[Talkin’ the best songs of 2008.]
Back around 1993 this big, jewel-encrusted, irresistibly awesome boat came rolling through youth culture — and, fool that I am, I watched it sail right by. That boat was the Wu-Tang Clan, and I still vividly recall how so many of my suburban white friends insisted it was the most incredible thing to happen to hip-hop music since Run-DMC or the Beastie Boys. But at the time I was too steeped in either jangly alternative rock music or the hazy feedback of music to take drugs to to be bothered. Of course, if listening to music to take drugs to was really what I was into (and it was — even though I never took drugs back then), I should have run, not walked, to my local record store to buy Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). But I didn’t; my head was far too engulfed in the asses of Johnny Marr, Lou Reed, Dave Fridmann, etc.
My loss. And even though I later figured out that I’d made a big mistake by ignoring Wu-Tang, I never went back and bought that first classic album, or any other Wu albums. The moment had passed. Once I started seeing Target commercials advertising the album, I knew I’d never buy it. Instead, I only ever enjoyed the music of GZA, RZA, Ol’ Dirty, Inspectah Deck et. al. when in the company of friends who either caught the train when it first came around or weren’t too proud to jump on after big box retail stores had hijacked it.
So like I said, I missed that boat 100 percent. And now, even though it’s not against any personal policy of mine, obtaining those old records just isn’t a priority. Anyway, I suspect my ability to properly enjoy them has diminished now that I’m in what (no matter how much I would prefer to euphemize it otherwise) can only accurately be referred to as my mid-30s.
Still, I’ll pick up the solo work of Wu members if it’s easy enough to do. Like, for example, if it’s available at the local library. Such was the case with Pro Tools, the 2008 release by GZA. I know a lot of people count Liquid Swords among their very favorite hip-hop albums of the ’90s, but I’ve never heard it. Here it is, 2008, and Pro Tools is actually the first GZA album I’ve ever listened to. And I would be lying if I said I’ve given it anything more than a cursory listen. But one track, “Life Is A Movie,” somehow ended up on an oft-played playlist a month or two ago, and it quickly became one of my favorite songs of this year.
GZA is joined by RZA on this shamelessly simplistic song, the music for which is cribbed almost totally from “Films” by Gary Numan. The only original contribution other than RZA and GZA’s rhymes and the liberties RZA, who produced the track, took with the sample, are the vocals of the Irfane Khan-Acito, who sings “And sometimes I feel like my life is a movie” on the chorus, followed immediately by Numan’s opening line from “Films”: “I don’t like the film. I don’t like the film.”
The narrative of the song is sketchy; RZA’s verses are all typically bizarre takes on traditional hip-hop boasts, while GZA’s first two verses are one long lament about his woeful lot and luck in life, e.g.:
I got a smile that’ll make the mirror crack
And I seem to stay under clouds that stay pitch black
So when it rains, it pours, and when it pours, I’m soaked
I contracted lung cancer from third hand smoke
I’m like the frog that’s dying to be a prince
The boy who cried wolf and no one was convinced
The man who hit lotto and lost his ticket
In a rainstorm and stuck by lightning trying to get it
All of this is complemented by Numan’s relentlessly menacing soundtrack, which sounds even more darkly cinematic thanks to RZA’s gritty sound tricks. The final result is a brooding hip-hop classic with unlikely pathos — an existential dirge in rap form; a French new wave downer with a Wu score. Listen: