It's been a long time since every RZA project ignited frantic anticipation, but there are still reasons to get excited about the Wu-Tang mastermind's soundtrack for the Spike TV project Afro Samurai. Ghostface Killah's Fishscale renewed interest in the Wu-Tang Clan, and Afro Samurai bears more than a passing resemblance to RZA's acclaimed score and soundtrack for Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai. It's worth noting, however, that Fishscale's heavy Wu-Tang vibe came largely from Raekwon's lyrical contributions, and that when Ghostface went looking for a sound that would resonate with a younger generation, he sought out the RZA-inspired MF Doom instead of RZA himself.
It is the existential lot of groundbreaking producers to spend much of their careers retracing the sonic ground they pioneered in their revolutionary early work. Accordingly, RZA's production here feels like a stripped-down, minimalist version of his early albums, but it's still exciting to hear icons outside the Wu-Tang axis, like Talib Kweli, Big Daddy Kane, and Q-Tip rhyme over RZA's beats. Like Ghost Dog, Afro Samurai combines atmospheric instrumentals, sound bites from the project it accompanies, and tracks RZA produced for himself, the aforementioned big names, and up-and-comers alike. There's also a preponderance of generic R&B from Maurice and Stone Mecca that'll have Wu-Tang fans scrambling for the fast-forward button.
RZA ends with four bonus tracks from Bobby Digital, including "So Fly," a track that interestingly seems to draw inspiration from the cartoon soul of MF Doom's Operation: Doomsday phase. "Insomnia" and "Fury In My Eyes/Revenge," meanwhile, both boast a druggy, ethereal trip-hop quality. It's all perfectly pleasant, inconsequential background music from an artist who once delivered much more.