On Second Thought
Method Man and Redman – Blackout!

for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

The trailer for the forthcoming documentary Wu-Tang: Revealed dropped a couple of weeks ago; it looks pretty awesome. Featuring footage filmed by GZA over the last seven years, the film looks as though it’s actually going to be a fairly honest account of the Wu-Tang’s last few shitty years, replete with U-God and Masta Killa arguing with managers over who the hell knows/cares and the rather predictable sentiment that the stars are surely going to align again, bringing the Wu back to prominence. If only…

But there’s a particular segment in the trailer I’ve found myself becoming somewhat obsessed with: Method Man is being interviewed regarding the enduring strength of the collective (Wu-Tang being forever, and all). It should be noted Method Man is, without argument, the most marketable, appealing, versatile, charismatic, radio-friendly, club-friendly, street-friendly, and gifted songwriter in the entire collective (“Method Man,” greatest rap single of all time?), but when he performs in any capacity, none of that seems to matter. So calmly, and with a brutally honest candor, he says:

“They ain’t screaming Method Man; they’re screaming Wu-Tang.”

That’s intense. And it’s absolutely true. In 1994 the King of New York wasn’t Biggie or Nas. It was Method Man. Wu-Tang ran New York and Meth was its most visible figure. “The What” on Ready to Die isn’t a collaboration between Biggie and Meth, it’s a battle, and Biggie’s challenging Meth for the throne. So there's really no reason why Meth shouldn't consistently be mentioned as top five dead or alive, except for one unavoidable truth: Meth is all those things I mentioned above but there aren’t any truly great Method Man solo albums!

Certainly neither of the last two qualify and Tical 2000 is just a complete mess. It’s too long and there’s maybe only four really good tracks (“Dangerous Ground,” yes!). Even his debut Tical, despite “Bring the Pain,” “All I Need,” and “Meth vs. Chef,” sounds rushed, and of the initial swarm of Clan solo records it’s probably the worst. So given everything this should make Method Man the biggest disappointment in hip-hop history. He isn’t, but that’s interesting, too.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard said on “Raw Hide,” “When you stimulate your own mind for one common cause you see who's the real motherfuckers.” That’s what Wu represents: same as P-Funk, Sun Ra, Lee Perry, or any other prominent (black) music/art collective. Method Man made this sacrifice when he joined the Wu, and as a result, for better or worse, despite his blatantly obvious popular appeal Method Man will always work better as a collaborator. He’s just like his favorite drug; he enhances shit. Like spices added for flavor, Method Man needs other personalities or a common collective cosmology to work with to be truly effective. So while there are no great Method Man solo albums, there is a truly great Method Man album. And that album is Method Man & Redman’s Blackout!

Best of Both Worlds, The Highwaymen, Traveling Wilburys, Dr. Dre and Rakim, Alien vs. Predator, Father’s Day (Billy Crystal and Robin Williams together! Finally!), the 2004 Dream Team. You know those fantasy combinations people like to think about, dream projects you’d like to hear? Those things never, ever, ever live up to their potential. It’s gotten to the point where either a) people should just stop doing them or b) people should stop expecting anything from them. There’s always a sense one or more of the members is holding back (Billy Crystal!), and while I’m sure that album you’re listening to was a lot of fun for them to make, the music isn’t going to capture your imagination. It just isn’t. In fact, that great band in the sky with Hendrix and John Bonham, the dude from Blind Melon, Miles Davis, and Jesus Christ all jamming together is probably going to sound like complete shit. I’m telling you, just go see Carrot Top instead when he eventually overdoses on steroids. I promise you it will be infinitely more fulfilling.

But Blackout! is different. Blackout! is that rare instance, certainly in hip-hop, where a sensible union between two already established superstars actually worked over the course of an entire record. Method Man and Redman’s chemistry is completely organic (insert your own formalist conjecture regarding their potentially latent homoeroticism, or hip-hop slash fiction here); they can’t help but be inspired by one another. So where you’d usually get some quick lukewarm cash-in single instead you got “Da Rockwilder,” one of the most enduring rap singles of the last decade. It still sounds great. In fact, nearly everything on Blackout! holds up, (save for maybe “4 Seasons” with LL Cool J) and is just as engaging as “Da Rockwilder.” “Checka” with its Das-EFX flow; “Run 4 Cover,” RZA’s blunted out contribution for Redman to enter the 36, and the effortless “Well All Rite Cha” are all on point.

And if you really want to learn how to rap, you should study Blackout! The whole album is a virtual tutorial in wordplay and flow. Take “Y.O.U.” for instance: the way Method Man shifts his vocal timbre, consistently moving his body with the beat, sneaking around it, changing flows nearly every single bar, throwing little gems for Redman to pick up and take somewhere else with his own unique style. That’s the formula. He opens:
Traces of lipstick on my collar
Baby you gotta do some more to get this last dollar
Hotter than lava when you cum believe that I'ma follow
Lady Madonna like to drink but she don't like to swallow
Then Redman drops in on the third verse, with a disgusting masterful internal rhyme:
I figured it out: y'all niggaz ain't as big as your mouth
My street value—well it won't even fit in your couch
When I bust titties come out, no matter what city
Hardcore committee's dumb the fuck out—son should duck out!
Now granted, this piece has been pretty heavy on Method Man, but let’s not forget Reggie. Unlike Method Man there are actually a number of truly great Redman albums: Muddy Waters and Doc’s Da Name still get burn, personally (yo, Doc’s Da Name is great. Stop it.), but you could put Blackout! up against anything he’s done. Redman supplies Method Man with the perfect foil while Meth, with his cool, calm and collected demeanor, allows Redman to be the mischievous one, the “ODB,” barking at the beat, laughing through his lines, talking that slick shit he’s got down to a science, and, of course, smoking a lot of weed.

Which brings us to “How High (Remix).” Redman smokes weed. A lot of it. Method Man smokes weed too. Probably just as much. This has been well documented. So content wise, Blackout! is almost completely devoid of anything substantial or important, and that’s just fantastic. The Blunt Brothers aren’t really Wu in this sense; they have a truly unique aesthetic unto themselves that’s actually more comparable to a Beastie Boys record. You bump Blackout! in your car, in your college dorm, at your frat party, in your basement. It’s a party record. And while art made by people who are stoned that’s explicitly about getting and being stoned is usually pretty shitty, Blackout! is the exception to the rule.

Barry’s mother weighs in on her favorite Wu-Tang album.

By: Barry Schwartz
Published on: 2007-05-16
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