It’s no secret that U-God is one of the least of the Wu-Tang Clan’s many celebrated rappers. In a crowd that boasts luminaries like Ghostface Killah, Method Man or even underground favorite Inspectah Deck, it would be hard for an average Joe like U-God to stand out. I’ve always felt, however, that part of U-God’s charm lies in his everyman status – he’s just a dude who happens to be part of the greatest rap collective ever formed. He doesn’t try to bowl anyone over with his linguistic calisthenics, but he’s got a unique way of riding a rhythm that endears him to listeners all the same.When we add his smooth baritone voice to the mix, it’s plain to see that U-God’s no slouch, even compared to his more famous contemporaries.
Such is the frame of mind listeners need to be in when approaching Golden Arms Redemption, the first solo release from U-God. If you’re looking for rapid-fire tongue twisters like what’s delivered by Ghostface, you;re likely to be disappointed. Likewise if you’re expecting advanced five percenter spirituality such as Rza’s standard fare, or mind-warping free associative nonsense such as is ODB’s wont. What you will get on Golden Arms Redemption is fifteen tracks of hard-hitting street raps. U-God doesn’t try to make it pretty, or to dress up like something he isn’t. What he does do, though, is serve up a debut platter that’s rich with honest tales of life as he sees it, and from my perspective, we shouldn’t ask much more from our artists than that.
When the listener understands that the album is meant to serve as a sampler of the Clan’s less esoteric side, the same things that were viewed as failures on other Wu-Tang related releases from the same period become strengths on Golden Arms Redemption. As the everyday rapper that U-God is, it would have been a misstep to fill a disc with the kind of mind-blowing beats that made Rza’s reputation. Instead, U-God has chosen beats that reflect his own no-frills rhyme style, and has created one of the strongest Wu records of the late 90’s. The album produced two singles – the True Master produced “Dat’s Gangsta”, and “Bizarre”, which featured a beat from frequent Jay-Z collaborator Bink. Other stand-out tracks include “Lay Down” and “Rumble”.
Another noteworthy aspect of the record is the lack of guest appearances. Only five of the disc’s fifteen tracks feature guest appearances from a rapper other than U-God, and every single one is a Wu-Tang affiliate. By doing so, U-God has crafted a great CD that bridges two seemingly antithetical worlds – the larger world of general rap music, accessible the average casual music listener, and the microcosmic universe of the Wu-Tang, with its strange aesthetic and almost endless list of affiliated artists. U-God’s personal stamp on this project is one that’s welcoming to average rap fans without alienating those demanding Wu-Tang fans, a difficult proposition.
Next week, we’ll take a look at Immobilarity, Raekwon’s follow-up to his masterpiece Only Built For Cuban Linx.