Wu-Tang Clan’s glory days may not be over. Hip-hop legends who have clocked in twenty years in the game either struggle to recreate their classic sound, feel bitter because younguns or no one wants that old thing back. Yet, Wu continues to flourish. With the 20th anniversary of their debut Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Wu attempts to add to their brilliant catalog with their new album A Better Tomorrow.
The LP commences with mastermind RZA's polished yet gritty production of “Ruckus In B Minor.” The Abbot successfully creates classic Wu feel without sounding dated. Before the piano-driven beat drops, the late Ol' Dirty Bastard’s well-recognized, unorthodox voice comes blaring through the speakers: “It’s the OBD, kid/Once again coming through your area/And I’m gon’ tell you one time, you gon’ love this.” Just like that, the tone is set. With Meth holding down the hook and the whole Clan spitting their confident, dick-grabbing raps, listeners are reminded of their greatness.
This muddy energy stays afloat on “Felt.” Masta Killa, GFK, Cappadonna and Meth take turns, delivering the nostalgia of the Killa Bee Experience. Cappadonna—who is now an official Wu-Tang member—raps: “Yeah, we gets busy/Teach the youth because we know how it felt/Give’em knowledge of self expression in a way that’s felt.” Then Ghost kicks in the back door with his signature hilarious but nasty rhymes: “Felt like Dragon Fly Jones, was Dragon Fly Tone/So I kept the spitting/Woke up when I heard the phone.” These lyrics mesh well with the soft-spoken female voice in the background humming, ‘Feeeeling.” The feels could tack on another twenty years to the Wu's career.
Momentum continues to dip with “Mistaken Identity.” Over RZA’s lackluster piano-driven production, Cap, Masta Killa, U God, Meth and Inspecta Deck make sloppy attempts to tell stories of being wrongly identified by Five-O. RZA’s mediocre melody doesn't marry well with the lyrics on “Mistaken Identity.” It isn't certain that GFK's true-to-life narratives could've saved this track. This hodgepodge of meh continues with the fillers “Hold the Heater,” “Crushed Egos,” and "Keep Watch,” which sound dated lyrically and musically.
ABT bounces back, though, with the gripping piano and violin sound on “Miracle.” The song commands attention much like Wu's classic "Tearz." The track touches on issues that will cause the Grim Reaper to deliver death warrants. GFK steals the show with his moving verse: “Allah, let me lay in your arms/Hold me like a newborn, sing to me the most sweetest song.” And, if those lyrics aren't candy for the soul, Tony Starks end with “Dear God, it’s been a minute since I cried out/Since momma died, I never wild out/We need help like the phone’s ‘bout to die out/Can you hear me? Can you hear me now/We need a miracle/Destroy the FDA for holding back cures so they can get paid.”
Other ear-worthy pitstops include “Necklace,” where Cap, Ghost, and GZA trade bars about the dangers of rocking chains. The project wraps with “Ron O’Neal” and the optimistic, “A Better Tomorrow." The squad take a final bow on “Wu-Tang Reunion,” which samples O’Jay’s classic cut. With death and disagreements shaking the crew for years, "Wu-Tang Reunion” offers the perfect happily ever for the New York-bred rap group.
Overall, A Better Tomorrow leaves fans with several positive notes. Despite the album's missteps, ABTM is solid and doesn't taint Wu's legacy. If anything, the project is a reminder that roses do grow from concrete.