During the mid-nineties, the Wu-Tang Clan could do no wrong. After releasing their classic 1993 debut album (Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), the group members decided to venture out and do solo and side projects: Rza would be the first, forming the horrorcore group, Gravediggaz, followed by Meth, Ol Dirty Bastard and Raekwon, who all released solo albums (well, OBFCL was more like a Rae/Ghostface collaborative effort, but you get where I’m going) that were not only critically acclaimed and respected by the streets, but also commercially successful as well. Next up to bat would be the Genius aka Gza.
This wouldn’t be Gza first go round, as he actually had a deal with Cold Chillin’ and released an album (Words From The Genius) way before the Wu-Tang experience would begin (you can read my thoughts on his first solo album here). After his solo album failed commercially, Gza would leave Cold Chillin’ and literally, regroup, along with the Rza (who also had a short-lived solo run with Tommy Boy), forming the Wu-Tang Clan, and the rest is history. Gza would try his solo luck again, this time with Geffen, releasing Liquid Swords almost to the date of Enter The Wu-Tang’s two year anniversary.
Like all the rest of the Wu-Tang’s solo projects before it, Rza would be at the helm sculpting the sonics of Liquid Swords, and it would also come with a heavy dose of pop-up cameos from the other clan members. Liquid Swords would go on to earn Gza a gold plaque (and nearly 20 years later it would get certified platinum) and many consider it to be the best solo album out of all the Wu-Tang Clan solo releases.
Let’s get into Liquid Swords and see how it’s held up over the past 25 years.
Liquid Swords – The album begins with a snippet from the 1980 Kung-Fu flick, Shogun Assassin (A movie I was finally able to watch on my Fire Stick this week. It’s not a great movie, and the “spraying blood” scenes are almost laughable, but it was still cool to watch, just to see where Rza got most of the interludes for this album from). Then Rza drops the nasty Willie Mitchell loop to create the backbone for this triumphant sounding backdrop that Gza meticulously picks a part with his precise rhymes: “I don’t waste ink, nigga, I think, I drop megaton bombs more faster than you blink, cause rhyme thoughts travel at a tremendous speed, do clouds of smoke of natural blends of weed”. Add
Rza and Gza’s catchy hook, and you’ve got a great opening track and a bonafide classic record.
Duel Of The Iron Mic – After another snippet from Shogun Assassin plays (which is supposed to set up this song), Rza brings the energy from the previous track down a few levels, as Gza is joined by Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck to take part in, what is supposed to be, a lyrical duel. Apparently, Gza didn’t tell his guests about the song’s concept, and they end up spittin’ random street tales instead of battle rhymes. ODB must have gotten the message, though, as he does a great job hyping up the duel that never happened during the hook. This wasn’t terrible, but it was a bit disappointing.
Living In The World Today – The song title is a bit misleading and might make you think this is a serious song that tackles the social ills of the inner city, but it doesn’t. It’s just Gza spittin’ more well-constructed bars (and I literally mean well-constructed…he actually uses “sheetrock to sound proof the beatbox”) over a dope Rza backdrop, while Meth drops in to spit a quick pre-verse and helps out with the overly wordy hook. Even with the hook being a bit much, this still made for an entertaining listen.
Gold – The song opens with a dope dealer (played by Meth) barking at his rivals and claiming his territory, before Rza drops his dusty banger (it starts with a few hiccups that he quickly cleans up) that Gza uses to paint a detailed picture of the drug game through the lens of the dealer. Genius doesn’t cover any new territory here (I mean, he had a song called “Life Of A Drug Dealer” on the Words From The Genius album), but he still manages to make it his own and keeps it entertaining.
Cold World – I believe this was the second single off Liquid Swords. It starts with another snippet from Shogun Assassin, then Rza’s weary-melancholic instrumental comes in and Gza and Inspectah Deck take turns sharing stories about the drugs and violence that destroy the inner city. Rza invites his homey, Life (who rips a portion Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love”) to sing the hook and he fails, miserably. I didn’t like this song back in the day and I’m still not crazy about it, but the instrumental is starting to grow on me, even though Life still sounds horrid on the hook.
Labels – Our host gets clever and puts together a whole verse referencing different record labels: “Tommy ain’t my muthafuckin’ boy, when you fake moves on a nigga you employ, We’ll all emerge off your set, now you know goddamn, I show livin’ large niggas how to flip a Def Jam.” Rza’s instrumental is simple, but potent, and it suits Gza’s song concept, well.
4th Chamber – Yep, you guessed it! Another Shogun Assassin snippet. Then Rza brings in some out of control synth chords, accompanied by vibrating guitar licks and steady drums that make for an epic banger. Ghostface goes first and gets off an entertaining opening verse (I love the line: “The kid holds white shit like blacks rock ashy legs”), followed by dope bars from Killah Priest, Rza and our poised host who closes things out with another well-written verse: “Woofers thump, tweeters hiss like air pumps, Rza shaved the track, niggas caught razor bumps, scarred trying to figure who invented, this unprecedented, opium-scented, dark-tinted”. From top to bottom, this was brilliant.
Shadowboxin’ – Speaking of brilliant: Meth drops by again, but this time he actually gets off a couple of verses, as he and Gza verbally spar over a funky and soulful little Rza diddley. Gza definitely has the stronger rhymes, but Meth, who has one of the best voices and flows in hip-hop history, wins in every other category, so I’m giving this one to Meth, and you can chalk this up as another great record on Liquid Swords.
Hell’s Wind Staff/Killah Hills10304 – The first half of this is a skit that finds the Rza negotiating a drug deal with a Mr. Greco, and ends with Rza alleging that Greco is an associate of the neighborhood snitch, Don Rodriguez. The second half features a bangin’ mid-tempo backdrop that Gza uses to spit one long verse about drugs, money, a wild middle eastern named Muhammad (who happens to specialize in putting bombs in champagne bottles), drugs, money, the Feds, bribes…did I mention drugs and money? I absolutely love Rza’s semi-zany partially orchestra-sounding instrumental, and “Hell’s Wind Staff” might be the illest name for a skit/interlude in hip-hop history.
Investigative Reports – Rza concocts a serious sounding symphonic soundscape (tongue twister muchers!), embedded with news excerpts in between verses, and Genius is joined by Raekwon and Ghostface on the mic, as they each get off a verse and share their analysis of the streets, while U-God is left to handle hook duties (Does a “Mocha toker” smoke coffee beans?). Ghost’s colorful stream of consciousness style is on full display, and he easily walks away victorious on this one. Yet another quality song on Liquid Swords impressive tracklist.
Swordsman – Gza uses this one to
shit on denounce Christianity, promote 5 Percent Teachings, travels back in time and walks in the shoes of an African slave and scolds those who claim to be 5 percenters, but are really “lip professin’ ass niggas” who “can’t feed they own seeds” (I love that bar). Rza hooks up a roughly melodic loop and places it over clunky drums that all work well behind Gza’s lesson.
I Gotcha Back – This was the lead single from Liquid Swords that was originally released a year prior as the lead single for the Fresh Soundtrack (a movie I’ve still never seen). Gza shares commentary from the harsh streets of the hood over Rza’s dark and chilly backdrop, followed by one last Shogun Assassin soundbite. After 25 plus years, this one still sounds amazing.
B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth) – This was originally released as a bonus track on the CD version of Liquid Swords. 4th Disciple hooks up an emotional backdrop that Killah Priest uses to go dolo, as he discusses the bible, church, religion and truth. This makes for a meaty finale, but was a nice way to close Liquid Swords.
Gza may not be as colorful or animated as the Rza or Old Dirty Bastard; or as charismatic as Rae and Ghostface, and his voice may not be as distinguished or his flow as refined as Meth’s, but he is probably the sharpest lyricists in the Clan. That sharpness is on full display throughout Liquid Swords, as he shreds Rza’s dusty batch of bangin’ backdrops and gets some help from his fellow clansmen, who turn in some dynamic cameos (Liquid Swords is actually the first Wu solo album that all nine original Wu members make cameos on). There are a couple of songs on Liquid Swords that waiver a bit, and the album would probably benefit from a remixing and remastering, but as is, it’s still a damn near flawless album. And if it’s not the best Wu-solo album, in the most heterosexual way I can say this: it can definitely stand sword for sword with the best.