First, it’s worth stressing that Legendary Weapons isn’t exactly a full-blown studio effort from the Wu-Tang Clan. Rather, it’s a tribute album of sorts with heavy involvement from Staten Island’s prodigal sons and acts affiliated with them, providing fresh material akin to 2009’s surprisingly strong Chamber Music. GZA and Masta Killa are both missing in action, which leaves us with six of the original group’s lineup on the microphone, with RZA relinquishing production duties to an assembly line of beatsmiths that operate very much in the shadow of 36 Chambers’s caustic soul sound. It’s impossible, then, to consider this a canonical Wu release. And while some blistering stanzas from Ghostface Killah could temporarily fool you into thinking otherwise, Legendary Weapons never comes close to touching Wu-Tang at their peak.
Ghostface brings his rapid-fire delivery to four of the 10 tracks here, conjuring a cyclone of short but sweet lyricism on each one. Indeed, it almost feels as though the album hinges on his outrageous streams of consciousness: “The Black Diamonds” finds him traversing the globe like hip-hop’s international super spy, while his turn on the title track is a flurry of matchless self-aggrandizing barks. The group’s core members similarly fail to disappoint, but it feels as though they’re just going through the motions at times: Inspectah Deck brings sociological musings and a bleak portrait of street life to “Never Feel This Pain” (think of a bastardized rehash of his “C.R.E.A.M” verse), and Method Man is typically bewitching on “Diesel Fluid,” but never really gets out of first gear.
Legendary Weapons constantly begs to be catalogued as a legitimate Wu-Tang effort, recycling all of the staples that made their 1994 debut so unique and instantly identifiable. Intros and interludes are littered with samples from kung-fu movies, and the beats subscribe faithfully to RZA’s rough-hewn template of lo-fi soul and eerie synths. And though there are some solid instrumentals here (“Laced Cheeba” is a delectably brooding number, while “Legendary Weapons” puts an urban spin on a glut of Eastern influences), there’s an equal measure of cookie-cutter duds (an MC as fierce and forceful as Raekwon should never be drowned out by jarring organ samples and dull guitar licks, as he is on “Start the Show”). Legendary Weapons respects the Wu-Tang ethos and legacy without doing anything to enhance it, constantly regurgitating buzz words and vintage Wu signifiers in an attempt to achieve authenticity.