I’m one of those guys who think that hip-hop’s “golden age” was 1994. That’s the year my perennial favorite song, “Crooklyn”, was released. Unfortunately, times are rough for guys like me, as it’s rare for a new album to capture the magic of that bygone era.
But occasionally one doesâ€”Grandmasters is one of those albums. But that shouldn’t be surprising, considering that it’s a collaboration between DJ Muggs and GZA. After all, the two are members of two of the most celebrated groups from the aforementioned bygone era.
I admit, I originally thought that the concept of this album was corny. I mean, I understand that chess is a great game, but I had doubts that it’d translate into a good album. Happily, I was wrong.
Muggs channels his inner RZA and produces beats that hit just like the ones in the mid-nineties did. Seriously, if the album weren’t advertised as a collaboration between Muggs and GZA, you’d think that RZA produced most of the tracks and someone mimicking him produced the others.
If there’s a problem with the sound of the album, it’s that there’s not too much variation in the tone of the beats. I dig the tone, but someone who appreciates “happy”-sounding beats is going to be disappointed.
But GZA kills it. “Exploitation of Mistakes” plays out the best episode of C.S.I.: New York ever, as GZA details a murder mysteryâ€”from the discovery of the bodies to the evidence that nails killer. “All in Together Now” has RZA and GZA honor their cousin (and fellow clansman) Ol’ Dirty Bastard, in a song that’s neither somber or schmaltzy.
“Queen’s Gambit” follows in the tradition of “Animal Planet” and “Labels”, only this time GZA flips NFL team names into this rhyme. And as with every song on the album, he makes it sound so easy. It’s sadly refreshing to hear an album full of songs where the lyrics are actually worth listening to and make sense.
But that’s what Grandmasters is; hard hitting beats and lyrics.