After the needlessly complex, multi-sectioned production on A Better Tomorrow, Wu-Tang fans probably want another album of live-instrument production about as much as the MidEast wants another W. Bush administration. But where the RZA’s work on Tomorrow was too often flowery and excessive, Sour Soul’s sparse, brooding beats mesh perfectly with Ghostface Killah’s trademark intensity. In fact, it’s some of the best production on a Wu-Tang record in years.
For that we ought to thank BadBadNotGood – a superb instrumental trio out of Toronto, discovered first by Tyler, the Creator (who, interestingly, has his own jazz aspirations). Their work on Sour Soul runs the gauntlet from post-bop jazz to soul to trip hop and electronica, sometimes all in the same track. More importantly, they prove themselves masters of tone and texture: it’s some of the most head-spinning production this side of Portishead.
As for Ghostface, it could nearly go without saying he’s straight on point here. The emcee has long proven himself the most consistently excellent (sorry Raekwon) member of Wu-Tang, and deserves to mentioned in the same breath with any of the other GOATS. On Sour Soul, he plays up his stressed-out Mafia don shtick while dropping Wu slang, drug references, comic namechecks and positively absurd boasts at mini gun pace. “With the strength of ten midgets I’m a murder you son,” he raps dead serious on the titular track, before reminding us, yet again, that he does indeed have his swagger back.
Ghost definitely isn’t trying to reinvent himself anywhere here (queue the Ironman references), but whether he’s dropping healthy living tips (“Food”) or bemoaning the pitfalls of pimping (“Tone’s Rap”) his delivery is consistently stunning.
But, make no mistake, this is a challenging record. There’s only one hook in the whole thing, and so much Wu vernacular that non-Clan-fans probably won’t understand half of this shit.
You may need to keep open Rap Genius and Urban Dictionary while you’re streaming, but when he says “how to walk amongst the evil and smile in the face of death / to speak knowledge and wisdom till my last breath” on “Nuggets of Wisdom,” you know you want to believe him.