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RZA - Birth of a Prince

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Artist: RZA

Album: Birth of a Prince

Label: Sanctuary

Review date: Dec. 4, 2003

It’s hard to overstate RZA’s influence on the rap game. He was the backbone of the once-great Wu dynasty, drafting countless classic albums with his ear for gritty, off-center samples and punch-you-in-your face beats. His syllable heavy, oftentimes mind-bending lyrics were unheard of from a man so gifted at production, and a blueprint for many students to follow.

It is also hard to overstate the train wreck that his empire has become. Whether it is a result of fame, laziness, time, or something else entirely, the once invincible Staten Island onslaught has petered out to a few solid tracks in a sea of noise and nepotism. Enter Birth of a Prince, RZA’s third official solo album. Is the third time a charm? Not really, no. The album isn’t terrible, but it isn’t nearly enough to kick start the Wu’s flatline. At least he’s dropped the Bobby Digital thing.

The title of the album references RZA’s original moniker, Prince Rakeem, the name he recorded under before the Wu. It is appropriate then that the first song uses a Sugarhill-esque throwback beat which is fun and rough around the edges. Unfortunately, this promising start experiences an audible car crash, and out of the wreckage walks the mangled bodies of “The Grunge” and “We Pop”. “The Grunge” is definitive RZA production, with a distorted guitar sample that sounds like a blade being unsheathed, but the old magic is missing that might have made this messy song work. Then comes the radio single “We Pop” produced by Megahertz. I’ll admit the paint-by-numbers hook is catchy (I found myself singing it more than once), but the played-out bass line and terrible guest spots (money rhymed with money, jersey with jersey) kill any hope it might have had.

Just when things seem lost, “Grits” descends in a blaze of glory and revitalizes the LP. Partly an ode to the food that kept RZA and Masta Killa from starving as children, and partly a tale of ghetto childhood, this is far and away the best track on the album. The second best, “Fast Cars”, follows quickly on its heels, knocking down the door with a vicious piano scale, strangled horns, and Ghostface killing the MIC. It’s almost enough to think the Wu are still on top of their game.


The rest of the album never touches this peak again. The next six tracks are decent enough, capable of precipitating a head nod, but for the most part they remain unimpressive. RZA still sounds determined, but his rhymes are self-obsessed, repetitive, and dulled by constant calls for drugs and women. Most of his guests don’t help either, sounding like Hot 97 stunt doubles rather than Wu affiliates. If the album just ended at track twelve, “Koto Chotan”, it would close on a high note. But no, RZA has to switch gears and spend three of the last four tracks on his spiritual/metaphoric-unitarian-5-percenter-zen-allah-muddle. “A Day to God is 1,000 Years” is a tedious spiritual melting pot, “The Birth” has a great beat ruined by tired insights into the black diaspora and conspiracies of all kinds, and “See the Joy” is probably the most unintentionally funny album-closer of all time. Like Canibus, RZA takes on the perspective of a sperm, but it ends up sounding like a sex education rhyme rather than an inventive concept piece. With rhymes like “but they was fucking, they was true to this / and here I go on a mission to the uterus”, it’s hard not to smile at this overly earnest metaphor, or its conclusion that “life is a struggle”. Deep RZA. Anway Birth of a Prince is another disappointment from a crew that used to fuck peoples heads up. Maybe they will again, but I won’t give them to any more chances. Then again, did you hear that new Ghostface track? Shit, maybe one more chance.

By Owen Strock

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