Although this isn't the first time these two artists have worked together (see Gza's contribution on Mugg's 1997's "Soul Assassins" album), but this is the first time the two have worked together on a whole album. What transpires here, is a magnificent coupling of one of hip-hops pioneering producers (Muggs), with easily one of Rap's most lyrically gifted, and commercially undervalued rapper (Gza). With an album that is a throw back to the art of the producer and rapper.
It's an album that is some way's, feels a little retro, because there's not any gimmicky speed-up soul samples, or embellished lifestyle bragging to fall upon. Instead this album goes against the contemporary grain, by favouring an mood that seems more focused on presenting the strengths of the artists involved, so rather than being project designed to become a commercial success, this is more a project that will appeal to those merely concerned with listening to a incredibly tight album, with no room for filler, and to highlight to listeners that both artists are still musically active.
As the title of the album suggests, this is an album, with the mood / Theme / and context largely related to and involving the game of Chess (a particular favourite of Gza's). Ideas, stories, metaphors, anecdotes, and Situations are in some way interrelated and involve the strategy, thinking and concept of a game of chess. It's no surprise that Gza grasps this concept with both hands and spins tales of pre-emptive thinking, outsmarting an opponent, celebrating complicated moves, and the catching an opponent unawares...all of which are beautifully weaved into lucid stories, confident narratives, and sweeping lyrical turns, and reeled off with such a skilful enthusiasm, that the mind boggles that there are far less technically gifted rappers out there, who come nowhere near the mind-boggling metaphoric lyrical talents of Gza, and yet have notably more success. Track such as "Exploitation of Mistakes", "Advance Pawns", "Unprotected Pieces"...all make clever lyrical references to the game of chess, with little of the gangsta posturing, and instead focusing on inventive storytelling, and witty metaphors. Almost in the sense that....Life is like a game of Chess...Play it!!
But equally important is Muggs' contribution....for one of hip-hops most important producers, over the years he's become incredibly overlooked in his contributions to hip-hop. And for this release, it's not so much what he puts in, but what he neglects to leave out. Realising that Gza is such an amazing performer and lyricist, Mugg's doesn't need to do a flashy production to cover up the lyricists shortcomings, instead what we get is a bare-bones-production. That beautifully highlights Gza's narrative, without overshadowing it, and instead sits perfectly alongside it. Muggs imbues the production with sinister synths, nervous backing beats and, up-tempo haunting backdrops, and scintillating organ melodies, and hard hitting, haunting beats that feel like a throw back to the early Wu-Tang days over which Gza skilfully muses, raps confrontationally, and lyrically throws down, with the deserved confidence of someone that has been in the game as long as he has.
There will undoubtedly be reviews here, that say that this is what "Real Hip-Hop" is all about, and with the deliberately retro sound, and the emphasis on the dynamic between producer and lyricist, it certainly does seem, that in todays unforgiving nature of hip-hop, that this is geared purely at those, that feel frustrated at the fact that presentation and marketing are now the driving force in hip-hop, instead of Artist ability. Gza's flow is something that requires several listens to full digest, even though you hear what he's saying, the implications and complexity of his words resonate over the music much longer, with subsequent listens leading to different interpretations, and understanding (hell, even a different appreciation) of what's being said. And with such clever metaphors such as the integration of NFL metaphors in "Queens Gambit", showing a level of articulation largely lacking in commercial hip-hop, and wrapped around Muggs thoughtful production, this is one of those `Word-of-mouth" albums, that undeniably deserves all the praise heap upon it. Whether both artists are planning on collaboration, again isn't known, but irrespective of this, this is one of the strongest hip-hop/rap releases in recent years. Highly recommended!!!