Artist: DJ Muggs vs. GZA/GeniusTitle: GrandmastersRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Paine
Though it's been nearly a decade since The Soul Assasins dropped as a testament to coastal Hip-Hop unity, the bonds forged still remain. Like Alchemist's learned role in Mobb Deep, DJ Muggs maintained strengthened associations with acts in the East. Ever in search of challenges, GZA decided to do his next album entirely with Cypress Hill's renowned producer. In the tradition of Buckshot & 9th Wonder, or Edo G & Pete Rock, GZA & Muggs unify their veteran crafts for our benefit on Grandmasters (Angeles).
As its title hints to, this album is themed towards educating young people on the origins of Hip-Hop. "General Principles" and "Unstoppable Threats" find the Genius reporting the traditions of the culture amidst telling his own coming-to, similar to Wu-brother, Masta Killa's "School Days." GZA is as sharp as ever on Grandmasters, which also brings him back to cursing on record, which was omitted on Legend of the Liquid Sword. "Illusory Protection" is one of the album's best lyrical moments, where Muggs matches GZA's anger, with pounding drums and a hint of Cypress Hill horn stabs. It is here that GZA exposes MCs with short careers and short lyrics. Though the chorus tires easily, the varied rhyme-patterns impress any Wu purist. As an added treat, RZA keeps his brother company for a bulk of the album, similar to the early days of Rae and Ghost. This sense of family hasn't been this strong on a GZA album since Liquid Swords his groundbreaking sophomore release.
Muggs certainly provides a new sound for GZA. Clearly, with drum-pattern allusions back to Wu classics, ["All In Together"] he was aware of GZA's heritage and musical likeness. "Advance Pawns" also touches upon the mood of "Tearz," quite closely. Still, the loud, distorted clamor found on "Smothered Mate" brings new texture to the GZA sound. Similar to the guitar and percussion play on "Thief's Theme," this attitude provides swagger to GZA's flow. Other efforts feel far too simple, such as the shorter loops on "Queen's Gambit" and "Exploitation of Mistakes" are lucky to have GZA, but still don't attract much attention. Muggs is no better than Mathematics, let alone the RZA in his musical craftsmanship. However, he succeeds in recognizing the great elements of Wu production, and adding his own methodology and darkness in between the kicks and snares.
Grandmasters stays almost entirely within the subject-matter of Hip-Hop and its progression. Unlike similar efforts by KRS-One or K-Os, this album's music and lyrics dare to be dark, and almost painful in the pursuit. An MC known for playing games with his words, and a producer revered for his eccentric instrumentation, Grandmasters grows predictably from its Soul Assassins roots. The album gives new context to two progressive artists with fifteen-plus year careers, still fit for challenging themselves.