I almost feel sorry for the Hip Hop kids coming up today, who will never get a chance to witness the ragged glory of the Wu-Tang Clan in its prime; when nearly a dozen emcees - each uniquely talented in his own right - prowled arena stages like urban panthers, spitting street knowledge so dense you couldn't cut it with a samurai sword (just a liquid one). With the passing of ODB, the Wu will undoubtedly never be the same, but recent stellar albums from Ghostface, Method Man and RZA hint at a coming Wu-Tang revival, with a reunion album and tour looking likely sometime in the next year.
Hell Razah represents the second wave of Wu family artists, commonly referred to as the "B team." Hailing from the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, the emcee was previously best-known as a member of late-'90s Wu-Tang spin-off group Sunz of Man, making guest appearances on Ghostface's Supreme Clientele, Method Man's Tical 2000 and Killah Priest's Heavy Mental. In recent years he's been sharpening his lyrical skills underground, re-teaming with Sunz of Man producer 4th Disciple on 2004's Freedom of Speech and joining forces with Killah Priest and Tragedy Khadafi to form the militant group Black Market Militia. Now, though, Hell Razah looks ready to blow up on his own, with a potent debut album that brings much-needed doses of intelligent lyricism and mathematical science back into the game.
The album's third track, the Dev 1-produced "Renaissance," is honestly good enough to warrant a purchase on its own merits, with Hell Razah effectively distilling the last 30 years of Hip Hop history into 3 minutes and 30 seconds of fierce lyrical prowess. "I'm Hip Hop before Sugarhill signed a deal/ before Studio 54 popping pills/ It was real when Kool Herc worked the wheels of steel/ Now we bring the game back into the New York field," he raps on the killer chorus. Then Tragedy Khadafi, Timbo King and R.A. the Rugged Man come along to drop dense rhymes referencing Christopher Wallace, EPMD, Beastie Boys, the 5% Nation, Pac, The Juice Crew, C-Murder, Kool Moe Dee, A Tribe Called Quest, Def Jef , Canibus (before he met Wyclef), Sweetback, Uptown Saturday Night, Black Caesar, Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite, Richard Pryor, Public Enemy, Grand Wizard Theodore and many, many more. Kids, open your ears and keep your fingers on the rewind button, 'cuz school is most definitely in session.
But Renaissance Child is no mere ol' school throwback: This is some serious next level Hip Hop, with an All-Star production team that includes 4th Disciple, Bronze Nazareth and MF DOOM, and a killer lineup of guest emcees such as Talib Kweli, Killah Priest, The Maccabeez and more. From Biblically-themed opener "Nativity" and the brutally aggressive indictment of the Hip Hop game that is "Buried Alive," to the funky "Project Jazz" and the Ras Kass-featured "Musical Murdah," Hell Razah's debut suggests that, even if the Wu-Tang Clan never makes another album, the group's storied Hip Hop legacy rests in some extremely capable hands.