Made in Brooklyn
nyone with a passable knowledge of hip-hop knows Masta Killa. Even so, one would be hard-pressed to call him a celebrity. He’s never collaborated with Missy Elliott. He’s not on location with Bill Murray. He’s not breaking bread with Aaron Spelling’s kid. And since he hasn’t let Dame Dash anywhere near his solo albums, he’s most certainly not dead.
But unlike U-God, Cappadonna, or Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa never believed that RZA’s pecking order was the only thing keeping him from pop superstardom. The defiantly bullshit-free No Said Date was right in his wheelhouse and it got rewarded with the unanimous and deserved praise that only Ghostface has seen in the last decade. But while the success of No Said Date proved that Masta Killa truly belonged in Wu’s upper echelon, he unfortunately serves his colleagues’ tradition by releasing a disappointing, disjointed follow-up.
It’s kind of a shame, because so little of Made in Brooklyn‘s problems have to do with Masta Killa himself. His flow is pretty much flawless, a combination of stone-faced authority and metaphysical swordplay that places him somewhere between Guru and GZA. He’s not particularly flashy, getting more mileage out of deft rhyme structure than punchlines, although “Ringing Bells” has two of the better similes I’ve heard as of late (“sharp as a n**** on prom night,” “Killa Bees swarm like a hundred women scorned”).
Reticent almost to a fault on No Said Date, Masta Killa is looser and more playful here. There’s a greater focus on earthly pleasures, as he rhymes through powerful blunt drags and sex-starved sisters on “Pass the Bone Remix” and “Nehanda and Cream,” sounding less like a boilerplate braggart than a likeable guy who just happened to be on some of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made.
The most heartening part of Made in Brooklyn is how excited the rest of the Wu sound to be involved. On “Iron God Chamber,” Masta confidently bats clean-up for U-God, Method Man, and RZA (who continues to age ungracefully on the mic). “It’s What It Is” features the album’s liveliest production as well as the vivid, vicious verses from Ghostface and Raekwon we can pretty much take for granted at this point. Consider these an apology for Busta Rhymes’ “New York Shit.”
Little of MK’s sense of craft on the mic rubs off on anyone else involved, though. The production philosophy mirrors displaying Faberge eggs on cinder blocks, as the beats can most generously be described as “functional.” “E.N.Y. House” rips a monster movie riff from MF Doom’s “Beef Rap” and squanders the playfulness by jamming it into a stiff drum program, while the breakbeat on “Brooklyn King” clearly breaks the plane between gritty minimalism and anorexia. Some will find Masta Killa’s rhyme style to be a bit on the dry side, and the poorly-EQ’d soul samples and one-bar horn loops that constitute most of what’s left fail to add much hot sauce.
But if Made in Brooklyn was merely Masta Killa lyrics over bargain basement beats, it’d still be one of the better hip-hop efforts of the year. Too many tracks are just “Black Shampoo”-style bad ideas that are incapable of redemption regardless of who’s on it. “Let’s Get Into Something” takes a long walk off the short pier of Wu-Tang love jams, indulging in over two minutes of low-budget quiet storm before Masta Killa bothers to show up. That’s nothing compared to the truly WTF?! closer “Lovely Lady,” where he gets shipwrecked on a desert island where the natives learn reggae from bootleg Sean Paul albums.
The question before No Said Date was whether Masta Killa could evolve from bit player to leading man, and although it took about eleven years, he proved to be up to the task. Made in Brooklyn had a far shorter gestation period, and it’s a classic rush-job, a fantastic EP marred by Masta’s uncertainty of where to go next. Maybe he didn’t have to go anywhere; in this climate, 50 minutes of solid lyrics and grimy beats (“Ringing Bells,” “It’s What It Is”) would actually be considered innovative. It’s great to see MK get some shine as a PETA spokesman, but he needs to leave their culinary philosophy out of the studio; Made in Brooklyn is mostly filler and little meat.