It’s been a minute since the Wu-Tang Clan put its full weight behind a serious on-brand album. Since 8 Chambers in 2007, members of the Wu haven’t exactly been in one another’s orbit. We’ve seen key members in absentia on Wu-Tang mixtapes, members taking up family squabbles, and even members starting legal action against one another. At the beginning of the year, none of them were on the same creative page.
“It’s like getting the United Nations to all agree on one f**king thing,” Raekwon said to Grantland of Wu’s dynamic in March. “Italy ain’t having it. Japan is on some s**t.”
So it’s a small miracle Wu-Tang seems to have finally gotten it together for the release of A Better Tomorrow on December 2. After months of delay, it’s getting released on Warner Bros. Records.
Luckily for us, the legendary rap group previewed the album (no, not that super-rare artifact one, unfortunately) for the music press last night. And A Better Tomorow sounds like group therapy, with mostly cohesive, positive results. After all the group’s fussing and fighting, you might expect A Better Tomorrow to show some of the group’s stylistic fault lines—and there are some. But not a lot.
Wu-Tang’s resident producer RZA and MC Masta Killa attended last night’s listening party, but stayed mostly behind the studio’s glass between introducing a few songs. It’s important to note that during the group’s downtime, RZA composed music for films like Django Unchained and Pacific Rim, and even wrote and directed his own film. So naturally, he pulls A Better Tomorrow toward evocative cinema and soul on the chipmunked-up sample on the hook of “Keep Watch."
Then there’s the rest of the Shaolin (Method Man, GZA, Raekwon), who keep it hard-hitting on the album as well, particularly with the track “Felt.” As RZA said last night, the group titled it so “because [they] don’t give a f**k how other people felt” about Wu-Tang’s intra-group drama.
Other notable Tomorrow moments included the hook of “Preachers Daughter,” featuring an interpolation of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Ghostface Killah’s infrequent verses with no-less-urgent conscious lyrics. Here’s a sample: “I met her on the bus with black eyes/that's why she said she don't f**k with black guys” and the particularly timely, “Ebola is killin’ my people/it's getting scarier.”
The lead-off track for A Better Tomorrow, in particular, puts Wu-Tang Clan’s strongest foot forward in years. “Ruckus in B Minor” feels more like a graceful boot kicking open a door. It’s perhaps the album’s best reconciliation of RZA’s conceptualism and the rest of Wu-Tang’s grit. The screeching aggressive sounds of the rapid-fire posse cut are tempered by gospel-like arrangements of organ and piano, plus a sudden break into a woozy, downtempo, Pink Floyd-like groove.
Given Wu-Tang’s–namely RZA’s– perfectionist inclinations, a lot of what was played on A Better Could Tomorrow could, and likely will, change on the final mix released next month. But if you’re trying to get an idea of what to expect, you can check out A Better Tomorrow’s preliminary tracklisting and sequencing from the listening party below.