A Better Tomorrow has been a long time coming, fresh from the crushing fan backlash of last year’s controversy over the exclusivity of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’s distribution and the album’s constantly delayed release date brings with it an air of Chinese Democracy-style hype. Having been delayed for at least a year after its originally intended release of Q1 2014 and plagued by egos and apathy on the part of various Shaolin alumni, the album was always going to be hit or miss.
Upon first impressions, the album is incredibly clean, almost too clean, in fact. The first couple of tracks seem to have much in common with melancholy soft rock than hip hop, lending a rather tame, trip hoppy feel to the beats. The spitting, whilst competent, is let down by every single member inexplicably doing their damnedest to emulate Immortal Technique. The album just seems too tame, some may say polished and melodic, but ultimately, this is the sound of the Wu Tang Clan brand, devoid of ideas or the angst and drive which made 36 Chambers so enticing, sold off with the guarantee of sales and money.
Whilst ‘Hold the Heater’ contains allusions to keeping it rugged, rough, real and raw, this would seem to be a fallacy, as ‘Keep Watch’ showcases a total lack of rawness, ruggedness or, most importantly, reality with a gratingly poppy, auto-tune laden chorus line, alluding to and apparently glorifying selling crack on the mean streets and fighting off others who wish to do so, whilst banging on about being from the projects. It’s a seemingly 360 degree turn from the philosophy of 36 Chambers (the drug trade is awful and being from the projects is pretty rough). The introduction to ‘Miracle’ injects a cringe-worthy melodic touch that might not sound out of place in a fucking Evanescence album and it’s the final nail in the coffin for an album which ultimately should have been left in a permanent state of flux.
And yes, whilst it’s not 1994 anymore and most of the members of Wu-Tang are swimming in more cash they can count, A Better Tomorrow is a progression from the original Wu-Tang ethic. Ultimately, like 99% of comeback albums, A Better Tomorrow is tepid and imaginative at its best, showcasing the group subsiding off of the glory of 36 Chambers, whilst also bastardising the philosophies their debut promoted. Go home RZA, you’re making 50 Cent look real.