By Thomas Johnson, November 2 2017 —
One of the most shudder-inducing phrases in the modern lexicon is “new Wu.” Despite achieving mythic status after emerging from the depths of Shaolin, the fabled Wu-Tang Clan have struggled to produce a truly great album since 2007’s 8 Diagrams.
The eight remaining original swordsmen are no longer as liquid sharp as they once were. The unity of the group’s ferocious core has faded alongside the quality of their output. 2014’s abominable A Better Tomorrow felt like cashing a paycheque rather than a reunion. Yet, against all odds and RZA’s waning acumen, The Saga Continues somehow works. Originally conceived by long-time production affiliate Mathematics, it shifted to a collaborative effort with Method Man and was finalized as a Wu-Tang Clan album.
The disjointed inception of The Saga Continues becomes evident as it plays out. Points of concern, including C-list cohorts and lazy writing, are still glaring. But by this point in their legendary careers, expecting Wu-Tang to produce a masterpiece is a lot to ask.
The Saga Continues contains some of the most inspired rapping the members have mustered in the last decade. Method Man, who convincingly takes the reins, hasn’t sounded this energized since he first stepped out as Wu-Tang’s most visible star. Cappadonna and Redman, now official members, inject the sort of chaos that spurred the group’s original teenage frenzy. RZA, who lately has been a detriment to the group, sounds as if he’s taking all his frustrations out on the mic — which is a good thing. And Sean Price delivers his posthumous verse on “Pearl Harbor” like a katana to the heart.
All of this is spread across the same type of dusty, hollow boom-bap that RZA long-ago coined as their signature sound. Mathematics, the man responsible for the group’s iconic logo, has been quietly tinkering in the shadows for a quarter-decade and has clearly taken his education to heart.
The Saga Continues is a triumph by most scales but can’t erase the image Wu-Tang has created the last 10-odd years. It can’t erase the sub-par compilation albums, the lackadaisical fan service or the sleazy market pandering. These are now permanent caveats of the group’s history. Instead, The Saga Continues may have done something more important — delivering proof that, when push comes to shove, Wu-Tang Clan still ain’t nuthin’ ta F’ wit.