All Respect Due to the Wu

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, of course. Without slipping into obsession with past founding fathers, it is healthy to occasionally acknowledge our influences. So let me direct your attention this week to a new mixtape by the annoyingly named Bronx rapper CurT@!n$, The Dissertation: The Wu-Thesis.

The mixtape uses familiar Wu-Tang beats and skits, though touched up a bit and mixed with surprising elegance with CurT@!n$’ own similar material. Mixtapes often use beats popularised by other artists (though less and less these days, as mixtapes become more like interim albums), but spitting over classic Wu-Tang takes guts. If CurT@!n$ had been even a little bit whack with his lyrics, the resultant scorn would have been intense.

Thankfully, he does pretty well, jumping from pun to pun with decent wordplay and an aggressive, occasionally bitter attitude. CurT@!n$ obviously worked really hard to do these famous beats justice. In a few of the tracks he is a little attention deficit in his relationship to the subject at hand — not unlike A Man and his Mixtape favorite Cobe Obeah — but the standout tracks, “The Gentrification” and “Letter to the People pt. 4,” stay devastatingly focused.

There are some big differences between the classic works of the Wu-Tang Clan and CurT@!n$’ homage. The most obvious is size and scope. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was a huge album by a huge group — nine dudes! — with songs four to seven minutes long with up to seven verses by various members of the Clan. CurT@!n$ is just one guy, and his mixtape is ten tracks, most less than three minutes long. But CurT@!n$ isn’t trying to match the Wu, he is merely paying his respects to one of the most influential hip-hop acts of all time. I suspect that in this project CurT@!n$ in some ways imagined himself a member of the Clan, and composed his short one and two verse tracks as if they were going to be tacked on to the originals right after Method Man or ODB finished spitting.

The best way to think about this album is, happily enough, as a dissertation: a synthesising of what CurT@!n$ learned after extensive study. See, not only does CurT@!n$ use Wu beats, he follows in their footsteps thematically, discussing with impressive intelligence the sociological roots of poverty, violence and drug use in African-American New York City. This is a topic that the Wu rapped about extensively a decade ago, and CurT@!n$’ deft updates of old complaints are cutting in their contemporary accuracy. “The Gentrification” breaks down the futility of modern attempts to fight urban poverty with commercial development.

But the Wu-Tang Clan didn’t just write social commentary. Their depiction of life on the dangerous ghetto streets set the stage for songs that are really about personal transformation. CurT@!n$ does the same in his thesis. Yes, he spends a lot of time on posturing and put downs, but in the end, particularly in “Letter to the People pt. 4,” he argues that moral uprightness is more important than material success.

I definitely recommend checking out CurT@!n$’ new mixtape, The Dissertation: The Wu Thesis. You can download it for free at http://usershare.net/2DopeBoyz/4wv8pwmtxgbf.

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