Though the RZA has never been the best or most charismatic rapper in the Wu-Tang Clan, I have always found his abstract and off beat style intriguing. His verses take on the characteristics of urgent stream of consciousness rants, almost as if he can’t control his own thoughts. Every now and then, this approach has yielded moments of inspired genius. Still, he can be just as effective when applying a stricter discipline to his delivery.
His latest offering, “Gone”, is a mournful dedication to the memory of fallen Wu-Tang Swordsman Old Dirty Bastard. He enlists a considerable amount of backup by way of vocalist Justin Nozuka, rapper Kobra Khan and guitarist James Black. The song proves to be exactly the sum of its parts, with each participant pulling his musical weight and crafting a song that is sparse yet very effective.
As the song begins, the lonely strums of an acoustic guitar are all that can be heard. Electronic drums come in, typing out an equally lonely battlefield march. Justin Nozuka solidifies the sadness with strained, mournful vocals. As the drums and strings rise like yeast over the horizon of the track, a ghostly, cavernous whistle undercuts Justin’s singing. Before RZA speaks a single word, the song puts the listener in a sad and desolate mood, making them spiritual pallbearers for the soul of dead friend.
RZA is relatively sedate this time out, his vocal tone sounding like it was manipulated on the pitch control of an old fashioned turntable. His lyrics are straight forward and descriptive, using pronounced Islamic symbolism. James Black stitches the track with electric guitar stabs that echo off into the distance. It at once overpowers RZA vocals and gives them a sturdy foundation. RZA speaks of bringing forth offspring as a form of metaphorical resurrection and eternal life. He begins to take on a ghostly presence as the track proceeds.
Kobra Khan offers nothing earth shattering, but his verse rings out with clarity of purpose and theme. He speaks of a lost love, and his vocal tone is comfortably in keeping with the other elements of the song. An extended solo from Justin closes the song out as it proceeds to the metaphorical burial site.
David F. Mewa channels the sad energy of the track into his nearly five minute clip. As the lonely guitar strains begin, sparks are shown cascading down like rain drops as a ceiling fixture sways in the background. It looks like a factory setting bathed in sepia tones. The slow motion photography sets the sad tone. A pair of legs is shown standing in the rain, the sparks seemingly having morphed in rain droplets. The camera zooms in on a hooded figure cupping his hands beggar style. The figure is reviled to be Justin. Things constantly go in and out of focus. The setting switches between a lonely hallway and an indoor cemetery with skeletal looking dead trees. The frame seems to shake in unison with the pulse of the beat. RZA stands in front of a pile of old TV sets and confers with a hologram projection of ODB and the video maintains a consistent visual motif of arms crossed in an embrace.
“Gone” isn’t particularly pleasant to listen to or look at, but funerals are rarely pleasant occasions. “Gone” wallows in sonic despair and sadness. The pain it expresses will never be eased or erased. The RZA speaks of eternal life and existence, yet the instrumentation offers the listener no respite from shadow of death. “Gone” won’t be making any radio or ipod Playlists, but it undoubtedly succeeds as a work of art.