Wu-Tang Clan is the closest thing rap has ever had to the Beatles. As Please Please Me kick-started the British Invasion and flipped the meaning of rock and roll on its axis, the Wu did the same for '90s New York rap. Featuring nine rappers gunning against the world, decapitating a soundtrack of creaky soul songs sinisterly repurposed by Wu mastermind RZA, 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang and the clan members' first five solo records comprised a hip-hop New Testament of sorts — albeit one that featured a lot more blunt smoking and sounded awesome when blasted in a Jeep. Yet if those albums are '90s rap's Gospels, GZA's Liquid Swords is all Old Testament. The purest distillation of Wu mythology to date, Swords is a prequel to Enter the Wu-Tang — the story of the Clan's Exodus-like wanderings through the burnt-out patches of all five NYC boroughs during the crack-ravaged Reagan years, each verse sketching a whirling world of internecine warfare and decaying, poverty-infested projects. When Swords — which GZA is performing in its entirety on this solo tour — was released in winter 1995, producer RZA declared his intent was to make people shiver in their cars, and more than a dozen years later, its permafrost production batters like gusts of spine-stiffening wind crashing into sheets of freezing rain.
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