The RZA Presents: Afro Samurai – The Soundtrack
Koch Records (released 1/30/07)
Afro Samurai, which premiered earlier in the month, is a dojinshi manga mini-series that’s been receiving quite a bit of critical acclaim, airing on Spike TV, and featuring Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of the title character, Afro. Taking place in a futuristic version of feudal Japan, images for the series are strikingly elegant, and it would only seem natural for the producers to enlist someone with the ability to create music to dramatic enough to complement the series.
Enter one Robert Diggs, who’s had success over the years in producing soundtracks (most notably Ghost Dog and Kill Bill, which feature similar subject matter). He went out an enlisted the help of some hip-hop heavyweights (Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Big Daddy Kane, GZA/Genius), but unlike so very many current hip-hop albums, RZA manages to keep control of the album without making it seem like he did the cameos just to do cameos, jumping in when he sees fit, and letting the instrumentals carry a lot of the album… but more on that later…
“Cameo Afro”, featuring the aforementioned Kane and GZA, is exactly what hip-hop has been missing lately. If RZA made himself more accessible to today’s rap stars (Ã la the Neptunes and Lil Jon), we’d be in really good condition, and there’d be a lot less pissed off hip-hop fans. Seeing more of this could possibly cure the disappointment and biliousness that Mathan and Mike Eagle have been feeling as of late. Well, at least Mathan…
Songs like “Oh” and “Take Sword Part II” are what should have been on DJ Shadow’s last album instead of that hyphy garbage. In fact, with this album, I’m going to take that abstract-hip-hop-instrumental crown relinquished by Josh Davis when he released The Outsider and hand it over to RZA. He is our hope if the genre has any chance of not dying out.
RZA channels blaxploitation-era funk with the instrumental “Afro’s Father Fight”, “The Empty 7 Theme”, not mention “The Walk” and “Baby”, which combine neo-soul and funk for fantastic slow jams.
But yes, back to instrumentals… they end up working incredibly well and playing a large part in the general composition, rather than getting lost in mix as with other albums, as many instrumental tracks (not to mention skits… oh, I hate f*cking skits) tend to do among seemingly stronger vocal tracks. “Afro Theme” works like a darker, less backpacker version of “Battle Cry” from Samurai Champloo, and many of the instrumentals carry a very dark, dramatic feel. Others are simply beautiful pieces of work, like the orchestral “Tears of a Samurai”.
So very many soundtracks end up being nothing more than a bunch of tracks thrown together without really having any continuity, or anything in common aside from the fact that they both appeared somewhere over the course of two hours. As a result, so many soundtracks end up being nothing more than an absolute fustercluck with the occasion gem thrown in to sell the damn thing. Unlike those, this album actually feels like one single entity—several tracks with such resonance that it actually feels more like an album and less like a compilation. Hats off to the RZA. Buy this album now.