For such a notorious and legendary group, the Wu Tang Clan have been lacking consistency on their most recent releases. It is important to realise that many of these albums were mainly criticised for not having been a replication of their debut 36 Chambers, which is unfair, but it was also hard to deny that they had somewhat lost the magic they once had in 1993. However, artists grow and evolve. They may not be delivering the same message of chopping heads and protecting necks, but what they are preaching in 2014 is far more important and relevant. A Better Tomorrow carries the message that we should all be working towards what the title suggests. With constant protests in America and bubbling turmoil between the police and the public, this is the album that the world needs right now from the group, one that carries a message of not just peace, but hope also.
There may have been plenty of in group aggravation during the lead up to its release, but you would never guess it when listening, aside from RZA telling Raekwon “all those bad times is behind us” on opener ‘Ruckus in B Minor’. It is a much more united and positive project than what we are used to from the Wu. ‘40th Street Black/We Will Fight’ perhaps encapsulates this unity best with its chanting hook and each emcee delivering some of the best work on the record over the funky, stomping brass beat.
Each member of the group is present at some stage throughout the 15 tracks, even the late Ol Dirty Bastard pops up a couple times. The best verses come from GZA’s insightful bars, Method Man’s hoarse and bouncy flow and Inspectah Deck, who remains as under rated as ever. Even the incredibly ill fitting harmonies on ‘Miracle’ can’t overshadow Ghostface Killah’s raw emotion and that closes out the song.
The production is some of the best we’ve heard from RZA in a while. The gritty, sampled loops that fans had grown accustomed to have been replaced with more instruments, to create bigger and more slick sound than we have heard before. You are given more of an insight into the musician side of RZA, one that scored Kill Bill for Quentin Tarantino, and it allows for a consistently interesting and evolving sound throughout. However, he has not abandoned his original creation and often samples kung fu movies and older Wu tracks to bring it full circle.
After spending over $500,000 just to get everyone together to record the album, it is clear that RZA had a lot more riding on it than many of the other members. However, he has done a lot more than just create an authentic Wu album. He has managed to adapt the message and sound of a group who have been around for over 20 years, while of course keeping it “rough, rugged, real and raw”. This very well may be the last time we hear them record together so going out on a positively high note was perhaps the best exit route for the group.