The Lone Swordsman: RZA’s Best Solo Songs

rza

Presented by Dr Pepper

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Staten Island-bred hip-hop icon the RZA has enjoyed a fruitful career in the music industry. Of course, he is best known for his work with the Wu-Tang Clan, producing and rhyming on their untouchable group albums like their debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and their follow-up double LP Wu-Tang Forever, as well as the many five-star solo albums under the Wu umbrella (Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx, GZA’s Liquid Swords, and Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele to name a few). He’s also collaborated on joints with everyone from Cypress Hill to The Notorious B.I.G. to Kanye West. But truth be told, the RZA is quite capable of making classics on his own. In fact, some of his finest musical work has been done when he’s gone for self. Read about and listen to RZA’s Best Solo Songs below, and be sure to check out RZA’s One of a Kind Studio Sessions EP courtesy of Dr Pepper.

“Sunshower”

It’s really unfortunate that this stream-of-consciousness classic from the RZA was only included as a bonus cut on the import version of Wu-Tang Forever. Not only is the production on here worthy of top-choice album placement, but hearing RZA rhyme for six minutes straight during the height of his MC career is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s an onslaught of fairly unorganized but poignant darts about everything from God to the universe to recidivism to hell that may be the illest solo record the RZA has ever committed to wax. And in addition to the knowledge, he goes into an extended Wu-Tang Clan history lesson toward the end of the song about the days when he and his Clansmen could be found “hanging in halls/banging on walls/kicking rhymes for three hours straight with no pause.” As RZA says at the closing of the track, “Take heed to these words, and feel the power of the ‘Sunshower.’” This is no joke.

“Twelve Jewelz”

If there is a record to rival and possibly top the brilliance of “Sunshower,” it’s “Twelve Jewelz.” Nestled within the tracklist of his side project The Gravediggaz’s second album The Pick, The Sickle and the Shovel, RZA breaks down the “Twelve Jewelz” to a wise but struggling old man: “Knowledge, wisdom, understanding will help you achieve/Freedom, justice, equality, food, clothing, and shelter/After this, love, peace, and happiness.” And before that, he tackles various scientific and social topics, bombarding the listener with incredibly dense wisdom and wordplay. As for the beat, it’s stripped-away so you can absorb every syllable, but banging enough to keep your head nodding. And don’t sleep on the flow! His delivery and pronunciation here is impeccable (ex. “fingernaaaaiiil”). All praises due to the true and living God MC.

“Tragedy”

Rhyme & Reason is an excellent rap documentary from 1997 that is not to be missed. And not only was the Wu-Tang Clan featured throughout the doc, but RZA lent a solo cut to the soundtrack. Please don’t let the singing on the “Tragedy” hook throw you off, though. This song is highly-dosed with raw, Shaolin flavor, as RZA sets it off, “Assassination, vaccination, poor education/Infatuation with Satan, world global nation taxation/Fiberoptic, microscopic, biological germ/Mad Cow burger on the market, captain of your Starship.” Whoa.

“Samurai Showdown”

Over the years, RZA’s work in film has rapidly increased, jumping from doing one-shot joints like “Tragedy” to composing full scores and soundtracks for films like Kill Bill:Vol. 1 and his 2012 directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists. His first entrance into this world came in 1998, when he was charged with putting together the score and soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. On the soundtrack, RZA made sure his presence was personally felt throughout it, with various joints by members of the Wu-Tang Clan family, a fantastic collaboration with him and Kool G Rap titled “Cakes,” and the solo standout “Samurai Showdown.” This is once again a Godly display of next-level rhyme styles, as RZA describes the showdown over another quintessential, self-produced masterpiece, like, “Kept his mind focused, meditating position half lotus/Abbot’s sword novas couldn’t match his magnum opus/Deluxe stroke, son move like a ghost/Struck in an instance, unnoticed like a lamp post.” Oh, and that beat switch on the second verse is everything. Raise your sword.

“Unspoken Word”

Though RZA was known mostly for his captivating soul music and kung fu movie samples during the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, when it was time for him to release his first true solo LP, he abandoned all that for a completely contemporary, forward-thinking, digital sound, hence the name of the project and his alter-ego, Bobby Digital. “Unspoken Word” is Bobby doing what he does best, rapping with a vicious energy and disregard reminiscent of RZA’s vocal appearances on the Wu’s debut. But over this new-aged, analog-less production style, he sounds like some sort of hood hip-hop superhero who’s come back from the future. Get amped to this.

“Odyssey”

“Odyssey,” a laidback but lyrical track that finds RZA rapping calmly over a sample of Isaac Hayes’ “The Look of Love,” is a bonus cut off 2001’s Digital Bullet. It makes sense that it got tacked on to the end of the album, which for the most part sounds nothing like this at all being that it’s a typically raucous Bobby Digital project. But this song is Bobby’s transformation into the Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah, a wiser, more mature MC, so it being a part of the final act of Digital Bullet is actually perfect placement. Smooth joint right here.

“A Day to God is 1,000 Years”

Generally speaking, Wu-Tang Clan fans tend to prefer their Wu-Tang Clan MCs to rhyme on RZA beats. But dudes like Mathematics and True Master have snuck in some equally significant tracks on Wu projects over the years—whether you’ve noticed or not—so it is possible for the Wu to prosper without RZA on the boards. And this song off RZA’s third solo album Birth of a Prince titled “A Day to God is 1,000 Years” proves this, as The Abbot himself falls back off the boards on his own song to let Wu affiliated beatsmith Bronze Nazareth control the production. The title alone already tells you that there are knowledge darts spit all over this track, but beyond that, the overall sound and feel of this song, thanks to Nazareth’s beautiful sample-based soundscape and RZA’s cool demeanor, makes “A Day to God is 1,000 Years” a standout worthy of short-list inclusion.

*Bonus* RZA “Wake Up Show Freestyle”

This isn’t exactly a solo RZA song per say—it’s a recording of him ripping a freestyle over a sampled loop of Edwin Starr’s “Easin’ In” to shreds live on Sway & Tech’s The Wake Up Show. For those who want an added look back at RZA’s mid-’90s brilliance, feast your ears on this. Then press rewind, and listen again. Crazy!


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

One Response to “The Lone Swordsman: RZA’s Best Solo Songs”

  1. NYHC81 Says:

    post of the year. props!!!

Leave a Reply