If you were to judge Wu-Tang Clan based on their last few group albums, you might think that they're as musty and stale as most other hip-hop groups of their era. Last year's A Better Tomorrow LP was just as weak as any modern-day effort by Cypress Hill or the Outlawz; fans can't even hear their other new record without $5 million to spare. When they come together these days, the group seems to form less into Voltron and more like the knockoff Lionbot. However, the individual members' recent solo works reveal that the Clan is still just as vital to the hip-hop scene today as when they debuted in 1993.
Here are a few shining examples from recent years:
Ghostface Killah feat. Kandace Springs, “Love Don't Live Here No More”
Though he's gotten more attention for 2013's 12 Reasons to Die and this year's sequel, Ghost's 2014 album 36 Seasons almost stood out even more. The collaborations with Adrian Younge on the 12 Reasons to Die series were stellar, but 36 Seasons was Ghost back in vintage form with its own story, picking up from where he left off on records like Supreme Clientele and Fishscale. It came out a week after Wu-Tang's A Better Tomorrow and completely blew it away.
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Method Man feat. Raekwon & Inspectah Deck, “The Purple Tape”
Although Method Man's latest release, The Meth Lab, is uneven, it features some classic Wu bangers like this one. Meth's flow has aged well, while Raekwon's subject matter is still on point. The beat kills it, and Deck remains the most underrated member of the crew.
Raekwon feat. A$AP Rocky, “I Got Money”
Part of what has kept Raekwon relevant over the years is his willingness to work with the young gods. A$AP steps on this one and makes his mark, making it one of the many highlights of Raekwon's overlooked current release Fly International Luxurious Art.
Czarface feat. Meyhem Lauren, “Deadly Class”
Czarface is the collaboration between Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric; so far they've put out two releases and completely flown under the radar. Remember how I said Inspectah Deck remains the Clan's most underrated member? He's still on his game with Czarface — just as much as Rae or Ghost — but without his name on the cover of the album, it's still virtually unnoticed. But pay attention, because this collaboration features the same level of vintage hip hop creativity as any other recent release.
U-God feat. GZA & Jackpot Scotty Wotty, “Heads Up”
U-God is another underrated Clan member who kills it every time with little of the attention. The Keynote Speaker was one of his most hyped releases in years, but it still didn't make much of a splash. Though it runs a little bit long, it features primo cuts like this single featuring GZA.
GZA feat. Tom Morello & K.I.D., “The Mexican”
On his own, GZA has been hard at work on a new album called Dark Matter, which features renowned composer Vangelis. This year he released this non-album single with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, which shows he's just as razor-sharp as ever even as he branches out from traditional hip-hop tropes.
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RZA & the Black Keys, “The Baddest Man Alive”
Surely you didn't think I would forget the mastermind? RZA has gone even further away from traditional hip-hop than GZA, indulging his interests in rock music and film direction, but this cut featuring the Black Keys, taken from the soundtrack to his film The Man with the Iron Fists, shows him bridging the gap better than ever.
Ghostface Killah & BADBADNOTGOOD feat. DOOM, “Ray Gun”
Similarly, Ghostface has found a niche collaborating with jazz/hip-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD, who first came to fame with covers of hip-hop beats including Ol' Dirty Bastard's classic "Brooklyn Zoo." While this one, featuring DOOM, isn't the DOOMStarks collab we've all been waiting for, it's another prime example of how well these two rappers work together and a great track off of Ghost's album with BADBADNOTGOOD, Sour Soul.
Wu-Tang Clan (together) headlines Fun Fun Fun Fest November 6-8 at Austin's Auditorium Shores.