Even though they've lost a step or two, the members of the Wu-Tang Clan still generate a dangerous vibe on their third group effort. But considering that they once revolutionized hip-hop's raw, hardcore sound, the lack of innovation on The W leaves their future uncertain.
Hopes were high when the Wu moved into an L.A. house to record the album -- you know, to get the camaraderie back. However, it's not just Ol' Dirty Bastard's conspicuous absence on all but one track that underscores the group's inability to reclaim the past. The inclusion for the first time of outside stars (such as Snoop and Redman) also subtracts from the Clan's once formidable bunker mentality. While Meth, Masta Killa, the GZA, and the rest can still weave dizzying strands of words, they're simply duplicating the attitude and kung fu philosophy of previous records.
The W does have several quality tracks, proof that no rap group has ever been able to match the Clan's street-thug starkness and nasty-sex libido. The RZA's soundtrack to the film Ghost Dog hinted that he was moving toward a more soulful, wearier tone; The W goes even further to frame the Wu-Tang Clan as a mythical group of warriors, sick of all the shit but still hard as hell.
So what's lacking? Well, other than ODB, it's probably the steely-eyed antagonism that reverberated through the group's earliest songs -- the personality, rage, humor, and arrogance that assaulted the Donald Trump aspirations of mainstream rap. Expressing the group's continuing mission, Meth warns early on, "I'm from the bowels of the city/And just because my outfit matches don't make me pretty." There's no question he means it. Still, more of the old hunger would have added some needed bite to his bark.