There was once a legendary clan from the slums of Shaolin that had the rap game in a chokehold. Their dominance was so complete and the movement so powerful that not only are their first two albums considered by most hip-hop fans to be classics, the same esteem was conferred onto the majority of the individual MC's solo offerings by a public that couldn’t get enough of The Wu. Every good run must come to an end, however, and ironically the one cat who didn’t strike while the iron was hot saw his stock in the game rising, while the Clan itself began to fade out to Mike Tyson’s proverbial Bolivia.
Masta Killa’s always played the back and didn’t release his first solo, the critically acclaimed No Said Date ‘til 2004, long after the dust settled from the initial swarm of Killa Bees, following that up with the equally dope Made in Brooklyn two years later. These albums are important in the Wu Tang Clan’s narrative because they came out at a time when many were doubting the Wu’s relevance. Masta Killa momentarily satisfied the expectations of a loyal fanbase but he’s been on the low until now. Selling My Soul is his first studio LP in six years, and according to the mysterious emcee the album title has an obvious explanation. “Anything from the inner self is part of the soul. I put my soul into my music, and I’m in the process of selling it.” Old school r&b and soul music is the driving force behind this album’s aesthetic and all the producers--Allah Mathematics, PF Cuttin, 9th Wonder, and Jamal Irief among many others--incorporate it in their respective contributions.
If there’s one flaw with Selling My Soul it’s that it may be too soulful. There’s only so many times you can have the beginning of a track start off with vocals from an old r&b cut without the songs beginning to run together into mild variations of the same theme. This is exactly what it is, even with 9 different producers. On the majority of the record Masta Killa is rapping for the sake of rapping, with verses centered on life, love, and lyrics. “Cali Sun” featuring Kurupt is one of the songs that departs from the soulful vibe. It’s a C-walk worthy nod to the west and Kurupt does Kurupt; rhyming about indo, mark-ass niggas, and his disdain for bitches. Masta Killa uses “All Natural” as an opportunity to get spiritual and wax philosophically about the artifice in today’s world. It’s a sleepy cut but he drops some knowledge in characteristic fashion.
Jamal Irief employs the same Zapp and Roger sample 2pac used for “Keep Ya Head Up” and Masta Killa indulges in a spoken word soliloquy that combined with the beat comes across as superfluous. Masta Killa comes through while bookending Selling My Soul though. The first half of "Dirty Soul” is a shoutout to the soul brothers and sisters whose music inspired him. The second half is an inspired tribute to Ason Unique. Over the sole bust-your-shit-open Wu banger on the LP, produced by Blackinati, Masta Killa eerily emulates Ol' Dirty Bastard’s flow and the result is scintillating. He nailed it as only someone who was Dirt Dog’s close brethren possibly could.
Unfortunately for Wu heads, Selling My Soul isn’t going to satiate an appetite for the trademark sound one associates with the Clan. The lyrics aren’t wack, but Masta Killa isn’t exactly spitting flames either. It’s an indulgent side project and the monotony of the production is enough that the ‘McKayla is Not Impressed’ face may be unavoidable.
- T. Love