The title 8 Diagrams is an homage to a Shaw brothers kung fu flick called The Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter. A standard tale of revenge, Pole Fighter should have been just another Hong Kong B-movie with bad dubbing and nifty martial-arts work. But the star died before the final showdown was filmed, causing the director to shift the plot's focus to Gordon Liu, now remembered as one of the greatest martial arts action stars of all time. (He recently appeared as Master Pai Mei in the Kill Bill series.) RZA, the mastermind emcee/producer behind the Clan, is trying to tell you something. Diagrams is the collective's first release since the death of ODB, and while the draw was once the raw NYC rhymes of Big Baby Jesus and his cohorts, RZA steals the show in what is likely the group's denouement. In fact, the album is a testament to his evolution as producer since the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut 36 Chambers (Enter the Wu-Tang). While several songs borrow heavily from the brilliant, sword-clanging kung fu aesthetic that marked his work on this year's Afro Samurai soundtrack, he also samples The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for a track that sounds like the theme to a hip-hop Hitchcock thriller; he offers a stunning "interpolation" of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," (the Erykah Badu-featuring "The Heart Gently Weeps"); and manages to work in elements of funk and old school with assists from George Clinton and Q-Tip. That being said, it can't be overlooked that all of the original Clansmen put aside their respective beefs and solo projects to drop verses for the album — and their contributions ultimately make Diagrams a Wu-Tang album. Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Method Man are particularly on point, keeping the flows as gritty as an episode of The Wire. Just remember who the director is.
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