Cracking RZA’s Code – ‘A Better Tomorrow’ as the Ultimate Publicity Stunt

I would like to start off by apologizing to the usual reader base of Petersaysstuff for this is an uncharacteristic post in that it’s not about politics, philosophy, or economics. Rather it is about another topic that is near to my heart: music. More specifically, the Wu-Tang Clan.

On December 2nd, the Clan released their 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow. While I can’t say the 3rd of December has been a better day than the 2nd, I have come to grips with my thoughts on the album and would like to share a theory as to why it sounded so…unClanlike.

It is not my goal to review the album, that has been done plenty of times. Rather, I want to give my opinions on it and then propose a theory. Ignoring the seeming disparities in versions, the open track, “Ruckus in B Minor” got me pumped for the rest of the album. Unfortunately, tracks like “Hold the Heater”, “Miracle”, or “Preacher’s Daughter” kinda killed that vibe for me and I was left in a dazed state.

The album concluded with a reunion and I was left thinking, “what happened? What happened to the rugged Shaolin sound we loved from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)?” I knew that the Five-Percent Nation has had a big impact on RZA’s spirituality and musical style post-’90s, but this was a tad over done and cheesy, not to mention mixed very oddly. All in all, the album is worth a listen and there are a few tracks that I’ve played over and over, but it’s no “Triumph”. Thus I was left to lay in my bed reflect on why the album sounded like it did.

I figured it out. The Clansmen have always been businessmen, from the moment Method Man uttered the following quotation in the intermission on 36 Chambers, to the whole Killa Bee affiliates:

‘Cause we tryna do all this, we tryna make a business out of this, man. We ain’t tryin’ – know what I’m sayin’ – affiliate ourselves with them fake ass A&Rs and all that [word], we tryna make our own shit…

The Clan, if nothing else, have been great capitalists, and it is my opinion that A Better Tomorrow was intentionally sub-par. That’s right, I think the Clan took a dive in order to come back like a phoenix in the form of their secret album that they’ve been recording for years, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.

Why do I say this? My belief comes from an interview Forbes conducted with the album’s producer, Cilvaringz. The interview, which can be see in its entirety here, included the following dialogue between Forbes’ Zack Greenburg, and Cilvaringz:

ZG: I mean that’s like vintage kinda Wu-Tang sound…
C: …Raw, rugged, um, even the way we mixed it, even the way we mastered it…Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, that title, is because this is the final time that you’re gonna be able to hear the guys as they were then. It’s like nostalgic, you know, uh, trip back to, to all those chambers. All those styles. To hear ’em one more time in that particular sense and style.

Quoted clip can be found here; this cut of the interview is slightly different.

I am willing to wager the $5 million that I don’t have (if I did it would be spent on this album), that the sub-par sound of A Better Tomorrow is an attempt to bring fans down so when they go to a museum (or hopefully get a leaked legal copy of Once Upon a Time) to hear this album, they will be thrown back to the ’93-’97 style sound that we all loved and that Cilvaringz mentions in his interview.

 

In a word, the Wu is falling on the sword (no pun intended) in order to rise again for their final album and throwback to the Slums of Shaolin.

 

In the meantime, give A Better Tomorrow a listen and hope that the one copy of Once Upon a Time falls into worthy hands – that is, the hands of someone who will share the wealth. Oh, and listen to the 51 seconds that have been revealed!

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