Various Artists

It’s only fitting that after nearly 20 years of crafting cinematic hip-hop soundscapes influenced by the moods and themes of martial arts films, that the RZA, the Abbott of the Wu-Tang Clan, would eventually step behind the camera to film a martial arts flick flavored with a hip-hop sensibility. Though The Man with the Iron Fists, the RZA’s feature debut, brings his artistic vision full circle, the soundtrack, while at times evocative, doesn’t quite live up to the magnitude of the event.

The project opens with a bluesy burner, the RZA/Black Keys collaboration, “Baddest Man Alive.” The track makes a more than suitable anthem for a flight fisted movie badass, but it feels more like the Keys’ BlakRoc meets Blaxploitation than a continuation of the RZA’s trademark Far East meets East Coast fusion, which inspired the film in the first place. Idle Warship’s moody “Get Your Way (Sex as a Weapon) bubbles with cinematic tension, Kweli setting a seductive scene over a slinky bass, and Res owning the role of husky voiced femme fatale on the hook. Best of all is “White Dress,” Kanye West’s vivid vignette of intimacy amidst the flashing lights. The refreshing minimalism of the digital soul track floats and weaves like a sonic dream scape, emphasizing the colorful details and raw emotions of West’s rhymes.

Disappointingly, the Wu-Tang related cuts fail to match the focus or intensity of the aforementioned standouts. The rock-tinged “Rivers of Blood” carries more volume than texture. Abrasive guitars and industrial keys swallow up the precision timing of Raekwon, and a tepid Kool G. Rap, leaving only Ghostface Killah to bring sufficient ruckus to the track. The Frank Dukes produced “Six Directions of Boxing” is atmospheric, but lacks the dynamism of the definitive Wu-Tang posse cuts, inspiring surprisingly lackluster verses out of the re-united clan.

Though he executive produced the soundtrack, the RZA only directly contributed to four selections on the project, which almost certainly would have benefitted from more hands-on involvement from the Abbott behind the boards. The Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack is certainly an adequate companion piece to the film, and will likely earn a spot in the collection of most Wu diehards. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity for a grand musical statement to further bolster the Wu-Tang legacy as it makes its transition to the silver screen.

- Jeff Harvey