With his third solo album, Selling My Soul, Wu-Tang Clan's most stoic and mysterious member, Masta Killa, eschews gun talk, street tales, and what Raekwon dubbed "punch-you-in-the-face music" for a brief collection of smoothly flowing hip-hop that straddles the border of soul. The album's misleading title may suggest a Faustian regression to materialistic pop-rap, but the content is still the well-known Wu brand of conscious, precisely crafted lyricism: "Meditate and then I wrote/For years, months, and days/Before I even spoke," Killa says in a disarmingly laidback delivery on the standout "Food."
With 16 tracks, at least seven of which amount to skits or interludes, that clock in at less than 40 minutes, the whole thing sounds like an overdressed EP, but there are some gems to be found if you dig past all the filler. On "Things Just Ain't the Same," Killa paces producer PF Cuttin's thick-snared thumping beat perfectly as he paints images memorializing New York's colorful '80s hip-hop scene. The Brooklyn-bred veteran's verses are poetic collages of the era's sartorial stylings, recalling, "Mama cried tears of fear when I was wilding/Saying please don't wear that, people getting killed for that." An outspoken vegetarian despite the inherent irony of his stage name, Killa raps eloquently on "All Natural" about blood-dripping animal carcasses and organic food over the mellifluous xylophone chimes and heavy bass of Allah Mathematics' production. Showing no sign of decline this deep into his career, the rapper pours dense rhymes into each bar of "Food," which features a chopped-up vocal sample thinly crooning on top of a rattling drum loop. Opening with a reference to the Bhagavad Gita, Killa boasts of "stimulating brain growth" as he engages in "the mental assault of rhyming" with an easy flow that "travels at speeds that's blinding."
Aside from Tha Dogg Pound's Kurupt hopping on both an interlude and the anachronistic West Coast-sounding "Cali Sun," Selling My Soul is devoid of many guest artists. With the exception of a lone production credit from Inspectah Deck, Killa's Wu-Tang brethren are nowhere to be found, though the album is bookended with tributes to the group. It opens with a short verse crafted out of various classic Wu lines and closes with Killa emulating ODB's patented slurred speech, listing names as he lumps the late rapper in with the greatest soul singers of all time. Killa has described Selling My Soul as a prelude to his long-awaited Loyalty Is Royalty album; as such, it feels more like a promo EP to showcase his abilities than a full-length feature. Well-executed, fresh music from a member of Wu-Tang is always welcome, but perfunctory projects stuffed with filler are never a good look.