Classic Album: GZA: Liquid Swords

Dan Bidikov, A&E Editor

There is an ongoing argument regarding the actual importance of a formal education. Some say that it is impossible to gauge someone’s actual intellectual potential and wisdom based on his or her level of schooling, and that there are true diamonds in the rough to be found among poorly educated individuals. Hip-hop artist and Wu-Tang Clan member GZA (born Gary Grice) supports this theory and proves himself worthy of the given title “The Genius” in his classic album, Liquid Swords.

Tight, elegant beats lay a perfect foundation for brilliant rhymes, as GZA’s smooth voice takes listeners on a journey through visions of the darker memories of his difficult past. His language may be simple (and layered with profanities), but GZA still conveys powerful messages in his lyrics. Showing listeners bits and pieces of his personal childhood struggle and providing a realistic yet beautiful image of a home torn apart by drugs and strife, GZA paints a picture unlike many other rags-to-riches rap artists such as Nas and the Notorious B.I.G. GZA sticks to the Wu-Tang policy of giving the hard-to-swallow details. Cutting out the lighthearted shout-outs and mother-thanking allows for a much more harsh and realistic portrayal of life on the streets, and allows the hard-hitting rhymes to ring sweetly.

GZA the Genius is unparalleled in his ability to stay on top of the musical foundations in each track. While other talented rappers like Gang Starr and Mos Def can falter as they spit out raps to an orchestrated beat, GZA stays focused and on point, delivering his message with the utmost clarity and rhythmic sense. The production is extremely sharp and different artists lend their talents to make a powerful listening experience.

Almost all of the songs on Liquid Swords are collaborative efforts. These tracks showcase GZA’s ability to work together with other artists and combine his signature rapping style with the methods of different rappers, including his fellow members of the Wu-Tang Clan and some lesser known rappers and producers. These talented lyricists and musicians contribute choice lines and inventive beats to prevent GZA’s solo work from getting repetitive or boring. For instance, in the stellar track, “Living in the World Today,” he teams up with the RZA and Method Man (his fellow members of the Wu-Tang Clan), and they trade off verses fluidly. GZA can still hold his own, and proves it in the masterful track “Swordsman.” Individually and as a member of a team, GZA shows his musicianship and rhyming ability throughout Liquid Swords.

GZA distinguishes himself from the other members of the Wu-Tang Clan and other rappers by bringing an unmistakable style and high production value to the table. He weaves audio samples from the vintage film Shogun Assassin into various tracks throughout the album to make the listening experience more engaging and memorable. Despite being somewhat generic, they make the album easier on the ears. Voice sampling (even from old Samurai movies) is not a unique technique, but it works effectively and is not intrusive.

More sheltered listeners will initially not feel comfortable with GZA’s crude, raw style, but by the middle of the album they should be acclimated enough to fully enjoy his well-written raps.