The Genius / GZA

Pro Tools

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Even fans who didn't care for the laid-back, murky feel of GrandMasters -- GZA's 2005 effort with DJ Muggs -- had to give the album respect, well aware that the Wu-Tang member was adjusting his style for the DJ and just grooving it slower with the same high-quality rhymes. The bar remains just as high on the man's follow-up, but anyone alienated by GrandMasters' attitude will be pleased that the uptempo and sometimes oddball rhymes are back in full force here and sit on a set of melancholy soul productions that have that classic Wu atmosphere. On the opening "Pencil," GZA's Wu brother Masta Killa drops a jaw-dropping Ivan Koloff reference, RZA holds his own, and crew producer Mathematics provides the hypnotics, but it's GZA who owns the track by linking livestock, damaged livers, and cell phone chirps into a classically Clan bravado story. The way the rapper goes from the letter A to the letter Z during the chorus of "Alphabets" is so well crafted it's stunning, while "0% Finance" drops an auto reference about every fourth word and brings new life to car-loving hip-hop after years of rim-worshipping disappointments. A wonderfully worn copy of Gary Numan's "Films" gives the great "Life Is a Movie" its beat, and the production on "Paper Plate" is RZA in prime noir mode, making this diss track wasted on 50 Cent more interesting than it should be. Crooked funk production from Black Milk sets "7 Pounds" on fire as GZA compares the good vs. the bad side of hip-hop as "Pearls next to pebbles/Spoons against shovels" and the live version of "Elastic Audio" tacked onto the album's end isn't the usual throwaway bonus track but a mostly a cappella, entirely compelling closer. Even if they're slow to arrive, GZA's full-lengths rarely disappoint. Pro Tools is no different, but with so many divergent projects and experiments from the Clan filling the five previous years, this throwback also proves the crew's original formula still works splendidly.

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