U-God – The Keynote Speaker album review

So much of the beauty of the Wu Tang Clan is in the versatility of the unit. 9 members (and countless affiliates) offer 9 fresh perspectives at any given time, and the 36 chambers contain deep, labyrinthic sonic experiences. From GZA’s scientific lyrical forensics, to Raekwon’s vivid, sinister cocaina narratives to the flavorful lyricist lounge musings of Tical, there is something for everyone, and the most popular members all have a distinct role.

When it comes to U-God though, there’s never seemed to be the resonant energy or eager expectation to enter the world of Golden Arms. His classic, legacy setting verse on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin” gives off vibes near the GZA, Masta Killa, Killah Priest circle of the clan. His memorable verse on “Cherchez La Ghost” was perhaps the complete opposite. Is it to his credit that he’s able to morph from philosophical to rambunctious as the needs of his fellow clansmen arise, or is it the exact reason he wasn’t able to forge his own niche? Could it be both? Whatever the case, U-God’s “Keynote speaker” attempts to reverse the course of perhaps the most wayward catalog in the Wu canon.

From the outset, the most apparent observation can be made sonically. Wu solos tend to bear hallmarks of the classic group albums beatwise, but because U-God was attempting to stand on his own perhaps, the production here is lacking. If they had to compare, this would be an album full of cutting room floor Wu Tang Forever records. The bland samples, and poorly mixed, mechanical drums create an unappealing canvas that any artist would have to work hard to overcome. Does he?

U-God has always been a strong technical MC, but again, his trademark seems to be a lack of a trademark. He’s all over the place on this album.

In a time where Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest and Prodigy, among other 90s stalwarts are still thriving by updating their classic sound for new ears, U-God still hasn’t seemed to find his. Worse yet for him, it’s not until he raises the W that this album delivers. “Heads Up” with GZA and “Mt. Everest” with Inspectah Deck and (Elzhi) are two of the strongest tracks of the album, and the introspective chest thumping “Heavyweight” is powerful, where Golden Arms recalls his ascent “from the strip to a righteous dude”, which no doubt was a byproduct of the Wu’s heavy 5 percenter core.

Beyond those few and far between moments is a project characterized by outright bad hooks and technically precise yet dull lyricism with typical veteran posturing. When U-God says “picture me following them, I don’t follow a trend” on “Days of Glory”, the stubbornness apparent throughout is finally acknowledged. It’s all well and good when an artist doesn’t chase trends, they just have to realize what they offer should be able to stand on it’s own merits. This project can not. If he’s the Keynote speaker his speech left much to be desired.

U-God - The Keynote Speaker album review