The Wu-Tang Clan's top lyrical assassin returns with his first solo effort in 6 years. But does GZA's Pro Tools live up to the hype?
Talent And Natural Game
In studying the reception of GZA's previous solo ventures, production quality has always been a crucial determining factor for the overall experience of the album. The GZA faithfully delivers on the lyrical end, but a sub-par backdrop can tend to sap this quality into an unbalanced and undesirable product. Thankfully, Pro Tools is a strong leap forward in the right direction. Diversifying more than just his bond investments, the GZA employs production from a wide range of Wu-Tang beatsmiths like RZA, Dreddy Kruger, Bronze Nazareth, and Mathematics, along with a well-matched contribution by Detroit's own Black Milk.
Each track knocks with Wu-centric elements, from the placid "Intromental" (which utilizes the same Soul Dog track as Common's "Hungry") to the frenetic Gary Numon-sampling "Life is a Movie". While the GZA may have found a well-suited production partner in Muggs three years ago (Grandmasters), the Wu-fam brews up an equally potent assortment of beats for his latest project.
The GZA wastes no time in jumping into abstract themes and concepts with provocative tracks like "Cinema", which encapsulates the narrative of a thriller/horror flick within the span of less than three minutes; the GZA's son Justice supplements an excellent tag team effort in his chilling chorus lines. Onward, the Genius commits vehicular homicide (lyrically that is) on "0% Finance", in which he incorporates a hysterically incomprehensible amount of car/SUV-related puns, similes and metaphors (over a re-tooled "Stay in Line" beat). The GZA also waxes reflective on cuts like "Path of Destruction" and "Short Race", an introspective profile of the ghetto youth. A strong showing and prominent example of GZA's lyricism and frequently used war-related imagery, the True Master-assisted "Columbian Ties" finds the Genius lamenting: "A president's madness, responsible for losses/ Political forces, land littered with corpses."
At times throughout Pro Tools, the GZA sounds much slower paced and tranquil than in his previous efforts. Typically though, it exhibits a level of assurance and poise more so than age catching up. With the RZA flinging darts over the chamber-like booms and claps of "Pencil" ("A black, blind governor, a rich white mayor/ Mayne, this whole city ain't got a prayer/"), the GZA confidently spits: "R.A.W./ Still bring trouble to...". Trouble indeed! The Genius calmly yet dominantly belittles 50 Cent and his camp on the heavily-circulated "Paper Plate" diss record, in which he proceeds to "spray the Flea-Unit with pesticide". Separating his craft from the perceived "disposable arts" of his peers, the GZA takes a stand as a self-proclaimed elder statesman; nonetheless, the diss track shouldn't be viewed as Pro Tool's focal point. There's a distinguishably liquid-like (ahem) sense of continuity and focus throughout the album's duration.
Genius at Work
After multiple spins, Pro Tools not only maintains its traction, it packs plenty of replay value. A relatively short runtime aside (44+ minutes), it can be argued (and it will be, by Wu-fanatics for a minute) that Pro Tools is GZA's best album since -- yup, I'll say it -- Liquid Swords. It joins Ghostface's Supreme Clientele and Fishscale as the best solo Wu-Tang releases of the 21st century. To use the appropriate terminology: Pro Tools is definitely a Wu-banga!Top Tracks
- "0% Finance"
- "Paper Plate"
- "Columbian Ties"
- "Life is a Movie"