The Saga Continues (released October 13, 2017)
2017 will go down as the year rap’s veterans came back with a vengeance. In an industry that’s quick to shuffle you off to the old folks’ home by your 30th birthday, mature voices often take a back seat to younger generations. Jay Z easily proved that he a lot of gas left in his tank this year, as did the chef Raekwon on his head-turning March release.
Rae’s brothers in rhyme are following suit.
The Saga Continues reunites the Wu-Tang Clan – arguably the greatest and most influential group in rap history, for their seventh release – with looks to rebound from the Clan’s oft-maligned previous album, A Better Tomorrow. I think I was the only reviewer alive who actually liked A Better Tomorrow, seeing it as the maturation of group that was a huge part of my musical childhood. The criticisms are understandable though: For one, the album’s uncharacteristically upbeat production felt really forced, jamming Wu-bat shaped pegs into square holes.
Don’t worry, longtime Wu producer Mathematics quickly corrects that oversight, bringing back the dusty, gritty soul that’s the bedrock of Wu’s sound. First single “People Say” is vintage Wu, with Method Man, Raekwon and Redman effortlessly turning back the clock.
Redman, by the way, is far and way the album’s MVP, showing up on several tracks and stealing the show each time. On “Lesson Learn’d,” he sets his priorities straight:
At my age it’s all about bread
Tryna be nice at 40, you can have it all shawty
I’m tryna make history, and his story say
F*** rap, I divorced her, the b**** bore me
But not to be outshined, Inspectah Deck holds his own as well on the same track:
I splash bravado, fast cash aficionado
Savage vandal, I’m a Legend of Tomorrow
Painting the truth, here’s proof, ain’t it the truth
So ill a n**** spit with a containment suit
That guy is has clocked in nearly 25 years and rap and we still fail to appreciate his greatness.
Speaking of great, there’s always been something special about a solo Method Man track on a Wu-Tang album, and “If Time is Money (Fly Navigation)” keeps the momentum rolling with yet another standout. Meanwhile, hearing the late, great Sean Price trade bars with Meth, RZA and Ghostface on “Pearl Harbor” just sound so right.
Later in the album, RZA takes the lead in speaking on the plight of black America on “Why Why Why”:
We got western civilization got me fighting for my civil rights
After fighting scores of war, we still fight for our civil rights
To be equal citizens with equal opportunity
Equal chance to advance and uplift our communities
But instead we getting shot in the head
Like a black man life ain’t worth a loaf of bread
Again, it’s a better spin on the concept of A Better Tomorrow, showcasing rap’s maturity through Wu’s personal lens. Unfortunately, outside of “Why Why Why” those messages are delivered a little heavy-handedly due to some well-meaning but long-winded skits throughout the album.
And while we’re speaking on the album’s structure, it must be noted that it’s probably the biggest chink in Wu’s armor. The Saga Continues definitely has its moments but often feels like a collection of unrelated B-sides and album castoffs. Cuts like “My Only One” and “G’d Up” are OK on their own but still feel like those random bonus tracks that are tacked on to Target’s album releases.
Wu fans still looking to cleanse their palate after recent lukewarm releases will find a lot to love on The Saga Continues – the Shaolin spirit is definitely strong this time around. But it still feels more like a brief nostalgia tour than an earth-shaking comeback.
Regardless, if the Wu’s legacy was ever in doubt, The Saga Continues is still another reason to raise the Iron Flag.
Best tracks: “People Say,” “If Time is Money (Fly Navigation),” “Lesson Learn’d”
3.5 stars out of 5