2002 laid to rest any remaining doubt: Hip-hop has officially been coopted by mainstream pop music. Actually, not all Hip-hop has been seized by a mass audience, though certainly the mindless, hook-driven works from artists like Nelly have.
This phenomenon is perhaps only cause for lament because the glorification of such mediocre, and sometimes awful, music relegates real rappers to the industry’s background. It is therefore unfortunate that a rapper’s rapper, the GZA, returned to the scene at the end of a year that saw his brand of hip-hop increase in obscurity.
Those who sleep on Legend of the Liquid Sword, much as many did on GZA’s dope 1999 release Beneath the Surface, will be worthy of tremendous pity. Legend is a fine effort from one of hip-hop’s preeminent lyricists, and the album reinforces this distinction as the Genius carves his way through 14 songs.
From a track-long extended metaphor on “Animal Planet” to an indictment of the music industry on “Did Ya Say That” to a chilling narrative on “Luminal,” the Wu’s most talented soldier challenges the audience to both keep pace and understand his involved flows. This task is further complicated by GZA’s efficiency, sparing no beats and spitting no filler.
Really, Legend serves as a lyrical playground for one of hip-hop’s most under-appreciated emcees, and a track like the sonic, celebrity invenzione “Fame” serves as a reminder that the Genius is hanging upside down from the monkey bars, sticking out his tongue at other emcees and listeners trying to keep up.
However, the album is not devoid of significant messages. Rather, the GZA uses his third solo LP as a chance to comment on the state of hip-hop and remind everyone that the Wu-Tang Clan is neither finished nor in a state of discord, despite constant rumors otherwise.
The only deficiency of Legend is that some of the sparse beats, meant to showcase GZA’s rhyming, become monotonous, sometimes too simple or repetitive. The album’s lead single, “Knock, Knock” suffers from this affliction, as does “Highway Robbery.” There are other songs, like “Stay in Line,” (which will have listeners waiting for “Every Breath You Take” to begin) that have stale beats only temporarily saved by the listener devoting most of his or her attention to the words being dropped.
Those seeking pop rap need not cop this, and should instead save their money for some Air Force 1’s. Real hip-hop heads should be rushing to the record store.