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Wu-Tang Clan, ‘8 Diagrams’

It’s been a rough millennium for Wu-Tang Clan. Their fourth album, 2001’s Iron Flag, tanked; their most charismatic member, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, died from a drug overdose; and infighting reduced the most important hip-hop crew of the ’90s to a touring nostalgia act. 8 Diagrams doesn’t reverse the decline. It’s a relatively solid record, but without any of the spectacularly gritty flashes the Wu are known for.

The beats are mostly to blame. 8 Diagrams is filled with skeletal, low-key tracks that rarely match the rappers’ palpable energy. (Raekwon, for one, has openly criticized the RZA, who produced 13 of the 14 songs.) The rowdy aggression that drove classic anthems like “Protect Ya Neck” and “Bring Da Ruckus” is absent. And the overworked, George Harrison-inspired first single, “The Heart Gently Weeps,” is a clumsy mess, with the Beatle’s son Dhani joining John Frusciante on guitar, and Erykah Badu on backing vocals.

The MCs do have their moments: U-God’s baritone flows perfectly with the airy chants and martial drums of “Wolves”; the GZA spits his usual thoughtful verbals; and Method Man nearly steals the album with chilling, precise verses on “Campfire,” “Gun Will Do,” and “Stick Me for My Riches.” He also gets in the best boast: “Before you even had a name / You were screaming Wu-Tang.” It’s a great line, because it’s true.

Now Hear This: Wu-Tang Clan – “The Heart Gently Weeps” REAL