Genius/GZA Liquid Swords: The Chess Box Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Expanded edition of what is perhaps the most celebrated Wu-Tang album to date.

Adam Kennedy 2012

Among the dizzying dozens of albums spewed forth by the Wu-Tang Clan, its members and legions of affiliated artists over the past two decades, Liquid Swords is, to this day, championed in unequalled reverential terms. Approaching adulthood, celebrating its 17th anniversary later this year, GZA's 1995 watermark is ripe for re-evaluation. Enter a remastered box set.

Aside from packing an additional disc of instrumentals, this reissue throws in a chess set, nodding to GZA's favourite non-musical pursuit. A gimmick, maybe, but its significance is notable – because in terms of conceptual realisation, Liquid Swords is a blueprint for the perfect Wu record. Not least as it's glued roughly together with sound bites from sword-wielding samurai movie Shogun Assassin, a running reference aligned with the crew's long-standing Shaolin obsession.

Starring the entire Wu, GZA's cousin/Clan production kingpin RZA soundtracks what remains his own most coherent full-length statement to date. That's emphasised via the aforementioned instrumentals, officially released for the first time, promoting sampling prowess, atmospheric intricacies and cast-iron banging beats to fully-warranted headline statuses.

Unlike game-changing Clan debut Enter the Wu-Tang – which landed two years prior, almost to the day – hooks are in comparative short supply. Instead, RZA's dusty-fingered magic is honed from the Staten Island icons' hip hop purist DNA, an influence on countless producers since.

Picking highlights isn't tricky, from the title track's mind-twisting similes to Swordsman's effortless demonstration of a rhyming ability so natural that you assume GZA was injected with flow in the womb. 4th Chamber contains a cipher that still steals the breath, Ghostface's typically atypical verse – shoehorning in racoons, Jesus, rum, Henry VIII and Genghis Khan – contrasting sharply with RZA's subsequent deep theorising.

The most celebrated Wu solo album? Aficionados may argue the toss with Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Yet Rae has never quite rivalled the Genius' artistic aura, particularly paired with RZA. And while GZA's long-mooted Liquid Swords II resides in the annals of Wu legend – a once-suggested 2012 release seeming increasingly unlikely – the original could conceivably hold its heavyweight crown for a further 17 years.

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