By// Kyra Kyles
Anyone who has experienced the audio ecstasy that is the Kill Bill, Vol. 2 soundtrack has high expectations for what will come from the RZA’s ice cold clutches on Oct. 23, the official release date of the music for Man with Iron Fists.
After all, the RZA co-wrote, directed and takes the lead role in this film (in theaters on Nov. 2) that follows The Blacksmith’s quest to defend his small village from evil assassins by building some rather inventive weapons of mass destruction. I did hesitate a bit before pressing “play.” The RZArector certainly wouldn’t give himself short shrift on the musical production, even while bogged down with directorial duties. **Cue dramatic Wu music** Or would he?
Relax, fellow Wu-Tang Clan devotees.
As a lifelong fan of the Shaolin sound, I am proud (and relieved) to say that Bobby Digital aka Prince Rakeem aka Bobby Steelz brings it in this album, instilling it with the right mix of grunge, lilting vocals and enviable star power that includes the MVPs of the Clan, Kanye West, Corinne Bailey Rae, Pharoahe freaking Monch, and, my personal favorite, the Ghost. Face. Killah. He also mastered the martial arts aesthetic, bringing back memories of such fantastic films as Iron Monkey, Drunken Master, and The One Armed Swordsman.
(Yes, I’ve clearly spent some time with some subtitled action flicks.)
With no further delay, I present my track-by-track treatment of the Iron Fist sonic effort. I’ll give swords for the ratings, with four swords being the highest. I may even throw a few daggers in there, so keep your eyes peeled for a review approach I dub “faster blades.”
1.“The Baddest Man Alive,” RZA, Black Keys
Somebody get my Timbalands out of storage. I need that, plus my fisherman’s hat to match the incredibly grungy, dark basement sound, perfectly accompanied by RZA’s careening bars and menacing, mocking vocals from the Black Keys.
2. “Black Out,” MOP, Ghostface Killah, Pharoah Monche
Resist, if you can, the urge to try out your homemade, Saturday morning kung fu moves to the strains of this classic kicked up beat installed with a wailing wind instrument. Then, brace yourself for an earbud assassination from the MOP and GFK, not to be outdone by Pharoah who delivers predictably pithy lines, including that his foes: “ cannot stick the landing like Gabby Douglas.”
3. “White Dress,” Kanye West
What? RZA’s going to mess around and make me love Kanye again. Full disclosure: I’m a little mad at my Chicago star for that godawful “Birthday” song with 2Chainz, and even more miffed that he referred to their teaming as the new Snoop and Dre. But this plaintive Motown melody and West’s verbal return to unabashed emo mode gives the “big ego” rapper back a nice slice of humanity. This is reminiscent of “Late Registration” ‘Ye, rather than his haughty, and heartless, “Watch the Throne” counterpart.
4. “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” The Revelations featuring Tre Williams
I truly wanted to like this effort by the across-the-pond collective, but the entire time I listened I was distracted by the previous re-imagination by Jaheim. I have to give the edge to the latter version. RZA should have hired him to perform this particular, plaintive ditty.
Swords: 2.5 and a dagger
5. “Get Your Way,” Idle Warship aka Talib Kweli and Res
A one-word description for this hit: “superfly.” You can practically see its mink dragging on the floor. Talib, as usual, flows cleanly and creatively on this musical canvas, providing fans with something else to obsess over beyond his standout BET Awards 2012 cypher performance. Much respect to the breathless, expert performance by RES one half of a truly dynamic duo.
6. “Rivers of Blood,” Wu-Tang Clan, Kool G Rap
Stirring string arrangements and those oh-so-haunting vocals give way to a pounding, almost unbearably percussive production designed for the guttural styling of the Chef, Kool G Rap and members of the collective who once warned us all to protect our necks. Horns, hand chops, and the whistle of a blow that barely misses your face combine in a masterful, heart-pounding effort.
7. “Street Life/ Built for This,” Method Man, Freddie Gibbs
Meth surprised me a bit with a damn near listless verse. It was if he were literally riding the waterborne beat to the bank. But I won’t complain about the astute vocal match-up between him and his also scruffy contemporary, Freddie Gibbs, a promising lyricist in a vast wasteland of Drakes, 2Chainz and Big Seans.
8. “The Archer” (Killa Sin)
Much like our beloved President Barack Obama’s performance during his first debate, I found this effort a little too low key. As a sworn supporter of Killarmy, it was refreshing to hear from the truly underrated (though never unappreciated) Killa Sin, though I do wish he (and the rest of the Wu) would leave their casual lyrical homophobia back in the 36th Chamber. And while they’re at it, maybe they can get Odd Future to cool out with that f-word madness well.
9. “Just Blowin’ in the Wind,” RZA/Flatbush Zombies
Sorry, these modern-day walkers do not touch their ancestors, the Gravediggaz. On no day. At no time. I can’t even elaborate further. Some beats and lyrics are best left buried.
10. “Tick Tock,” Pusha T, Raekwon, RZA
This potpourri of MCs is a match made in Shaolin. Rae comes in again with his relentless, dead-eyed style. (You can practically see him looking wistfully out the window as he spits flawlessly.) Pusha’s deeper-than-earth’s-core street mythology plays well with his Clan counterpart and Joell Ortiz brings the wiry, relentless acrobatics. The only off note here is underground wunderkind, Danny Brown, who sadly, and very loudly, sounded a bit like Bizarre of D12 on this particular occasion. That is not a good thing.
11. “Chains,” Corinne Bailey Rae
The talented singer’s beautiful voice and dead-on interpretation of the dark, repetitive lyrics give the desired effect of a soul being wrenched from its body. Her vocals meld perfectly with the moody, somber styling of the overall soundtrack, lending a throwback Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, type flair.
12. “Green is the Mountain,” Francis Yip
I had to do the knowledge on Yip to learn that this legend has lent her voice to countless martial arts films. The Hong Kong Cantopop’s clear, soaring sound entices you deeper into the aural experience. The inclusion of this sunny, though somewhat forlorn track, speaks to the RZA’s superior curating skills. It stands as the “Y Tu Mira?” moment of the “Kill Bill, vol. 2” soundtrack.
13. “Six Directions of Boxing,” Wu Tang Clan
Meh. This gravel pit-gritty track offers up an enviable beat, but starting out with a Golden Arms verse is no way to win favor with this fan. He’s definitely a Clan member to be sandwiched in, rather than lead the charge and be followed by the literary lunatic known as GFK. It’s jut not fair to anyone.
14. “Your Good Thing,” Mable John
That old-timey admirable sound that the Wu Tang so often unearths and salutes gets its due in this classic. I can only envision how it will serve within the context of the film, but this slinky piano is guaranteed to send a chill down your spine and same goes for the raw, strong throaty singing style of this icon.
15. “I Go Hard,” Wiz Khalifa, Ghostface Killah, Boy Jones (ODB’s son)
Much like the last skit on SNL, this is a fail. In fact, I’m not quite sure what to make of this somewhat whiny mess, anchored by the increasingly annoying Wiz Khalifah. Full respect to his irreverent and awesomely gifted father, but the verdict is still out on whether Boy Jones is his own artist or a nostalgia-inducing tribute act to the late ODB.