Re-enter the Wu-Tang

Unreleased B-sides and remixes of Wu-Tang Clan tracks finally see the light of day

Megan Kadrmas

Wu-Tang Clan has, over the past two decades, carved out their niche in the hip-hop market. The martial-arts-inspired collaborative used the Eastern idea of balance to create their unique sound and wooed fans into a cultish fervor.

DJ Mathematics
TITLE: “Wu-Tang Clan and Friends: Unreleased”
LABEL: Nature Sounds Records

This balance helped Wu-Tang achieve a prominent place in hip-hop history. Their widely recognized “W” symbol marks some of the most influential hip-hop albums of all time. The “W” also became a kind of stamp of approval, usually translated to financial success for many of the Clan’s group and solo projects, as well as for anyone who could land a guest spot or remix a beat.

Now, however, the creator of that “W,” DJ Allah Mathematics, has quietly released a collection of tracks that got left on the cutting room floor during those Wu-Tang heydays.

“Wu-Tang Clan and Friends: Unreleased” might never prove to be as financially successful as Wu’s better known albums, but it is a solid reminder of why the “W” means so much to so many hip-hop fans.

“Unreleased” contains a collection of never-released tracks, B-sides and remixes from all of the living members of the original Wu-Tang Clan, who share sound booth time with Wu affiliates like Buddah Bless and Solomon Childs.

The remixes stick with the Wu’s style and sound, with Mathematics keeping the integrity of each remix so close to the original version that even tracks using different background music sound so natural they go unquestioned.

All 70-plus minutes of “Unreleased” sounds like classic Wu-Tang. There are the imperative skits linking each song to the next. Unlike some Wu-Tang skits, Mathematics keeps them short, consisting of little clips of conversation involving two characters, like father and son or man and woman. Then there’s the heavily sampling-based, gritty East Coast production that has not changed since “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”

Most of the songs reveal no apparent reason for being forgotten on the cutting room floor, other than perhaps that the tracks were simply not where each Wu album was going or that these were the worst-of-the-best.

For instance, on “Where Brooklyn @?,” Wu friends Bad Luck, All Day and Allah Real rip a page from one of New York’s most notorious rappers: Biggie. Mathematics starts the song off with a high-energy remix of B.I.G. shouting the infamous question. The vocals are clear and well-paced, while the background beat is just complicated enough to make for an interesting listen. It’s the type of infectious track that demands a bobbing head when being played.

Mathematics does a great job of balancing tracks and put effort into using his material in an order that gives the record some feng shui. He links songs together by contrasting sounds, lyrics and themes.

For instance, “King Toast Queen” has Masta Killa, Buddah Bless and Solomon Childs lifting their glasses to the ladies. In contrast, on “Eggs, Hash and Grits,” M-Speed, Street Life and Drama spit some pretty harsh judgments about the opposite sex.

In the same vein, Mathematics juxtaposes a hard-thumping, Brooklyn Zoo-esque beats with a sensitive, R&B jam.

The softer side comes first with “Wanna Believe,” which has Allah Real and Bad Luck busting out their vocal ranges. Allah Real has this enchantingly raw, low, sandpaper voice that perfectly counters the suave crooning of Bad Luck.

“Wanna Believe” fades into the all-out, gangster Wu remix “Wu Banga.” This track has some of Wu-Tang’s most influential and popular members on it, and their professionalism and pure talent oozes from this cut.

The lyrics are basically ripped intact from Ghostface’s “Supreme Clientele” album, while the beat is Brand Nubian’s classic “Step to the Rear.”

The song is upbeat, with an old-school optimism. The beat has nothing more or nothing less than it needs, achieving the balance Wu-Tang does so well.

With “8 Diagrams,” Wu-Tang’s long-awaited and much-anticipated fifth group project, coming out this summer, the hip-hop hive is starting to buzz about the “W” again. DJ Mathematics provides a good reminder of why Wu-Tang is one of the few hip-hop groups to reach immortal status.

With “8 Diagrams” being six years in the making, even those who weren’t the Clan’s biggest fans were starting to wonder what happened to the Wu. “Unreleased” whets the Wu-Tang appetite just enough to hold over until “8 Diagrams” drops later this year.