Comparing U-God’s sophomore full-length to Masta Killa’s No Said Date from last year is a study in opposites within the Wu dynasty. Both emcees, often overshadowed in a nine-member core group that includes icon Method Man, lyrical god GZA and critical king Ghostface, had two paths to take — with Wu or against Wu — and they parted ways at the fork in the road. Masta Killa’s long-delayed debut was produced entirely in-house, by either RZA or RZA’s disciples, complete with martial-arts samples and blood splashed all over the cover. It seemed like a lost album from 1995, in a good way. U-God’s Mr. Xcitement, his first after the mixed results of his 1999 debut, Golden Arms Redemption, sounds like nothing to do with Wu Tang. It’s straight thug, with no paranoia chaser. It’s a street record without mythology, reality instead of metaphor. And it’s not better for it.
The step away from Wu Tang isn’t surprising. Early last year, U-God earned some press for calling out RZA as a leader who played favorites, at one point comparing him to a slave master. Members of the Wu have since performed together, and I would hope the absence of any Wu-Tang members on Mr. Xcitement is not due to any kind of punishment but is instead U-God forging out on his own. Regardless, the move is a mistake. Mr. Xcitement is plagued by forgettable beats and painful choruses: “You don’t have a chance/ You don’t want to dance/ My gun goes blam/ You don’t want to dance with a gangster.”
Lyrically, the album is on that “Yes yes, y’all, to the beat, y’all” tip. Simple couplets spill over drum hits and synth lines. At times, U-God’s deep bass is reminiscent of L.L. circa “I Need Love,” and although the record can pull off some enjoyable lyrical displays (both U-God and Letha Face on “Hit ‘Em Up, Roll Out”), too often U-God’s performance ends up having to carry the whole song. He’s better than his reputation as the weakest emcee in the Wu (which is not particularly an insult), but he doesn’t have enough of a unique flow or personality to carry an album without a defined sound.
Also known as, among other aliases, the Four Bar Killer, U-God is perfect for a verse here or there. He knows how to flip your expectations on a beat and make you see it from a totally different perspective, even after three or four others have jumped on, and that’s why he is so good in a group setting. But after the initial choice of flow on each track (which can be awesome), there isn’t much else to bring. All the songs are here for the generic rap album: “Jenny” is the love song, “Stop (Carry On)” is street inspiration. But stepping away from the Wu isn’t an excuse to slip into mediocrity.