Whenever hip-hop fans talk about the greatest MCs from the Wu-Tang Clan, the conversation usually comes down to either Ghostface Killah or Raekwon (and sometimes the GZA, if you’re feeling extra punchy). Both Wu members, who have often tag-teamed on classic tracks in the past (like “Criminology” from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, “Daytona 500” from Ironman and “The M.G.M.” from Wu-Tang Forever), have put out some of the greatest solo albums in Wu history, and Raekwon struck most recently when he dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt. II in 2009. The man born Corey Woods just released his follow-up joint Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, so how has one of the world’s greatest living rappers add to his legacy?
According to critics, it remains in tact. Raekwon’s lyrical daggers and penchant for mind-bending beats (constructed by a number of Wu-Tang worker bees who learned at the foot of the RZA, who remains absent from most of the Wu-related music at the moment) remain just as strong on Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang as they have always been. “Out of the clouds of smoke and ’40 slammin’ while eating salmon,’ Raekwon possesses a crystalline vision,” critic Jeff Weiss wrote in a review in the Los Angeles Times. “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang is his successful quest to return to the days when it was simple, blessed with the wisdom to know which philosophies work.”
Weiss wasn’t the only critic who praised Raekwon for continuing the trend of the Wu-Tang’s renaissance. “Far from blithe listening, Raekwon’s dense storytelling veers from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt. II’s powder-white tales,” Vibe declared. “Sure RZA’s dark instrumentals are missed, but copious kung fu paraphernalia provide enough hard kicks and sample chops to keep the Wu flag wearing proudly.”
But for some, the shadow of the RZA is too great. “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang at least feels more complete than the hastily prepared Wu-Massacre, the first shot fired in this conflict,” wrote Jesse Cataldo for Slant. “But by attempting to break free from his group’s guru, Raekwon inevitably only proves how vital RZA has been to nearly everything its members have produced, and how Raekwon has been unable to break free from his influence.”
NME also wasn’t enamored of Raekwon’s look back. Critic Ailbhe Malone only gave the album a two (out of a possible 10) and wrote a scathing review that specifically zeroed in on the posse track “Rock N Roll.”
On the other hand, Kathy Iandoli of HipHopDX was totally on board with the album. “While Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang at face value might not be the most agreeable title for Raekwon’s album, a closer look would prove it’s actually perfect,” she wrote. “The work competes against itself — taking the old school lessons learned from the first encounter with Shaolin and teaming them with the new school version of Wu-Tang (the fame, the films, the Justin Bieber collaborations). In all, it works, but in a way that only the Chef could pull off.”
What do you think of Raekwon’s new album? Let us know in the comments!