Legend of the Liquid Sword (MCA)

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Like Nas's Stillmatic, GZA's latest release makes titular reference to his breakthrough, 1995's Liquid Swords, and shows renewed energy and integrity. But while Legend is the best Wu album since Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele, it falls short of being a classic.

GZA isn't the most versatile vocalist; he tends to ride one signature rhythm throughout the tunes. He consistently overcomes his stylistic limitations, however, with concise, evocative lyrics and waves of internal rhymes. On "Luminal," for instance, he sketches out his horror show with journalistic detail, following a serial killer as he teaches a small town to lock its doors.

But the fact remains that the vintage-sounding "Fam" would've blended into the background of the original Liquid Swords, whereas here it's a highlight. Likewise, such tracks as the music-industry double take "Did Ya Say That," the reggae-inflected "Highway Robbery," and the hard-hitting "Knock Knock" all merit multiple listens but leave one's breath intact. And straight-up misses like the lyrically gimmicky "Fame" and "Animal Planet" suggest that the best part of GZA's legend may already have been told.

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