Liquid Swords is bomb No. 4 dropped in 1995 by the Wu-Tang Clan and its prolific producer RZA (who worked with Tricky and the Gravediggaz in addition to producing four Clan solo records last year). On each release, RZA nailed the nuances of each MC’s style, creating perfect backing beats for hiphop’s darkest soundtracks. Method Man’s tunes were, well, methodical; Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s were looser than day-old drawers; Raekwon’s were wrapped in tough sounds for his mythopoeic scar-face cycle. Now, Genius’ noir lyrics are matched with appropriately spooky backing tracks. Genius’ tales of urban culture and gang life are paralleled by the strategic world of chess and the honor-bound culture of the martial arts. But space is made for personal vendettas like “Labels,” Genius’ second harangue of his former record label (the first was a verse on “Protect Ya Neck” from the Clan’s debut). Samples from martial-arts films abound, but what could be merely the arch display of kitschy snippets is used to introduce song plots. Being “old school” is all the rage nowadays, so when the kung-fu flick sample that opens “Duel of the Iron Mic” states, “I see you’re using an old style. I was wondering where you’d learned it from,” it’s a clever setup for one of rap’s main obsessions—the microphone challenge. Genius and the rest of the Clan win hands down. Their sounds are more old-school than any of the rote G-funk that’s currently mass-produced, in part because, like that of the venerated early days, RZA’s sound is one of restless innovation. CP