Wu-Tang Clan's fifth album, 8 Diagrams, comes at a time of group strife. Raekwon has called Wu ringleader and beatmaker RZA a "hip-hop hippie" and says the beats on the new album are too cerebral. And it's true: While the minimalist production and movie samples evoke Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 8 Diagrams is not exactly bringing da muthafucking ruckus. But it kicks into high gear with the safari-movie-sounding "Rushing Elephants," and other highlights include "Unpredictable" and "Take It Back." Throughout, the usual Wu-Tang samurai and chess metaphors are mixed with pop-culture references and bizarre narrative interludes. Almost everyone is in fine form, especially Method Man, Inspectah Deck and Ghost, though Ghost is notably absent on the appropriately beautiful/chaotic ODB tribute, "Life Changes." Holding the whole thing together are RZA's beats. Understated, anchored by guitar and piano and, yes, cerebral, they ensure that 8 Diagrams will age well.
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