GZA, aka The Genius (Gary Grice, born 1966) served as the spiritual leg of the RZA/ODB/GZA triumvirate when they formed All in Together Now and then the Wu-Tang Clan. Accelerating out of 36 Chambers, his 1995 Liquid Swords may not have the brilliant bombast of Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx, or the ODBness of Return to the 36 Chambers, but it is the most perfectly realized and crystallized. Sublime in the true sense of the word, like a Turner painting of a picturesque but horrible death by drowning, Liquid Swords is a surpassingly lovely soundtrack to a protracted execution by katana. “Unprecedented, opium-scented, dark-tinted” — a measured exercise in restraint that is always reaching for something well within reach but not quite getting there. “Don’t rap about your car, rap about what a car is,” GZA once said. It’s this transubstantiation of the intellectual to the visceral, this purity of purpose that would have earned him the title Genius if his rhymes hadn’t already. Perhaps because he’d released a pre-Clan album in 1991, or because he was a little older, for all the violence and entropy, this is an album with precious few extraneous parts. And, like Kafka or Poe, the few that do exist only serve to call attention to their absence. People said his brain was infected by Devils, but we know better.
HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc | Gil Scott-Heron | Slick Rick | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels | Afrika Bambaataa | Biz Markie | U-God | Slug | Adam Yauch | Ghostface Killah | DJ Run | Flavor Flav | Scott La Rock | GZA | Schoolly D | Aesop Rock | Terminator X | Notorious B.I.G. | Melle Mel | Doug E. Fresh | Kool Keith | Rick Rubin | Rakim | Ol’ Dirty Bastard | Madlib | Talib Kweli | Danger Mouse | Kool Moe Dee | Chuck D | Dizzee Rascal | RZA | Cee-Lo Green | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop
READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist Generation (1964–73).