On Thursdays we review albums that are considered “classic”. This week we will review the classic Wu-Tang Clan LP, GZA’s Liquid Swords. Classic is a word that holds heavy weight within hip-hop music conversations. Today, it is often used as a way to describe current songs, albums and artists that will one day become a classic, or “future-classic” if you will. Yet, many fans of hip-hop will unwaveringly stand by the statement that the 90’s was the golden era for the art form, full of timeless classics. The 90’s saw the gradual movement of hip-hop into the mainstream and showed that there was a market for hip-hop outside of strictly urban communities. One of these classic groups was the infamous, Wu-Tang Clan. A group comprised of a diverse handful of New Yorkers such as: Founder RZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard and GZA or The Genius.
GZA was undoubtedly always on the group’s and hip-hop’s general list of ‘best lyricists of all-time’. The Genius made this perfectly clear on his 1995 solo effort, Liquid Swords. The album’s’ concept is cinematic and contains a good amount of dialogue samples from the 1980 martial arts film, “Shogun Assassin”. The production on the album was handled by RZA. Being gritty, dark and incredibly atmospheric; it was the perfect canvas for GZA to lay his harsh, vivid lyrical content over.
This album was pure and simple, a lyrical clinic. Although the GZA’s name is attached to the album, most of the group’s members show up on the project. The Wu members used their Staten Island upbringing as a platform to discuss everything from political corruption to ancient Egyptian philosophy and simply being some of the best emcees around. The 1990’s was one of the most, if not the most, vital eras for hip-hop music’s growth. This meant a ton of competition in the industry and GZA clearly took a stand with this album.
His verses are littered with complex multi-syllabic rhyme schemes and a vocabulary to match. The album opened with the title-track ‘Liquid Swords’, and it was apparent from the song’s’ hook that GZA was here to revitalize hip-hop music with mounds of wisdom and knowledge.
“When the MCs came, to live our their name,
And to perform, some had to snort cocaine to act insane.
Before Pete Rock-ed it on, Now on with the mental plane to spark the brain.
With the building to be born. Yo RZA flip the track with the what to cut”
The album continues on with ‘Duel of the Iron Mic’ which is a song in which almost every bar asks you to
visualize the lyrics.
“Picture bloodbaths and elevator shafts,
Like these murderous rhymes tight from genuine craft.
Check the print, it’s where veterans spark the letterings,
Slow moving MCs is waitin’ for the editin’”
The album continues this visual trend throughout and GZA is aware of his lyrical prowess; often times
comparing his words and delivery to the slice of an expertly handled sword. And, after listening, the
comparison is most definitely valid.
The sixth track, ‘Labels’, just may be the most cleverly constructed cut on the album. GZA seamlessly
weaves in references to a majority of the major record labels in the 90’s and uses their names in
“I Death Row an MC with mic cables.
The Epic is that I Rush Associated Labels”
In a sole two bars, he incorporated four different record label names and managed to tie them all
together coherently and vividly. Liquid Swords is an album that hits you like a brick from the very first
track and continues to bombard your senses long after you’ve gotten lost in the lyrical show. It’s a
project that demands multiple listens before you can even begin to discover all of its complexities.
Hard-hitting, raw, gritty, and sharp-witted, Liquid Swords is a testament to why The GZA is also known