Legacy meets contemporary: Just ‘think’ of the possibilities

Wu-Tang meets underground artists like Aesop Rock and Ras Kass to make a skillful, if not cohesive, compilation

Keri Carlson

The premise is a good one.

Take unused Wu-Tang Clan beats and pair them with some of the best rappers in underground hip-hop.

That’s what Wu-Tang collaborator and A&R-man Dreddy Kruger did. He resurrected the Wu-Tang legacy (though the group is not officially over, it’s definitely not as strong as it used to be) through interaction with more contemporary artists.

The beats are classic Wu-Tang – noir-ish soul, sped-up samples of panicked cries and distressed strings, mixed with big head-bobbing bass and a kung-fu energy. And rappers such as MF Doom, Ras Kass and Aesop Rock along with Wu-Tang’s Gza, Rza and U-God have the freedom to disregard hooks, choruses and radio-friendliness.

“Think Differently” is about spitting unrestrained rhymes that have an unconscious flow joined with intensity.

Kruger says in the liner notes that he misses the “true posse joint with no hook and like six or seven MC’s going in for like five minutes” – much like Wu-Tang.

The album attempts to capture the spirit of Wu-Tang, and in many ways, it succeeds.

No track is a complete failure. In fact, most thrive with rappers taking their mission seriously.

J-Live holds the most notable rhyme on the album: “Still can’t stop a grown man from pressing record / a free man can either be freedom or free labor / when you spend what ya make to keep making you can’t save a damn thing / no savings that’s how life will enslave ya / that’s why I strive daily to be my own savior.”

Wu-Tang became such a force in hip-hop because the group was committed to supporting creativity. J-Live and other MCs retain that mentality.

“I’m half famous for being unknown,” J-Live says on his track “Give It Up.” Though Wu-Tang had commercial success and major-label deals, “Think Differently” suggests the spirit of Wu-Tang can be found only in independent rappers.

As much as “Think Differently” preaches the independent attitude, the Macintosh logo on the cover distracts. “Think Different” might be Apple’s motto, but using the rainbow-striped apple only makes the album seem like an advertisement.

The cover sucks, but it’s excusable when there’s two guest appearances by director Jim Jarmusch. On one track, Jarmusch says in a bizarre allegory, “Melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed.”

Other highlights include Gza’s collaboration with Ras Kass, where both MCs are on top of their game. And “Cars on the Interstate” makes traffic jams sound funkier than the Soul Survivors “Expressway to Your Heart.”

Although “Think Differently” contains many superb jams, it is still missing something: chemistry and cohesiveness. Wu-Tang Clan had many rappers, but they still worked as a group, a unit and a body. “Think Differently” is, alas, a compilation. And it cannot escape the choppy flow and overflow of voices that plague so many albums filed under “various artists.”