You're damned if you do, damned if you don't. This colloquial phrase sums up the last ten years of RZA's career. One moment he's criticized harshly from fans for not "moving with the times" and "updating" his music, while the next his Wu Tang brethren Raekwon and Ghostface deride the Abbott for not maintaining the traditional Shaolin sound of the 90's.
So what does RZA do? He does what most good artists do; he acknowledges the criticism, but remains steadfast in his own artistic vision. And with his new album Digi Snacks (KOCH), he treads down that adventurous path with mixed results.
For this album, RZA enlisted various new and already established producers to help diversify his sound. Producer Panauh Kalayah assists RZA in crafting an ethereal, science-fiction feel on the melodic "Long Time Coming," and George Drakoulias adds a funky, blues tinged twist to "U Can't Stop Me Now." With the latter, many fans will recognize the Temptations sample made famous by MF Doom's "Anti-Matter."
Social commentary has always been a staple of Bobby Digital albums, and here is no different. The unlikely posse cut "Up Again," features the unlikely combo of Beretta 9, George Clinton, and El DeBarge. However, the track works since Clinton and Debarge's vocals are not overshadowed by RZA's sparse piano and guitar samples. And this also allows the listener to focus on the lyrics, which pontificate on music as a vehicle for social change.
RZA only missteps when he utilizes rhythms that don't accentuate his unorthodox flow. The Southern bounce of David Banner's "Straight Up the Block" makes the Abbott sound disjointed, even with him altering his voice (ala Ghostface's "Clyde Smith Skit") to try and make the track work.
Also, despite the varied producers, RZA keeps a sound dirge-like, plodding feel which starts to drag by the albums mid point. This is likely due to the drums, the backbone of most Hip-Hop songs, being very similar on most of the tracks ("Booby Trap," "Try Ya Ya Ya," Love is Digi 'Part II').
The main highlight of this album is that the RZA is experimenting. You can almost hear the wheels turning in his head as he's trying to birth a new, unique sound not just for himself, but also to ensure the rest of the Clan can move forward with the times. And while he occasionally stumbles, that boldness and dedication is to be admired.
"U Can't Stop Me Now"