunting RZA beats and verses that most rappers would behead someone for. RZA strips his musical palette down to the bare essentials; the musicians blowing the horns on “(Living in the World Today)[/gza-living-in-the-world-today]” sound like they have a Wu-Tang grip on their throats. The album’s drum beats sound as if they are being played by someone with real chrome to their dome, playing for life itself. The sense of danger permeates this album and drips from the lyrics with an idea of death, whether for a customer of the aforementioned Muhammad or a certain Mr. Grecko, that is not far off. In a word, GZA and RZA create a real atmosphere.

Still, this album far from a two man show; everybody featured comes hard. Even the less recognized MCs such as Secret Rivals kills it on “Investigative Reports” with image-laden lines:

I judge wisely as if nothing ever surprise me
Lounging between two pillars of ivory

Just as easily, he balances this viciousness with a verse ending piece of humorous vulgarity. “69th Chamber Intercourse” boasts a posse cut that still stands up today: Ghostface Killah rips it up with tales of Haitian voodoo and RZA details a ninja attack on a household. Similarly, “Duel of the Iron Mic” proves that even rappers, seemingly as disparate as GZA and Dirty, can make a banging tune in perfect sync. Everybody gets on board with the theme and they all excel beyond imagination.

  • What is the standout track on such a pivotal album?

I hear the shouts out for “4th Chamber.” The title track is pretty awesome too, with its huge sample setting up both the single and the album as a whole. For me, however, it has to be “Shadowboxin'.” Meth and GZA complement each other expertly — Meth’s hyped persona balances with GZA’s natural grit. Allied with a harrowing beat from RZA, a trifecta of hip-hop awesomeness is formed. The two bring out the best in each other’s word play; your ears will thank you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7h_pwp2E6Q Two for the price of one!

  • Any flaws?

Not many. The only one I can think of comes from the GZA himself: he is an acquired taste. If you are not concentrating, you will miss the point of the album; most of the lines will fly past you and into the ether. His slow flow and dense, layered metaphors illustrate that he was never going to be a rapper who topped the Billboard charts with a smash-hit single. Still, the lyrics need to be listened to and understood — GZA himself will guide you. In the end, GZA is too sharp and lyrically acidic for a Grammy, yet too quiet a person to attract support through outlandish means such as getting involved in hyped up beef. After all:

‘I got mouths to feed, unnecessary beef is more cows to breed

  • Verdict?

This album is lean, mean and a most certain, killing machine. Liquid Swords is cherished as a classic for a reason.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiQoVv0FSKQ

Check out GZA’s verified account!