With The Man With the Iron Fists we get to see Wu-Tang Clan member and spiritual leader RZA do something he’s always wanted to do: make a ridiculously awesome, totally kickass kung fu movie. The premise is classic Shaw brothers material: a small village in imperial China becomes the central location of attempted heist by numerous competing clans (lions, hyenas, jackals, and the like) when word spreads that a large shipment of the governor’s gold will be passing through. The village blacksmith, played by RZA, is forced to make weapons on all sides, which eventually catches up with him. But when one too many clansmen cross his path, he uses the power of chi to make himself the ultimate fighting machine. The movie is 100 minutes of unadulterated badassery, and of course (it’s Wu-Tang. What did you expect?), the soundtrack creates a perfect companion piece that is every bit as engaging and almost as fun.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a proper full length from Wu-Tang Clan, and with Iron Fists, we aren’t really any closer. But RZA summons the help of long-time Wu-Tang affiliates for more than a couple tracks. First of all, “Rivers of Blood” sees Wu-Tang alongside Cool G Rap on a track produced by Internet hip hop wunderkinds Badbadnotgood, making a theme song for the blacksmith in the film. Altogether (especially aided by the awesome snippet of the film up front), the song is the most memorable tune under the Wu-Tang moniker in years (since technically, “House of Flying Daggers” is a Raekwon tune, though that one takes the cake since 8 Diagrams). Equally as fun is “Six Directions of Boxing”, whose beat is mixes old school 90s Wu with the Staxx Records funk that we’ve come to expect from RZA’s production.
Other places, we see RZA venturing away from the Clan to make more noise elsewhere. “The Baddest Man Alive” features a totally pulpy verse by RZA towards the end, but predominantly, it’s a Black Keys track with a hip hop bass drop. Plus, who in their right mind doesn’t love hearing Dan’s “I can take the pitchfork from the Devil” with all that swagger? Later on the record, RZA teams up with rising druggy hip-hop buzz group Flatbush Zombies for “Just Blowin’ In The Wind”. This song is eerie and groggy, but it’s the perfect tune for the collaboration.
Equally impressive on Iron Fists are the performances that RZA hands off to his friends. Kanye West shows up here for “White Dress”, a tune that, honestly, sounds like an unearthed cut from the College Dropout years. Here, West isn’t the sneering, pompous godfather that’s too lovable to hate on Cruel Summer and Watch the Throne. Rather, West tells the woman in his life that through and through, he’s been thinking about marrying her ever since they met up in the club. It’s totally adorable, and the RZA-helmed backing track is absolutely delightful in its 70s glamour. Tre Williams and The Revelations cover the wonderful Staxx era Mad Lads track “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” in classic fashion. The most progressive tune on Iron Fists though has to be “Tick, Tock”, featuring Pusha-T (formerly of Clipse), Wu-Tang’s Raekwon, and rising Brooklyn rapper Danny Brown. Brown’s antics can often seem a bit overwhelming. But here, alongside two dead serious hardcore rappers, Brown bites the bullet and throws down a killer verse that holds the bar high.
If you really want the full Iron Fists experience, the RZA put together a deluxe version of the soundtrack. I know, I know, deluxe versions are a dime a dozen, but with Iron Fists, the deluxe version is no less than 70 TRACKS of RZA’s magic. Howard Drossin and RZA work together to make the score to the movie. Drossin keeps things pretty epic a la Hans Zimmer, but when RZA takes the helm, we hear the magical mixture of orchestra and hip hop that first made its debut with RZA’s work on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (remember “Crane/White Lightning”?). In addition, RZA has put together the absolutely incredible Iron Fists Chronicles, nearly two and a half hours of the original Staxx Records soul and funk that have provided inspiration to RZA and Wu-Tang for their entire career. Highlights include Isaac Hayes’ “Joy”, The Emotions’ “I Could Never Be Happy”, David Porter’s “The Masquerade is Over”, and The Sweet Inspirations’ “Why Marry”. And for only $25 digitally, all of this is an unbeatable collection.
Going to see The Man With the Iron Fists should be an obvious choice for any Wu-Tang or kung fu fan, as should listening to its totally stacked soundtrack. With his directorial debut, RZA has created a delightful campy and unquestionably Wu-Tang experience, but at the same time, the soundtrack he’s curated is as progressive as anything he’s ever done. With some help from his friends, Iron Fists is an excellent record that will provide some go to tracks while we wait for Wu-Tang’s glorious return.