Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Legendary Weapons’ (E1 Music)
Rock that black and yellow before Wiz Khalifa — it’s a Killer Bee color scheme,” raps Ghostface on the title track to what’s billed as a “Wu-Tang concept record.” Ghost’s boast is meant as a reminder of the Wu’s heritage, but it’s an apt summary of the original oversize rap crew’s dilemma. After setting trends in their ’90s prime, they struggle to fathom rap’s quickly shifting fads and faces. Now they sound most vital when pretending that the last decade of rap never happened. Raekwon’s lauded Cuban Linx 2 was startlingly conservative, a 2009 record that could have been recorded in 1995.
Legendary Weapons attempts a reinvigoration by employing session band ?the Revelations to muster up grooves that recall the sort of ’60s soul songs that RZA once loved to sample. It’s a quaint idea, but the execution is too slick to mesh with the raps, and fails to evoke the Wu’s murky pall.
Tellingly, the tracks that resonate employ outside studio talent, like upbeat opener “Start the Show” (produced by Street Radio) or “The Black Diamonds,” which includes a behind-the-boards assist from M.O.P. gutter-architect Lil’ Fame and a suitably dingy guest rap from Roc Marciano. But those are rare dank nooks in a project that’s too sonically polished. And when the Wu get clean, they ?never convince.