Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Clan returns with the understated, spectral 8 Diagrams.

Wu-Tang Clan's fifth album, 8 Diagrams, comes at a time of group strife. Ghostface Killah and Raekwon have laid into Wu ringleader/beatmaker RZA for the album's creative direction. Calling Wu a sinking ship and RZA a "hip-hop hippie," Raekwon says the beats on 8 Diagrams are too cerebral. And yet, this tension leads to a great creative payoff on the album, which succeeds because its members are ornery and not afraid to alienate their fans. Though the minimalist production and movie samples evoke the Clan's landmark 1993 debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 8 Diagrams is not exactly bringing da muthafucking ruckus. It doesn't kick into high gear until the fourth track, "Rushing Elephants," which has a safari-movie feel; other highlights include "Unpredictable" and "Take It Back." Throughout, the usual Wu-Tang samurai and chess metaphors are mixed with pop-culture references and bizarre narrative interludes (Ghostface raps about getting into a shootout at Pathmark). Almost everyone is in fine form, especially Method Man, Inspectah Deck and Ghost, although he's notably absent on the appropriately beautiful/chaotic ODB tribute, "Life Changes." Holding the whole thing together are RZA's beats — understated, anchored by guitar and piano and, yes, cerebral, they ensure 8 Diagrams will age well.

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