2012 has been a great year for compilation albums. MMG, Odd Future, DJ Khaled and G.O.O.D. Music have all released compilation albums this year, with moderate to impressive sales. That being said, 2012 hasn’t been the best year for the purchasers of compilation albums. Each of the albums mentioned above had its moments, but overwhelmingly the albums lacked cohesion. Diversity didn’t go so well and collaborations came across as too random. Artists just arbitrarily seemed bunched together, as if they didn’t even know who else was on the song (i.e. Jay-Z not shouting out Big Sean on “Clique”). The soundtrack to the Man With the Iron Fists, produced by RZA, doesn’t follow suit.
The album begins with “The Baddest Man Alive,” a saucy collaboration between The Black Keys and RZA. Rapping over The Black Keys guttery guitar riffs, RZA modifies his voice in a way that makes it sound like he’s simultaneously drowning and riding a roller coaster. Spitting absurdities such as “bear hug a grizzly, suck milk from her titty” and “I’ll date rape beauty right in front of the beast,” RZA sounds like he might have been hanging out with Odd Future circa 2010, but he still maintains that Wu-Tang aesthetic with the tone of the track, which seems to feature a Chinese flute (maybe a dizi?).
The fusion of Black culture and Kung-fu elements that the Wu is known for emerges throughout the album, unsurprisingly most notably on the Wu tracks “Rivers of Blood” and “Six Directions of Boxing.” On both tracks, the Killer Bees go back to basics, showing why and how they became legends in the first place. Interestingly, the tracks (and most of the album) are produced by Frank Dukes. Fusing old elements and new elements, the young producer is able to both preserve and progress. This successful combination of the old and new – in content and in creation – is undoubtedly what allows the Wu to maintain their status.
While the Wu aesthetic is the backdrop to the album (which is expected since the album is the soundtrack to a kung-fu movie directed by RZA!), songs without Wu members stand out just as strongly. On “White Dress,” for example, Kanye reminds us of the power of the soul samples that brought him to fame a decade ago. Even though the song is about his relationship with Kim Kardashian, Kanye’s earnestness is heartfelt. He’s been kind of cold lately, but “White Dress” shows that there’s still an endearing college dropout buried underneath the Louis Vuitton crown of that oftentimes unfamiliar man on the throne. On “Chains,” Corrine Bailey Rae also makes a heartfelt contribution via soulful production and vocals. Movingly singing about Chains, she really demonstrates the power of her young voice. Hearing this song will make you sad, but in the best way possible.
To be clear, the album doesn’t just alternate between soul and Wu-Tang era boombap. On “Green is the Mountain” Chinese pop singer Frances Yip sings in Chinese!
In the end, the album is a solid project and a testament to the power of strong collaborations. Artists don’t have to collaborate face-to-face to make a good track, but when it’s apparent that there was little artistic interaction beyond a few emails or brief studio sessions, tracks suffer. The soundtrack to The Man With the Iron Fists doesn’t have that problem. Each track, no matter how it was put together and recorded, feels organic and the album as a whole follows suit. Hopefully the movie does the same.
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[…] Posted by Stephen_Kearse1 on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 Leave a Comment2 […]