Locked Down In This Cold, Cold World
GZA’s masterpiece Liquid Swords embodies the acceptance of paranoia always lurking in your periphery like a shadow. Dense, grimy and filled with street slang, this bleak masterpiece embodies a long, cold winter.
There is no fear in GZA’s voice as he weaves narratives about New York’s alleys and violent encounters. There is acceptance, which is even more bleak and telling of how accustomed “The Genius” is to the depths and perils of society. This familiarity allows GZA to describe his stories with such depth, and such a deadly shogun-style wordplay that has baffled listeners for 25 years. Each line is approached like a chess game – thought out and methodical, and by the time you know what’s happening it's already too late. The Genius is 10 moves ahead of you.
And just like all the golden era Wu-Tang records (which will begin making more and more appearances on this blog), GZA invites his posse for most of the songs* on this album with an egoless approach, to the point where you often forget whose album it is. “Cold World” sees two of Wu’s most poignant lyricists trade street stories in incredible depth, and Method Man’s grizzly and insidious flow on “Shadowboxin’” may be the highlight of the entire album.
However, this album is murkier, shadier, and bone-rattling than any Wu album before or after it, and that’s why we love it. It makes you question everything, realizing that you’re the only one in charge of your own survival. Life isn’t perfect and we can’t pretend it is, especially when you’ve seen the underworld like GZA has. And if you catch GZA on the streets, you best to watch your front - you’ll be in his checkmate before you’ve even made your first move.
*Sidenote: it was weird using the word “songs” to describe the individual works on this album. Songs is almost too happy of a word, too joyous of an expression, to describe what appears on this album. If “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” a song this can’t be – they could not be more different works of art. It is like comparing a sculpture to a video game. Maybe I’ll stick with tracks?
Ramen noodles – classic Chinese cuisine, right? Not that simple.
Ramen is actually a Japanese interpretation of Chinese wheat noodles, dating back almost 500 years. Today, it is a worldwide pleasure, with thin Chinese noodles bathing in a salty broth and incorporating different flavours and ingredients to the diner’s preference.
The ramen featured in this post contains chicken, although beef and pork (and even different fish) make a perfect pairing. The broth was mixed with fragrant garlic and mushrooms before the meat was introduced, and eventually topped with green onion, jalapeno for a kick, and a soft-boiled egg. Salty, savoury and delicious.
On the side of this dish you’ll notice a Manhattan. But perhaps the most un-done up Manhattan you’ll ever see. This is here to signify the streets of New York that raised GZA, but without the flash that Manhattan’s typically have (cocktail glass, overly garnished). This album is born from the same streets that raised billionaires, ran the world’s economy, and served as the crown jewel for class and sophistication. But “Liquid Swords” represents what happens when you stop looking at the top of the Empire State Building and look down to the streets. Same streets, different city. This “grimy” Manhattan is done simply, has an extra shot of whiskey, and is served without any of the bells and whistles of its urbane brother.
African influence in hip hop has existed since the genre’s origin. Between the slang, the references, the music itself, and the samples it is built on, hip hop music would not exist without Africa. But bringing Asian culture to hip hop? Unheard of. Pulling from Chinese influences led to one of the most intricate backstories to a hip hop album, and movement, ever seen in the genre’s adolescent existence.
Perhaps the most recognizable ingredient in Wu-Tang’s unique offering is their logo, and the imagery surrounding it. The iconic “W” is still being sported on hoodies and inked in arms of people who were born long after Ol’ Dirty Bastard rap-stumbled over his last “Shame on YOOO”. GZA took that Asian comic book aesthetic not only to one of the best album covers of all time, but weaved it throughout his album. Listening to “Liquid Swords” is similar to watching Kill Bill – American to its bones but filled with Samurais, katanas, guillotines, and chess. It pays homage and is influenced by a style that GZA was raised with in Staten Island – or "Shaolin", as the Clan has ushered into common slang ("if you livin' in the world today you be hearing the slang that the Wu-Tang say").
Ramen was born as a Chinese dish and pulls from many influences along the way as well. It is warm, satisfying, and packs a punch from the multitude of distinct flavours coming together. It is also now a symbolic food being sold on street corners of shops in the downtown metropolis of every major city, giving it a timeless urban flare.
On days dark and dreary, nothing satisfies more than ramen. And nothing stirs up colourless days and long nights than “Liquid Swords”. Enjoy this experience and embrace the winter that is almost upon us.