Wu-Tang Clan's fifth album, 8 Diagrams, comes at a time of group strife. Ghostface Killah and Raekwon have laid into Wu ringleader and beat maker RZA for the album's creative direction. Calling Wu a sinking ship and RZA a "hip hop hippie," Raekwon claims the beats on 8 Diagrams are too cerebral. And yet, the group tension has great creative payoff on their latest album, which succeeds because its members are ornery and not afraid to alienate fans. Though the minimalist production and movie samples evoke Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the group's classic debut release, 8 Diagrams, on the other hand, 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 this disc, the usual Wu-Tang samurai and chess metaphors are mixed with pop culture references and bizarre narrative interludes. (Ghost raps about getting into a shootout at Pathmark.) Almost everyone is in fine form, especially Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and Ghost, although Ghost is notably absent on the appropriately beautiful/chaotic ODB tribute, "Life Changes." It wasn't even clear that Ghost would be on this album, due to a minor beef within the crew, so his appearance alone is appreciated. But you can't forget that RZA's beats hold this project together. Understated, anchored by guitar and piano, and, yes, cerebral, they ensure that 8 Diagrams will age well.
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