Wu-Tang Clan 8 Diagrams

[SRC/Universal Motown; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ensemble hip-hop
Others: Clipse, Bobby Digital, Ghostface Killah

On opening track “Campfire” off Wu-Tang Clan’s long-awaited 8 Diagrams, Ghostface Killah muses "We gon’ have a ball/ Might as well pick a testicle." Aside from its bizarre imagery, the invitation serves as a pretty useful tool: The best way to follow the ebb and flow of this monstrously erratic collaboration populated by all the killa bees buzzing their loudest is to pick one and try to hang on. It’s appropriate, too, that Ghostface, the Clan’s golden boy of the past couple of years, delivers the line and largely disappears for the remainder of the record. While he and Raekwon publicly criticized RZA for commandeering the album’s aesthetic, it’s hard to imagine that 8 Diagrams could have turned out as anything other than a paean to hustling, one rooted in spare, sample-heavy beats, coke-rap narratives, and gritty surrealism.

The first third of 8 Diagrams comes as close to the spirit Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) as anything Wu-Tang Clan have done collectively or individually since its release. On the chorus of “Take It Back,” Method Man, over rubbery reverb, reminds everyone "Before you even had a name/ You was screaming ‘Wu-Tang!’" Similarly, “Get Them Out Ya Way Pa” oozes with old-school braggadocio, each verse keeping pace with languid, menacing drum loops. The album is at its best when RZA’s production steps aside to foreground the emcees' storytelling bravado. Wu-Tang have every step of the coke-rap narrative covered, reveling in its process (Raekwon on “Gun Will Go:” "This is a place from where we make tapes/ We make ‘em everywhere, still and all we be makin’ base"), but really bringing it alive in describing the aftermath. No one thrives more at articulating the paranoid, tangled interrelationships wrought by the drug trade than Ghostface, who, on the bittersweet “The Heart Gently Weeps,” offers only a glimpse of what’s in store on The Big Doe Rehab: "It’s him/ He want revenge/ I murdered his uncle Tim/ I sold him a bag of dope/ His wife came and copped again."

Elsewhere, however, it’s easy to see Raekwon’s beef with RZA. 8 Diagrams is a paradox of track selection and pacing, and nowhere is this more apparent on some of the album’s more curious guest spots (see George Clinton’s unintelligible choruses on “Wolves”) or in RZA’s pure self-indulgence (“Sunlight”). But it wouldn’t be a Wu-Tang banger without some characteristic unevenness, and even in its low moments, the album still seethes with raw energy. Fitting, then, that 8 Diagrams finishes with the Old Dirty-dominated “16th Chamber O.D.B. Special,” a scattershot, lo-fi iteration of past Wu-Tang glories resiliently finding a place in the present.

1. Campfire
2. Take It Back
3. Get Them Out Ya Way Pa
4. Rushing Elephants
5. Unpredictable [ft. Dexter Wiggles]
6. The Heart Gently Weeps [ft. Erykah Badu, Dhani Harrison & John Frusciante]
7. Wolves [ft. George Clinton]
8. Gun Will Go [ft. Sunny Valentine]
9. Sunlight
10. Stick Me For My Riches [ft. Gerald Alston]
11. Starter [ft. Sunny Valentine & Tash Mahogany]
12. Windmill
13. Weak Spot
14. Life Changes

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