Who's Wu: A Guide to the Latest Shaolin Platters

Who's Wu: A Guide to the Latest Shaolin Platters

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Six years after the Wu-Tang Clan's 36 Chambers poised the original nine Staten Islanders to take over the record industry, the Wus have effectively set up hip-hop's first dynasty.| Releasing one long-player ode to street life after another, with each member playing a different roll in the monopoly, they have stormed the music world, with more than a dozen solo and collective albums and a cluster of breakbeats, rhymes of passion and king fu cinema skits. After countless complications -- from release delays to jail sentences to lackluster albums -- the Wu-Tang Clan are once again poised for rap domination. With U-God and Inspectah Deck dropping solo debuts, ODB's loony N***a Please debuting in the top ten, Method Man and Redman's double-fisted joint, Blackout!, hitting streets today, and a third full-length forthcoming from Wu-affiliate Shyheim, the Shaolin posse prove once again that the Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to f**k with. Here's a round-up of the latest Wu-Tang developments:

U-God, Redemption (Wu-Tang/Priority)

The Hype: The Man with Golden Arms, U-God, fires the final Wu-Tang chamber, as the last of the original Clan members to release a record.

Mic/Deck Check: Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon and other Wu-affiliates join U-God on the vox; True Master, RZA, Inspectah Deck and others clasp hands in the mix.

411: Moody keys and dark strings match gangster sci-fi lyrics. True Master's production fiercely blares on the horn-laden "Turbulence", but guest rapper Leatha Face -- on "Knockin At Your Door" and "Rumble" -- lets his gun-toting rhymes get clumsily wordy. Imagine a more apocalyptic Kool Keith without the sense of humor.

Rating: 6 (out of 10)

Ol' Dirty Bastard, N***a Please (Elektra)

The Hype: When he isn't busy running from the Five-O, Ol' Dirty takes on yet another alter ego as a ghetto romancer, Rick James-type.

Mic/Deck Check: Chris Rock, Lil' Mo, and various Wu crooners rent a microphone from the "Brooklyn Zoo" keeper, ODB; RZA, the Neptunes and Buddah Monk lend production fingers.

411: Every outrageous rumor you've ever heard about Ol' Dirty is realized. A cover of Rick James's "Cold Blooded" and guttural secretions like "You Don't Want to F**k With Me" and "I Want P***y" are proof of a lower life form. Is he mad or genius? Both, but more of the former.

Rating: 8

Inspectah Deck, Uncontrollable Substance (Loud)

The Hype: Inspectah Deck, street name Rebel INS, is a mack of all trades, proving programming prowess on his long-delayed debut.

Mic/Deck Check: Raekwon, U-God, Method Man, GZA pull together with the Rebel INS; True Master, 4th Disciple, and RZA accompany Inspectah Deck to resuscitate the Wu-Tang dynasty.

411: The most underrated member comes correct with rugged street anthems "Elevation", "9th Chamber" and "Grand Prix". No posturing or gimmicks -¡ just straight up Shaolin-style in the vein of the original 36 Chambers.

Rating: 8

Shyheim, Manchild (Wu-Tang/Priority)

The Hype: Shyheim Franklin (a k a "The Rugged Child"), the most prolific of Wu-Tang homies, drops his third album.

Mic/Deck Check: Method Man, the late Big L, Ray J and Tek of the Cocoa Brovaz team up vocally with Shyheim Franklin; True Master, RZA and Shyheim pool studio resources.

411: Outside of "Furious Anger" and "Am I the Bother's Keeper", featuring Method Man, Manchild is still going through puberty. Underdeveloped cuts "One Life to Live," "Club Scene," and "Cease Fire" are like sloppy first drafts of a high school essay on living in the ghetto.

Rating: 5

Method Man/Redman, Blackout! (Def Jam)

The Hype: After Meth and Wu-friendly rapper Red's last lethal tag team on "How High," the two sultans of swing join forces to knock your lights out.

Mic/Deck Check: LL Cool J and Ja Rule take on Meth and Red for hip-hop-erazzi title mic fight; prize cutters RZA, Erick Sermon, Scratch, Rockwilder, Mathematics and Red join in for a heavy-weight beat down.

411: A who's who of NYC rah-rah rap have a memorable one-night stand. It was fun for a night but don't go there again. Have no regrets, though, about the terrible twosome's tribute to Red camper Rockwilder on "Da Rockwilder" or DJ Scratch's contemporary blaxploitation vibe on "1.2, 1.2".

Rating: 7