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Music Review: Wu-Tang Clan – Return of the Wu & Friends

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As a collection of lost gems and retooled favorites, Return of the Wu & Friends is more an exhibition of the mixing skills of Mathematics and less a brand new album. Regardless, these 16 tracks stand as strong evidence of the Wu-Tang Clan’s excellence and of Mathematics’ skill as a DJ and producer and still deserves a spot in any Wu collection.

The clipped beats and horn-blasted deliciousness that has filled Wu-Tang records with sweet funk since 36 Chambers is all here, of course, but Mathematics really excels when he pairs beats with the skills of the respective MC. His ability to chop, scrape and dip the tone and mood of the track to meet the cadence of Method Man or GZA is a thing of beauty.

If there’s anything Mathematics knows, it’s how to surface the Wu-Tang Clan’s often haunting bars with clean, concise beats and mixes. The minimalistic quality to classic records like Enter the Wu-Tang has always been one of the more recognizable selling points to the Wu’s recognizable vibe, but Mathematics pulls out surprising bits and pieces of soul, funk, blues, and cinematic textures to match the smaller moments.

The cuts on Return of the Wu & Friends are taken from recordings from between 2000 and 2008. Mathematics isn’t afraid to redesign and reconstruct a little bit, either, and he demonstrates this by transforming “Respect” into a slow, haunting “Respect 2010.”

On top of it all, Mathematics proves himself a master of pace and structure. “Strawberries & Cream” shows off his ability to conduct a slow jam. The track is a sleek and sensual piece of work and the beat balances almost eloquently around the suggestive lyrics, allowing each MC a way in to the narrative.

There’s some good solo work on Return of the Wu & Friends too, like Raekwon’s “Treez” and Method Man’s “John 3:16.” Beyond being mere exhibitions for the talented rappers, Mathematics takes the cuts and pushes them even further. Method Man’s cut is laced with an unpredictable, spiraling beat that matches the MC’s carefully rushed cadence, while “Treez” is hauntingly cinematic.

While it’s true that Return of the Wu & Friends is a showcase for Mathematics, it’s still an excellent addition to the Wu catalog. True Wu bangers fill the record with moments that alternate seamlessly between the deliberate and the authoritative, with Mathematics’ mixing and matching guiding the way with textbook precision and boundless creativity.

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