The way of RZA’s sword

RZA’s latest work for the “Afro Samurai” series is familiar territory for the warrior producer

Megan Kadrmas

.”Afro Samurai,” a new animé miniseries featuring the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, plays muse for RZA’s new album.

“Afro Samurai” follows Afro Samurai, Jackson’s character, in his quest to regain his dead father’s title of No.1 warrior in the world.

RZA, as part of the Wu-Tang Clan and in his solo career, is obviously into the whole samurai thing. This is not even his first samurai-related soundtrack – most notably was RZA’s score to Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog.”

RZA uses his experience as a producer to pair both instrumentals and vocals to the show. The album has a rise-and-fall to its tempo, much like the story; it builds to a climax and then settles again.

RZA uses some of the most solid hip-hop beats out there to bring this musical story to life, but the instrumentals on “Afro Samurai” exist in the shadow of the vocal tracks. RZA uses his best beats to back up his guest vocalists, who include some of hip hop’s greatest alongside some of hip hop’s unknowns.

“Certified Samurai” features underground favorite Talib Kweli alongside the lesser known Lil’ Free and Suga Bang. This track features a heavy back beat and the kind of chorus that stays with you all day. RZA scratches and mixes the chorus to form the melody for the entire song, which adds complexity to the fast-paced beat.

“Just a Lil Dude (Who Dat Ovah There),” featuring Q-Tip and Free Murder, is another track that will stick. The track opens quietly and then crescendos into a medley of sad violins and the counteractive upbeat bass and drum background.

The album will conjure up images of the show, even for those who have not seen it. For instance, the instrumental tracks feature a booming beat with traditional Japanese music cut up and used as musical flairs. The tracks describe Afro Samurai’s battles with other warriors to regain his father’s title.

The album opens with traditional hip-hop sounds, slows into a smoother R&B sound for a couple of love songs and then speeds back up to a driving tempo. The slow down and pick up describe the themes of the series, which include more than violence and redemption.

“The Walk” opens with a dialogue between Jackson’s character and his love interest, who is asking him to stay one more night. This clip is coupled with Stone Mecca crooning a quaint, but cliché, love track about long walks and making love. His voice sounds almost Prince-like in its beautiful whine and whisper.

The lyrics, however, leave something to be desired. Like many good love ballads, listening closely to the lyrics ruins a perfectly good song. Stone Mecca belts out the chorus, “Let’s take more walks in the park by ourselves/ Let’s make love forever/ Let’s reveal the magic we feel in each other/ All these things we feel will come true.” Not only is it lame, but it doesn’t do the slow boom-click beat RZA made for the song justice.

The best all-around track, as far as tried-and-true emcees over a solid beat, is “Cameo Afro.” On this track, Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang’s own GZA, and the less noticeable Suga Bang lay it thick over a head-banging beat. The sound is stripped down; horns punctuating the drum line are one of the few variations in the beat.

RZA puts his mark on each track on this album, but allows room for the other artists to show their talent as well. More importantly, as a soundtrack, RZA’s talent enhances the animé series, instead of drawing attention away from it.