Album review: 'Original S.I.N.,' by Almighty
It’s never a good sign when the interludes on your album have some of the disc’s best production.
It’s especially not a good sign when a lot of "Original S.I.N.," the debut album by Wu-Tang collective Almighty (Bronze Nazareth and Killah Priest, with help from about a dozen friends, has the feel of vintage Wu: lots of dissonant soul strings and wailing vocal loops. But while the album isn’t exactly a masterpiece, it’s a solid chunk of heavy, heady hip-hop.
After a horn-drenched intro, “The Saga Begins” kicks things off with a forlorn Eastern flute and Almighty’s dense flow that says a lot, but doesn’t venture far beyond the general theme which can be summed up thusly: “Cops is runnin/Glocks is dumbin’/Blocks is bumpin’. Strings punctuate “Handle the Heights,” which features a few bars from a couple MCs I haven’t heard for a while, Canibus and Keith Murray, but again, the topic rarely varies from “We’re great; you stink. What?”
Which is not to say I don’t enjoy that from time to time, when it’s done well. Exhibit A: “Killa Bee Swamp,” which chops up a pounding piano and a woman singing “Killa… bee” to nice effect. “Obey” works a similar formula, with nice verses from Planet Asia and C-Rayz Walz, and “Rising Sunz” sports a ‘70s-style horn melody that drives the whole song forward. But too often the production relies on uninspiring variations on the chopped-soul-song theme, and it drags down a lot of otherwise-intricate wordplay.
“Think Piece” is probably the most potent lyrical track, as Killah Priest and C-Rayz Walz get metaphorical and philosophical and, well, sometimes just plain old abstract: “He thinks to himself/Would I bleed for the cause?/I’m a global-warming, heat-soaring/street-exploring rebel/Saw the face of the devil it glowed like my blunt tip/Snake tongue, voodoo analog earprint/Grand nationalist spin a web so thick/You can’t escape/Read the prose/Pros see through the gate.”
The crew outside the main nine Wu-Tang members have always had a tough time shining, and it’s mainly because RZA wasn’t handling the production duties. But recently, several of the clan’s second-tier producers, like Mathematics and Bronze Nazareth, have come into their own. On too many of the tracks here, they settle for mid-tempo, minor-key soul loops when the MCs all have the talent to step it up. I would have loved to hear them rapping over any of the three interlude tracks, which use the same general formula but step up the BPMs.
"Original S.I.N." isn’t bringing the Wu back the way Ghostface and Masta Killa did with their recent solo efforts, but for those of us that remember the original (and much more uneven) Killa Bees compilation from way back in the day, it’s a refreshing shot in the arm.