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Wu-Tang Clan – Iron Flag (LP)
Even when it seemed they were tearing apart from in-group miscommunication and a welter of baffling solo albums, the Wu-Tang Clan came together again like Voltron for another excellent full-length. Expanding on the strengths of their third album, The W, Iron Flag focuses squarely on the Wu’s immense twin strengths: bringing together some of the best rappers in the business, and relying on the best production confederacy in hip-hop (led by RZA) to build raw, hard-hitting productions. Nothing brings a group together better than invasion from outside, and even though the flag they’re raising on the cover is their own, Wu-Tang respond to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with guns blazing — Ghostface Killah puts it simply, “Together we stand, divided we fall/Mr. Bush sit down, I’m in charge of the war!” The production is rough and ruddy, much more East Coast than their last two full-lengths (both of which were recorded in Los Angeles). Original East Coast head Flavor Flav even makes an appearance on “Soul Power (Black Jungle),” though he doesn’t even attempt to trade rhymes with the heaviest crew in hip-hop. (Instead, RZA indulges him by running the tape on an extended reminiscence with Flav and Method Man talking about growing up on Long Island.) The single “Uzi (Pinky Ring),” “In the Hood,” and “Ya’ll Been Warned” are all excellent tracks with excellent raps and, though the vaguely familiar horn samples driving most of them sure weren’t tough to record, RZA deserves a lot of credit for keeping the production simple. Even while most rappers have turned R&B overnight, Wu-Tang are really the only ones left in the hardcore game who sound like they’re in it for more than money or prestige.