GZA & DJ Muggs | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

GZA & DJ Muggs 

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The best moments on the new Grandmasters (Angeles Records), a collaboration between GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs, are like flashbacks to when I was a pimply teenager listening to Liquid Swords too loud and driving too fast. Muggs does his best impersonation of RZA circa 1995, looping single-word samples or hair-raising, wordless cries into his plodding beats and layering them with eerie piano and organ, urgent zigzagging violin, or murky electric guitar. And GZA, well, his style has hardly changed in the past ten years. Like Nas, at his finest he's the embodiment of the street poet: his voice has a steely, hard-assed edge, but his lyrics are crafted with a writer's self-awareness. (On "Smothered Mate" he raps, "They draw pistols to resolve issues / It give 'em a sense of closure to expose the brain tissue.") He chooses his details with the careful forethought that a grand master brings to the chessboard, and appropriately enough chess is the album's thematic backdrop, worked into everything from the cover art to the track names ("Advance Pawns," "Queen's Gambit," "Unprotected Pieces"). GZA and Muggs even trade the old 36 Chambers-era kung fu movie samples for snippets of what sounds like Russian chess fiends expounding on the finer points of the game. From time to time the production is merely an uninspired approximation of the old Wu style, and GZA comes off more world-weary than streetwise. But I'll happily sit through a few tracks like that when more than half the album is killer. Self Scientific, Verbal Kent, and Mr. Greenweedz open. Feb 2/24, 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $20 in advance, $22 at the door, 18+.


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