A word of warning: Legendary Weapons is not the Wu-Tang Clan’s sixth studio album, not the follow-up to 2007’s 8 Diagrams. Rather Legendary Weapons is a “compilation album,” endorsed by Wu-Tang and sold under the brand name, but not technically an album by the entire group. Like 2009’s Wu-Tang Chamber Music, the album throws together a handful of Wu members and associates in the hopes that Wu heads starving for hard-boiled gangsterisms and kung-fu beats will shell out a few bucks for a fix.
Leaving aside the question of who will actually buy this album, one comes away from Legendary Weapons assured that the aesthetic experimentations of RZA the “hip hop hippie” are still on hold, and that Ghostface Killah remains the rapping heavyweight of the Wu-tang lineup. Whether you dug the pillowy instrumentals on 8 Diagrams or not, there was no denying that the album represented a new direction, an update to a style that was in danger of becoming stagnant. But the production on Legendary Weapons bends over backward in service to traditional RZA staples like gothic piano strokes and Mafioso strings. Nothing here would sound out of place on Liquid Swords.
That’s not to say the beats don’t knock, and when Ghostface Killah shows up with couplets like “Found black diamonds in the Everglades/ Fought temptations, slap-boxed in the Devil’s cage,” and “Fierce, I travel across seas on glaciers/ Four shoguns that got fucked by Geishas,” you won’t care what year it is. The problem with Legendary Weapons is that Ghostface is only on four of its fourteen tracks. Everyone else, aside from an energetic A.Z. and Ghostface’s own mimic, Action Bronson, sounds lazy and uninspired by comparison. While other rappers faced with a classicist beat seem to turn black-and-white, Ghostface goes full Technicolor, skipping across continents and centuries like a wild-eyed, gun-packing Doc Brown. Although his own solo albums have been erratic as of late, Ghost’s appearances here as well as on Only Built for Cuban Linx II and Wu-Massacre prove that he could be primed for another Fishscale. Or, if all of the other Wu-Tang emcees could get on the same page as Ghostface, or in the same room as him, we could have at least another Iron Flag even if the possibility of another Enter the 36 Chambers is out of the question.
Similar to other over-exposed cultural institutions like Law and Order and the Grateful Dead, the Wu-Tang Clan has suffered from so many spinoffs and cash-grabs to the point that people have almost forgotten the power of the original product. Almost, but not quite: Legendary Weapons is fine enough for diehards, but doesn’t reduce the general desire for an actual Wu-Tang album.