Hip-hop fans and Wu-packers across the world have hogged bandwidth to download the advance release of Bulletproof Wallets, the new album from Ghostface Killah (and featuring Raekwon). Already, many have indulged, digested and waxed poetic on its successes and failures. And as a true testament to the cult status of the Wu-Tang Clan, many of those who've downloaded the illicit product will return to the stores to purchase it in all its legitimate glory. More than any other outfit in hip-hop, Wu-Tang has enjoyed the type of devotion usually lavished on rock legends like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and with good reason. The collective's fans are hip-hop's heshers, and their music often has little in common with what's popular in the mainstream.
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Sonically, a Wu-Tang album is harsh and jagged, and Wallets, Ghostface's third solo effort, is no exception. It's filled with rugged breakbeats that lack the compression that softens the impact of most new hip-hop. Fused with oddly edited old-school samples, these beats form a perfect nesting place for Ghostface's own brand of abstract flow (and Ghostface's is one of the few styles to actually merit the term "abstract"). If it's possible, the production and delivery have grown exponentially since 1999's Supreme Clientele. RZA's production shines on "Flowers," as does Al-Chemist's work on "The Forest," a modern take on Run-D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper" in which Ghostface's rhyme is carefully constructed using cartoon references. Both tracks display a maturity and focus that are often absent in other Wu-Tang releases. For the past eight years, Ghostface has proven himself the most dynamic and consistent of the Clan. Thankfully, this album serves as further proof.