It is commonly recognized how pain and loss can inspire the best art. In the case of Wu-Tang Clan, the loss of Ol’ Dirty Bastard in 2004 was just cause for The RZA—a.k.a. The Abbot, Bobby Digital, Zigzag—to reunite the prolific crew from Shaolin for 8 Diagrams, the first official Wu-Tang Clan record since 2001’s Iron Flag.
8 Diagrams is perhaps Wu’s most concise and direct record since their debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was released in 1993. Method Man, who experiences a return to form on 8 Diagrams and re- establishes his legacy as one of the greatest M.Cs of all time, reminds lovers and haters alike on the hook of “Take It Back” that “before you even had a name, you were screaming Wu- Tang,” and that “before you had a show, we went all around the globe.” Wu-Tang Clan have never been shy about their impact on the world of hip-hop, and 8 Diagrams— with its dark, heady tracks courtesy of The RZA, and its comprehensive, intelligent lyrics courtesy of Wu counterparts like U-God and Ghostface Killah—tears the current, popular motif of ring-tone rap a new one without even having to try.
Like they told us some 15 years ago, Wu-Tang Clan weren’t trying to hop-in and hop-out; they weren’t about fake R&B or commercialized hip-hop. They were about raw, gritty emotion— which is why there are no party anthems or a single notion of fluff to be found on 8 Diagrams. Instead, Ghostface recollects an attempt on his life during a trip to the supermarket, as on “The Heart Gently Weeps,” a reworking of The Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that features an all-star collection of performances from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante, Erykah Badu, and even George Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison. On “Stick Me For My Riches,” Method Man laments that “Lots of bodies and shells are found/Niggas are into taking everything that ain’t nailed down/We’ve fell down, ain’t hard to tell now,” as guest Gearald Alston sings, “I can’t take it, but I’m gonna make it” over the chorus. It’s not just another case of mo’ money, mo’ problems; RZA’s sweet, ’70s soul-filled track recalls the passion and desperation of a song like James Brown’s “Down And Out In New York City,” as an example.
The album closes with “Life Changes,” a fitting eulogy paying tribute to O.D.B., with each member of the Clan allowing themselves a moment of vulnerability in the wake of the death of their brother. Indeed, life does change, but with change comes strength and wisdom. 8 Diagrams, without question, is the overwhelming proof of this.