Sound — 6
Wu-Tang Clan was founded in the early nineties, and has been one of the most interesting hip hop groups of all time, with a lineup that has since gone on to each create solo careers. After a lot of hassle and inter-group drama the members were able to get together and record their finale album, even using some old unreleased clips of their deceased member, ODB. "A Better Tomorrow" has been in the works since 2012, and was finally completed in 2014. The album contains fifteen tracks and clocks in at approximately sixty-six minutes. There have been three singles released for the album, beginning with the lead single, "Keep Watch," which was released in March 2014. The two additional singles that have been released are "Ron O'Neal" and "Ruckus in B Minor," which were released in August and November, respectively. This will be their sixth (and supposedly last) album, coming 7 years after their last release, "8 Diagrams," and is released on Warner Bros Records.
The album opens up with the track, "Ruckus in B Minor," which opens up with an organ and some minimal lines from ODB, but quickly turns into endless verse after verse with ODB's voice being used for short passages between verses. There is a lot of stuff sampled on the track, and I don't really recognize most of it, but the music during the first couple of verses actually reminds me a lot of Frank Zappa. There doesn't seem to be any common lyrical theme to "Ruckus in B Minor." The next track, "Felt" opens up with a monologue on what "feelings" are, with a woman laughing or crying in the background, and then the verses are focused on nobody understands what anybody else is really feeling or going through. "40th Street Black/We Will Fight" starts out with what sounds like a high school band, and borrowing from like a sports "fight song" type of vibe, and the chorus/hook of the song continues to borrow pretty heavily from that vibe. "Mistaken Identity" has guitar and keys playing a pretty big part in the track, honestly it is probably my favorite track musically, but the chorus/hook gets old pretty quick and the verses deal with people being arrested for crimes they didn't commit. "Hold the Heater" lost me pretty quick, in all honesty, with the "keep it rugged, rugged. Keep it rough, rough. Keep it real, real" early in the track. The verses weren't especially great, but again, musically the song was pretty interesting. "Crushed Egos" opens up with some sampled audio from what I think is an old martial arts movie, which is pretty common for Wu-Tang Clan, and has a lot going on with the percussion. The lyrical theme is that the Wu-Tang Clan will crush their rivals' egos. "Keep Watch" is the lead single from the album, and it definitely has some of the more interesting verses on the album, but is one of the least interesting tracks from a musical standpoint. "Miracle" opens up with a sweet piano melody and some crooning type of singing, and when the rapped vocals come in you can tell this is the slow sensitive track on the album, like it feels very much planned that way. "Preacher's Daughter" is heavily sampled from "Son of a Preacher Man," and honestly might as well have them rapping over the original track. "Pioneer the Frontier" has a kind of creepy vibe going on, with a more minimalistic beat going on, and more focus on the verses, which works out for the better on this track, making it one of the more standout tracks on the album. "Necklace" opens up with sampled audio from an old T.V. show or movie, and the lyrical theme seems to be about how dangerous it is to be wearing a necklace because somebody might try to take it. "Ron O'Neal" is another single from the album, and the music has a really cool vibe to it - the verses are okay, and they fit really well with the music - this is probably my favorite track from the album. Next up is the title track, "A Better Tomorrow," which seems to have a theme that the world hasn't gotten any better than "back in the day" and it won't get any better until everybody does something about it. "Never Let Go" starts with audio from another older martial arts movie, as well as an audio sample of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., and once again has a lyrical theme centered on civil action and personal perseverance. The album closes out with "Wu-Tang Reunion," which is just more of a celebration, with a dash of nostalgic melancholy, of all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan getting back together to record this album and life "back in the day."
Lyrics — 7
The album works with a different member doing different verses and the lyrical hook. In some tracks everyone in the group is featured. This definitely adds some variety, as each member has their own style and perspective and even a different sound to some extent. The vocals samples they used, mostly from old martial arts movies but also from Martin Luther King Jr., are well chosen for the track. As a sample of the lyrics, here is a verse from GZA on "Ruckus in B Minor": "Forms circles like the rings of Saturn/ dust rocks and ice in a particular pattern/ then this fascinating picture has emerged from surface/ a wonder of the young world with an urgent purpose/ a wild fire engulfing every home/ it's history, chiseled and carved in every stone/ a workshop where skills are learned/ handcrafted and drafted, written works our main concern/ urban center provided with a social structure/ and a curious culture full of superconductors/ each stain is part of a scene with/ intricate geometric raps on a larger screen/ spell bounding, marvelous and its surrounding/ viewpoints remains the same, it's all astounding/ a place where the forgotten art is so powerful/ a striking image is something that's so valuable." Of course, each member brings their own unique perspective to their verses throughout the album.
Overall Impression — 6
I don't dislike this album at the end of the day, but I don't think it really pushes the envelope in the way that the Wu-Tang Clan is supposed to. There isn't really any kind of cohesiveness or anything to stand out about the album, which is unfortunate because all the components were available for this to be an outstanding album. RZA produced most of the album, although 4th Disciple produced "Necklace," Mathematics produced "Keep Watch" and 4th Disciple, Rick Rubin, Mathematics and Adrian Younge co-produced some of the songs on the album. I liked that a lot of the tracks (those that weren't heavily sampled from other songs) seemed to use real instrumentation for the beats, with real drums, bass, guitars and keyboards/piano or organ, and I thought that sounded really good compared to a lot of the more artificial instrumentation commonly used in modern hip-hop.