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One of the lesser-known members of the Wu-Tang Clan, U-God was late in getting his solo album dues, which came in 1999 -- years after the Wu golden era -- in the form of the underrated Golden Arms Redemption. Bereft of any of his Shaolin brethren behind the boards and on the mike, U-God's follow-up, Mr. Xcitement, which scarcely has a saving moment, fell flat. His third effort, Dopium, does have its highlights, but also ultimately fails to live up to the Wu brand. The album kicks off with plenty of promise with the head-nodder "Train Trussle," which proves that audio samples of Mike Tyson's ranting can't go wrong on hip-hop intros. The Shaolin soul of the first three tracks (including "God Is Love" and "Stomp the Roach") stands up to any yesteryear Wu-Tang classic and U-God and company (Cappadonna, Scotty Wotty, GZA, and Ghostface) all put in top-notch performances. Then things start to go wrong with the plodding, 4th Pyramid-produced "Lipton," made all the more unbearable by Mike Ladd's grating rap-rock crooning. Dopium rebounds with two more quality cuts -- the spine-tingling "Coke," which features Raekwon spinning his signature drug-trade vignettes, and the ‘70s-funk-infused three-the-hard-way joint "Magnum Force" with Jim Jones and Sheek Louch. But things start really heading downhill after the track list's midpoint, and the second half of Dopium offers one disappointment after another, including the Screw Music-influenced head-scratcher "Wu-Tang," which has Method Man shamelessly phoning it in. The one banger (and a banger it is) on the second half is the Large Professor-produced "New Classic" (which was included on Extra P's Main Source album in a different incarnation), where U-God rhymes hard for two minutes without a hook, proving that Golden Arms is still no slouch on the mike when he's got a capable producer behind him. The record wraps up on an embarrassing note with three house music remixes that are simply hard to fathom. With only four or five cuts that could be called certified dope, as far as second tier Wu-Tang albums go, Dopium belongs in the "skip" column.

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