By all accounts, 1993 was not your best year. Some girl who you thought was your first great love turned out to be an overblown crush, and you got your first taste of how lonely and isolating even nascent adulthood can be. You managed to sort of escape your parents for college, but then you discovered that it’s all one big overdressed career factory and started proving that you didn’t belong there.
It all went crazy that year, all of it except the music. If there’s one good thing you can say about 1993, it’s that it was the year the music started loving you again. Chalk that one up to the Wu-Tang Clan, natives of Staten Island, the New York borough that rap forgot. Now give credit where else it’s due: Biggie, Nas, Jeru, and Black Moonall of them owned some of 1993 and much of 1994, too. But Biggie was shot, Nas tried to do Biggie and ended up irrelevant, Jeru disappeared, and Black Moon simply imploded. No, 1993, the year of rap’s resurrection, belonged to the Wu-Tang Clan.
You remember buying Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) on a word-of-mouth recommendation and the strength of its infectious single, “C.R.E.A.M.” You remember how, at first, you didn’t quite get it but then, after months of playing the album, finally saw what it all meant: that this was the return of drums and lyrics, two things that had been seeping out of the music for years. The Wu made you feel as if it were 1988 again, when the beats and the rhymes were at their prime.
This was before MCs confused lyrical skill with the ability to promote Cristal and brag about numerous sex partners, and before a track became random musings on a Casio stapled over a moronic drum loop. And unlike today’s rap groups, which usually consist of a bunch of marginal talents riding the coattails of a slightly less marginal talent, Wu-Tang was a real collective. From the drunken ramblings of Ol’ Dirty Bastard to the lyrical precision of the GZA, there was a distinct style to each lyricist.
For four years, Wu-Tang carried you on its shoulders with solo efforts that were less solo than they were Wu albums featuring a particular member. While the rest of rapdom went to pieces, you could always count on an Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, a Liquid Swords, or an Ironman. And their second group effort, 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever, was the last thing you remember buying that made you feel as if beats and rhymes could save you.
Now it’s 2001, and you know that most of what you thought then was the folly of youth. You’re sitting in your living room with the Wu portion of your music collection, surveying the carnage as a 76ers game flickers on a muted TV. It’s all there before youthe irrelevance of Raekwon’s Immobilarity, the insanity of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Nigga Please, the quixotic failure of Inspectah Deck’s Uncontrolled Substance. And on the CD player is the latest offering from a Wu affiliateCappadonna’s The Yin and the Yang. This is what has become of the fabled Wu dynasty. You are sipping a glass of water, intermittently glancing at the score, thinking that when Cappadonna gets to release a solo album on a Wu-controlled label, it’s over.
It’s over because, as The Yin’s leadoff single, “Super Model,” demonstrates, Cappadonna is a better misogynist than he is a lyricist. It’s over because, unlike earlier Wu-related solo albums, this truly is a solo album, which Cappadonna simply does not have the chops to see through. It’s over because the only Wu-Tang cameos on The Yin come from a declining Raekwon and an uninspired Ghostface Killah. It’s over because, practicing an art renowned for its clever similes, Cappadonna has the nerve to say, “I hang like hangers.”
It’s over because The Yin uses a mazelike list of credits to obscure the fact that not one track on the album was produced by the RZA. It’s over because most of the tracks are barely more than a sample and a drum pattern, and sound like fragments instead of completed songs. It’s over because on “We Know,” a trio with Da Brat and Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat runs Cappadonna over like a verbal steamroller. It’s over because you are getting old, and you never subject yourself to objectionable ideas unless they have some redeeming artistic value; The Yin offers none.
Because Cappadonna has yet to prove why he’s a better MC than the legions of underground artists praying for a record deal, Wu is over. Because no-talents such as 8-Off and Shyheim are actually given time on The Yin, Wu is over. Because the album has only one cut without a cameo credit, Wu is over. And because of the simple fact that this is Cappadonna’s second solo album, Wu is over.
This is not the time for mourning, however; no one reigns forever. Those romanticized days of 1993, when art trampled commerce, are gone. Like it or not, it’s a new world order in rap. Now get up and take that Cappadonna CD out of your player, lest some friends come over and its presence disgraces your entire collection. Start digging for a new sound. And don’t you dare pick something that reminds you of the old days. Life’s too short to waste on wanting to feel young again. CP