By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
RZA isn't totally cryptic, though, as he at least explains his minimalist production techniques. His layers of sampling and eerie piano lines changed the hip-hop world and were quickly copied to death by the competition, and chapters about production are treated with painstaking care. One detail in particular stands out: In the studio, each rapper was given a different, customized microphone to bring out his specific style, and RZA would place each MC in certain parts of songs like soloists in a jazz composition.
However, thanks to the lack of an outside, non-Wu perspective, his explanations become narrow and redundant. Compliments for separate MCs sound too similar, and he offers a far-too-simplistic answer to the band's longevity: "I told [the guys] about my vision." Worse, he pays little tribute to the rap legends who came before the Wu-Tang Clan, speaking as if his were the only rap group that ever existed. In a song, it makes sense for a rapper to talk like he's the best ever, but in book form, the approach falls flat.
Luckily, The Wu-Tang Manual closes with comments from members GZA and U-God on the art of crafting rhymes, and while the stuff isn't the rap equivalent of a creative-writing textbook, the advice is solid and direct -- work harder and study more than the best MC out there, and you'll last. That theme is the basis of the book, told in a street-wise manner, and for all the Manual's shortcomings, authenticity is its most redeeming quality. Professor RZA might be rough around the edges, but there's no denying that when he speaks, Ol' Dirty class is in session.