Liquid Swords

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Liquid Swords
Studio album by Genius/GZA
Released November 7, 1995 (1995-11-07)
Recorded 1995
Genre Hip hop
Length 55:17
Label Geffen/MCA
Producer RZA
Genius/GZA chronology
Words from the Genius
(1991)
Liquid Swords
(1995)
Beneath the Surface
(1999)
Wu-Tang Clan solo chronology
Raekwon:
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
(1995)
Liquid Swords
(1995)
Ghostface Killah:
Ironman
(1996)
Singles from Liquid Swords
  1. "I Gotcha Back"
    Released: August 22, 1994 (1994-08-22)
  2. "Liquid Swords"
    Released: October 10, 1995 (1995-10-10)
  3. "Cold World"
    Released: November 28, 1995 (1995-11-28)
  4. "Shadowboxin'"
    Released: 1996 (1996)

Liquid Swords is the second solo studio album by American rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member GZA, released on November 7, 1995, by Geffen Records.[1] Recording sessions for the album began mid-way through 1995 at producer RZA's basement studio in the New York City borough of Staten Island. The album heavily samples dialogue from the martial arts film Shogun Assassin and maintains a dark atmosphere throughout its course, while it incorporates lyrical references to chess, crime and philosophy. Liquid Swords features numerous guest appearances from the entire nine piece Wu-Tang Clan.

Upon its release, Liquid Swords peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200 chart, and number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. On January 11, 1996, it was certified gold in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[1] The album initially received favorable critical reviews for its lyrically complex and musically hypnotic style. Over the years, its recognition has grown, with a number of famous publishers proclaiming it as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. In 2007, the Chicago Tribune cited it as "one of the most substantial lyrical journeys in hip-hop history".[2] Along with Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Liquid Swords is often cited as the best solo work by a Wu-Tang member.

Background and recording[edit]

GZA recorded the album after working on several other Wu-Tang projects.

Following the success of two earlier Wu-Tang Clan solo albums -- Method Man's Tical and Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Wu-Tang member Raekwon began recording his acclaimed debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... in early 1995. While he and producer RZA were putting the final touches on that album, RZA and GZA began writing and recording what would eventually become Liquid Swords.[3] In regards to their decision to begin the album at the time they did, GZA later commented "We (Wu-Tang) were on a roll, and it was the perfect time to get in the studio and just do it."[4]

"I'm on a different level, trying to be cinematic," he remarked. "Like that shit in 'Killah Hill' where the kid gets his leg cut to hide the dope – that shit really happened, but I'm trying to make it more visual. Liquid Swords is a concept of being lyrically sharp, flowing like liquid metal – mercury, y'know? It comes from this flick, Legend of the Liquid Sword, where people would get their head cut off but it would still be on their shoulders. No one else would notice, because the sword was so sharp. Wu-Tang is a sword style, and this here is the sharpest. I'd rather slip on the pavement than slip on my tongue."[5]

Similar to other early solo Wu-Tang albums, Liquid Swords was recorded in RZA's basement studio in Staten Island, with some beats playing for over two days straight while recording.[6] When asked in a later interview about his opinion of the album's beats, GZA remarked "I loved them. A lot of them had a grimy, rock-like feel to them. I just remember absolutely loving them."[4] In the same interview, GZA described the writing process as "real slow." He further commented "I don’t say slow in the sense that it necessarily took me a long time to finish what I’m writing. I mean, Raekwon and Ghostface can step in and record a song in about forty-five minutes. I on the other hand, would often go back and finish rhymes that I started. I would say I pieced things together more slowly then. Songs generally take me two to three days to write. Sometimes I take different sentences and put them together."[4]

Regarding the overall sensation of writing Liquid Swords, GZA stated "It's hard to say something is gonna be classic or not. But I can say that I felt the magic with this one. I actually saw it grow and come together, and felt that it was special as we were doing it."[4] He later noted in an interview with The Seattle Times: "It has great songs, it's not an ignorant album, it doesn't sound dated. If you listen to it and compare it to what's out now, it's timeless. Lyrically, it's not my best work. Not at all. But the chemistry? Production? Overall, I mean, c'mon! RZA's atmospheric production? Yes. It's my best album."

Promotion[edit]

The track features gritty, surreal lyrics, simple musical variation, and an eerie-sounding, RZA-produced beat.[7]

The lyrically-raw track contains an electric guitar-laden beat and metaphysical imagery by Ghostface Killah.[7][8]

The album's lead single has a looping, feverish horn line and lyrics about urban, criminal lifestyle.[8][9]

Problems playing these files? See media help.

The album's cover was designed by Milestone Media Founder/Creative Director and chief artist Denys Cowan, according to the album's liner notes,.[10] Cowan's black and white line art was inked by Inker Prentis Rollins. Milestone's Color Editor, Jason Scott Jones created the cover color art digitally at a time when digital coloring was emerging in comic art eventually becoming the standard.[11] GZA's personal manager Geoffrey L. Garfield, who commissioned Cowan. Garfield, an avid comic book fan, said the cover art was supervised under the auspices of GZA GrafX, a subsidiary company of GZA Entertainment owned by Genius and Garfield. The concept of the chessboard with its sword-wielding warriors was conceived by Genius, an avid chess player. The Genius version of the Wu-Tang Clan logo, the "G" using the logo iconography, was rendered by Wu-Tang Clan DJ Mathematics who was also an accomplished graphic artist.[12]

Genius also enjoyed a successful side career as a music video director, and with Garfield as writer and producer, created all four videos for the Liquid Swords album ("Liquid Swords", "Cold World", "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber", and "I Gotcha Back"),[13] and also did videos for Sunz of Man, Ghostface Killah's song ("Motherless Child") on the Sunset Park film soundtrack, Shabazz the Disciple (Penalty Records) and Case (Def Jam). The Source recognized their video "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber" as one of the Top Five Videos of 1995.

Liquid Swords was performed in its entirety on July 13, 2007, at the Pitchfork Music Festival and again in England, on December 9 at All Tomorrow's Parties and on December 10 at KOKO (venue) in London, as part of the ATP-curated Don't Look Back series. After the cancellation of an appearance in Brooklyn, New York, the performance was rescheduled for December 13 and 14 at the Knitting Factory in New York.

Singles[edit]

Four total singles were released for Liquid Swords. The first of which was "I Gotcha Back," released August 22, 1994. Similar to Raekwon's single "Heaven & Hell," the song first appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Fresh, and was the first song written for the album. Describing the song's background and theme, GZA later stated "This was a short rhyme I wrote for one of my nephews. When I said, “My lifestyle so far from well, could’ve wrote a book called Age Twelve and Going Through Hell.” It’s for my nephew who was twelve at the time, and whose father, my brother, had been locked up since ‘88. So he wasn’t around for my nephew when times were rough, so I wanted to up my nephew a bit with this track. I had two nephews in the video, they were both real young at the time. And in video, they both had met up and shots rang out from some young gangsters. It’s a shame because both those kids in the video, both nephews of mine, ended up getting in trouble for ringing out shots and are both doing time right now. It’s kind of ironic. One of my nephews ended up getting eights years for that shit. So the whole song is a sad irony to me now."[13]

The second single released for the album, was the title track "Liquid Swords," released over one year later on October 10, 1995. GZA later commented "Usually I take a beat home and write to it for a few days, but it wasn’t like that with this track. I think RZA played the beat for me and I just spit to it right there. The hook was actually a routine from around ‘84 that me RZA and Ol' Dirty would do: 'When the emcees came, to live out the name.' Just like that."[4]

November 28, 1995 saw the release of the album's third single "Cold World." In regards to his writing approach to the song, GZA stated "Normally, when I hear a beat, I already know where to go with it. I can picture the track and just vibe off it. As soon as I heard the beat to “Cold World,” I knew it would be another inner-city story."[13]

The fourth and final single released for the album was "4th Chamber," released early 1996, with "Shadowboxin'" as its B-Side. GZA later remarked "Making “4th Chamber” was crazy because I didn’t have a rhyme ready for that one. That’s why I went last on it. Plus, Ghost killed it with his verse so I knew I had to come correct. It’s not even a GZA song to me—it’s a Wu-Tang song. And Ghost’s verse is just incredible to me. He delivered so well. I don’t know if you saw the video, I directed that too. This song, the guest verses, the video, the crowd response, all turned out perfect for this one."[13]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[14]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[15]
Entertainment Weekly B+[16]
Los Angeles Times 3.5/4 stars[17]
NME 9/10[18]
Pitchfork Media 10/10[19]
Q 4/5 stars[20]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[21]
San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5/4 stars[22]
The Source 4/5 stars[23]

Upon its release, Liquid Swords received critical acclaim. In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Dimitri Ehrlich said that, "With its tight beat, Liquid Swords emphasizes the finesse with which GZA weaves his vocals over straightforward rhythms."[16] Selwyn Seyfu Hinds from The Source called GZA "a highly focused master-graftsman" and felt that, "throughout Liquid Swords he maintains a clear, precise flow, one that reflects deadly-sharp purpose and skilled execution." Hinds also praised the album's production stating "RZA's production continues to excite the spine. That's an astonishing fact when one considers the volume of work he's put out this year. Liquid Swords contains all the elements of RZA's increasingly sophisticated style: shuffling kicks, neck snapping snares, haunting melodies via strings or vibe-like textures and penetrating bass tones." He went on to say "If the Wu message hasn't been beamed into your brain, rest assured; the GZA will offer swift remedy and swifter understanding. Folks may as well hand the key over. Liquid Swords has officially put shit on lock."[23]

In Select, Matt Hall wrote: "It's produced by the RZA, who has now manned the desk on five classic hip hop LPs in little over 18 months. Here he again provides a series of austere rhythms, sparsely dotting violin stabs and plucked harps to provide the perfect backdrop to Genius' downbeat tales of New York's mean streets… Liquid Swords sneaks under the tape to qualify as Rap Album Of The Year."[5] Tom Doyle of Q wrote: "Although perhaps unreasonably hardcore in some of his approaches (none of the track names are listed in order on the sleeve etc), when his rhyming is enhanced by the dislocated soul chorus of 'Cold World', the result is dramatic and hypnotic."[20] Mojo magazine characterized the album as "creepily beautiful" and "East Coast hip hop with a far more warped and disturbing slant on inner-city sickness than the in-your-face Californian equivalent".[24]

L J'amal Walton from The Chronicle wrote a favorable review of the album stating "All the tracks are good. This is a CD that you can pop into the player without worrying about programming the CD player to skip bad tracks... The GZA proves that he can hold his own with tracks like "Liquid Swords," "Labels," and "Gold."[25] Cheo H. Coker from Los Angeles Times rated Liquid Swords 3½ out of 4 stars, and wrote in his review "Like a hip-hop M.C. Escher, this Wu-Tang Clan member serves up urban tales that reveal layer after layer of thought with repeated listening. The head-banging "Gold," the hypnotic "4th Chamber" and the ice-smooth "Shadowboxing" add to the evidence that the Wu-Tang Clan are the kings of New York rap."[17] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, gave Liquid Swords a two-star honorable mention,[26] He cited "Shadowboxin'" and "Killah Hills 10304" as highlights and quipped, "gangsta as mystery, religious and literary".[26]

Retrospect[edit]

In a retrospective review, Chris Smith from Stylus Magazine wrote a favorable review of the album stating "like one who tries to catch lightning in a bottle again, they (Wu-Tang) never yet managed to make anything this memorable, otherworldly, and strangely beautiful again.[8] Nick Catucci, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), said that, on the album, GZA "went goth, painting the Wu's street grime black."[21] In its "Back to the Lab" series, RapReviews.com's Steve Juon gave the album a perfect 10/10 rating, and stated that "On Liquid Swords you have an album of 100% Wu-Tang sonic mastery. A lot of good Wu-Tang Clan albums have been released over the years, both collectively and individually, but out of all the solo albums this may be the best—if not one of the top two or three."[7] Steve Huey from allmusic gave the album a maximum score of five stars and commented on its significance in the Wu-Tang Clan's catalogue, stating:

Often acclaimed as the best Wu-Tang solo project of all, Liquid Swords cemented the Genius/GZA's reputation as the best pure lyricist in the group—and one of the best of the '90s ... The Genius' eerie calm is a great match for RZA's atmospheric production, which is tremendously effective in this context; the kung fu dialogue here is among the creepiest he's put on record, and he experiments quite a bit with stranger sounds and more layered tracks. Not only is RZA in top form, but every Clan member makes at least one appearance on the album, making it all the more impressive that Liquid Swords clearly remains the Genius' showcase throughout. All of his collaborators shape themselves to his quietly intimidating style, giving Liquid Swords a strongly consistent tone and making it an album that gradually slithers its way under your skin [...] it ranks with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx as one of the group's undisputed classics.[14]

—Steve Huey

As of November 2013, Liquid Swords was ranked the 77th best album of all-time on Rate Your Music, making it the 12th best album of the 1990s.[27][28]

Aftermath[edit]

Reissue[edit]

On July 24, 2012, Universal Music released a 2xCD deluxe box set version of Liquid Swords, which included a working mini chess set.[19] The album was remastered from the original tapes, and comes with a new, instrumental version of the record on the second disc, as well as a 20-page book.

The book, penned by Boston Phoenix reporter Chris Faraone, includes an interview with GZA as well as the original Liquid Swords album artwork and singles art. The instrumental disc was also individually released as a 2xLP vinyl package with a silk-screened jacket.

Sequel[edit]

A sequel to Liquid Swords was announced on April 27, 2010 on the official Wu-Tang Clan Facebook page. On November 9, 2010 GZA announced on his Facebook page that he is still currently writing and recording Liquid Swords 2.[29][30][31][32]

Track listing[edit]

Tracks 1–12 produced by RZA, track 13 produced by 4th Disciple.
# Title Time Performer(s) Sample(s)[33][34]
1 "Liquid Swords" 4:31
  • Intro/chorus/backing vocals: RZA
  • Verses/chorus: GZA
2 "Duel of the Iron Mic" 4:06
  • "I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over" by David Porter
  • Dialogue from Shogun Assassin
  • Dialogue from Dragon on Fire
3 "Living in the World Today" 4:23
  • Intro: RZA
  • Chorus/verses: GZA
  • Backing vocals: Method Man
4 "Gold" 3:57
  • Intro: Method Man
  • Verses/chorus: GZA
5 "Cold World" 5:31
  • Chorus: Life
  • First verse: GZA
  • Second verse: Inspectah Deck
6 "Labels" 2:54
  • Intro: RZA, Masta Killa
  • Verses: GZA
  • Outro: GZA, Masta Killa
7 "4th Chamber" 4:37
  • "Groovin'" by Willie Mitchell
  • "Dharmatma Theme Music (Sad)" by Kalyanji Anandji
  • Dialogue from Shogun Assassin
  • "Assassin With Son" by Shogun Assassin soundtrack
8 "Shadowboxin'" 3:30
  • Intro/first verse/third verse: Method Man
  • Second verse: GZA
9 "Hell's Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304" 5:09
10 "Investigative Reports" 3:50
  • Chorus: U-God
  • First verse: Raekwon
  • Second verse: GZA
  • Third verse: Ghostface Killah
11 "Swordsman" 3:21
  • GZA
12 "I Gotcha Back" 5:01
  • Chorus/backing vocals: RZA
  • Verses/chorus: GZA
  • "As Long As I've Got You" by The Charmels
  • Dialogue from Shogun Assassin
13 "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)" 4:33
  • Killah Priest
  • Track 13 was originally omitted from vinyl and cassette pressings, but present on CD versions.[35][36]

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Year Album Chart positions[37]
Billboard 200 Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
1995 Liquid Swords #9 #2

Singles[edit]

Year Song Chart positions[37]
Billboard Hot 100 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks Hot Rap Singles Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales
1994 "I Gotcha Back" #29 #39
1995 "Cold World" #97 #57 #8 #8
"Liquid Swords" #48 #33 #3 #2
1996 "Shadowboxin'" #67 #41 #10 #9

Accolades[edit]

  • The information regarding accolades is adapted from acclaimedmusic.net,[38]except for lists with additional sources.
  • (*) signifies unordered lists
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
About.com United States 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums[39] 2008 62
Best Rap Albums of 1995[40] 2008 3
Ego Trip Hip Hop's 25 Greatest Albums by Year 1980–98 1999 3
Face United Kingdom Albums of the year 1995 16
The Guardian 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die 2007 *
Hervé Bourhis France 555 Records 2007 *
Hip-Hop Connection United Kingdom The 100 Greatest Rap Albums 1995–2005 2005 7
HUMO Belgium Albums of the Year 1995 13
Melody Maker United Kingdom Albums of the Year 1995 42
NME Albums of the Year 1995 30
OOR Netherlands Albums of the Year 1995 24
Pitchfork Media United States Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1990s 2003 87
Q United Kingdom Albums of the Year 1995 *
Robert Dimery United States 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 *
Rolling Stone Top 25 Hip Hop Albums (by Chris Rock)[41] 2006 13
Select United Kingdom The 100 Best Albums of the 90s 2006 42
Albums of the Year 1995 36
The Source United States The 100 Best Rap Albums of All Time 1998 *
Stylus Magazine Top 101–200 Albums of All time 2004 137

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b RIAA Search. riaa.org. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  2. ^ Baker, Soren. "All for One, One for All: Supergroup Wu-Tang Clan Let's Its Members Fly Solo": Chicago Tribune: 4. June 20, 1999.
  3. ^ Arnold, Paul W., et al. (May 2005). The Making Of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. XXL. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ma, David. The Making Of Liquid Swords (page 1)[dead link]. Wax Poetics. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  5. ^ a b Select, January 1996
  6. ^ Matson, Andrew. Rapper GZA Riffs on the Thinking Man's Rap Masterpiece. The Seattle Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  7. ^ a b c Juon, Steve 'Flash'. Review: Liquid Swords. RapReviews. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  8. ^ a b c Smith, Chris. Review: Liquid Swords. Stylus Magazine. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  9. ^ Ling, Tony (August 4, 2008). Treble : Album Review : Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords. Treble. Retrieved on 2011-05-31.
  10. ^ Liquid Swords (CD liner notes). GZA. Geffen. 1995. GEFD-24813. 
  11. ^ Milestone Media Color Editor Jason Scott Jones
  12. ^ RZA, The, 2005. P:63
  13. ^ a b c d Ma, David. The Making Of Liquid Swords (page 2)[dead link]. Wax Poetics. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  14. ^ a b Huey, Steve. Review: Liquid Swords. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  15. ^ Larkin, Colin (2006). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music: Selected Albums. Bibliographies (4th ed.). Muze. p. 299. ISBN 0195313739. 
  16. ^ a b Ehrlich, Dimitri. Review: Liquid Swords. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  17. ^ a b Coker, Cheo H. Review: Liquid Swords. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  18. ^ Columnist. "Review: Liquid Swords". NME: 46. November 11, 1995.
  19. ^ a b Cohen, Ian. "GZA: Liquid Swords: Chess Box Deluxe Edition | Album Reviews". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  20. ^ a b Q, February 1996
  21. ^ a b Catucci, Nick et al. (November 2, 2004). Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 353–4. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
  22. ^ Dalton, Jacob. Review: Liquid Swords. The San Diego Union-Tribune. January 11, 1996.
  23. ^ a b Hinds, Selwyn Seyfu. "Review: Liquid Swords". The Source: December 1995. Archived from the original on 2009-08-03.
  24. ^ Mojo, January 1996
  25. ^ Walton, L. J'amal. "Review: Liquid Swords". The Chronicle: November 30, 1995. Archived from the original on 2009-12-26.
  26. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (January 23, 1996). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice (New York). Rating is specified at Christgau's website. Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Rate Your Music's Top 100 Albums of All-Time". rateyourmusic.com. 2009-11-17. Retrieved 2009-11-26 
  28. ^ "Rate Your Music's Top 100 Albums of the 1990s". rateyourmusic.com. 2009-11-17. Retrieved 2009-11-26 
  29. ^ "Wu-Tang". Facebook. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  30. ^ GZA Plots 'Liquid Swords 2': Inside Hip-Hop's Love Affair With Sequels. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2010-07-15
  31. ^ "Wu-Tang Post on new album (GZA)". Facebook.com. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  32. ^ "Second post by Wu-Tang about Liquid Swords 2". Facebook.com. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  33. ^ "Hip Hop Is Read Presents: Liquid Swords The Samples December 2007". Hiphopisread.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  34. ^ http://www.whosampled.com/artist/GZA/ ↑ GZA's Sample-Based Music | WhoSampled
  35. ^ David Bertrand Wilson. "Wu-Tang Clan (and solo work)". Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews. Retrieved 2008-08-30. "The CD version has a bonus track, "B.I.B.L.E.," that later turned up on [Killah] Priest's solo album." 
  36. ^ Compare Genius/GZA* – Liquid Swords and GZA – Liquid Swords
  37. ^ a b Awards: Liquid Swords. Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-10-28.
  38. ^ Liquid Swords Album Accolades. acclaimedmusic.net. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  39. ^ Adaso, Henry. About.com's 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums. About.com. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  40. ^ Adaso, Henry. About.com's Best Rap Albums of 1995. About.com. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  41. ^ "Top 25 Hip Hop Albums". Rateyourmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]