As Liquid Swords turns 25, GZA’s masterwork sounds as fresh and powerful as the day it was released | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

As Liquid Swords turns 25, GZA’s masterwork sounds as fresh and powerful as the day it was released 

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Courtesy the Artist

When the Wu-Tang Clan released their landmark 1993 full-length debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), they changed the game in popular music. Its raw, stripped-down production and its masterful lyrics, gracefully traded off among nine larger-than-life rappers, represented a fresh take on the booming genre of hip-hop—no slick studio tricks, no cartoony personalities, just lean-and-mean rapping over spooky boom-bap beats. The Clan’s standout rapper was without a doubt their elder statesman, GZA. His voice was powerful and commanding, his vocabulary seemed bottomless, and his poise and calm added gravitas and a sense of spirituality to a group of no-nonsense bruisers. Two years later, GZA bested the role he’d had in creating one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time by releasing the absolute greatest hip-hop record of all time, Liquid Swords. During the blast of hype that followed 36 Chambers, members of the Clan dropped a barrage of solo and collaborative discs, all of which are fantastic: Method Man’s Tical was unstoppable, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx . . . blew away genre conventions, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers was immediately legendary. But among them all, Liquid Swords was untouchable. Blending samurai mysticism with street logic, GZA’s wise, metaphor-laden lyrics make your brain work just as much as RZA’s funky production makes your head bounce; they’re sparse, smart, heavy, and heady, and they can be funny too—in “Living in the World Today” he raps, “Unbalanced like elephants and ants on seesaws.” As this masterwork celebrates its 25th birthday, it continues to blow minds—and at this show GZA will deliver a front-to-back performance of Liquid Swords, something he’s done frequently since the “full album performance” trend arose in the mid-00s. He’s been at it since his set at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival (part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties series Don’t Look Back), and each concert proves the album’s brilliance and timelessness.   v

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