Album Review | RZA – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

This album was released on December 16th in 1999. It’s the soundtrack for a film of the same name, which starred Forest Whitaker. It originally released in May of 1999. I’m not gonna watch it. I’ve heard that it’s very good, but it looks fucking stupid. I don’t like watching movies in the first place, so I’m definitely not gonna waste my time with one that doesn’t even look entertaining to me. Anyway, there were two versions of this soundtrack. I’ll be reviewing the Japanese version, which is borderline impossible to find. The American version is longer. It’s also available on iTunes, but only like two or three of the songs are accessible on streaming platforms. Somebody thankfully uploaded the Japanese one to YouTube, so that’s how I’ll be listening to it. I’ve actually seen some pretty positive reception for this project, but I have no idea what to expect. Anyway, everything is completely produced by the RZA.

As always, I’ll talk about the material I liked first before getting into the tracks I didn’t care for later on. The first one that I actually like is called Flying Birds. This beat is pretty chill, and the track is short, so I didn’t have time to get super bored of it. It’s not a super interesting instrumental, but I definitely enjoyed it. I mean, I wouldn’t buy this beat from a producer, but if it was offered to me I would rap over it for free. I guess that’s a compliment? It’s good enough to use, but not good enough to pay for. I feel like if I was a producer and somebody said that about my beat I would be very offended. I don’t know. I do like the song though. I think it’s cool. It’s followed by Samurai Theme, which is even better in my opinion. It’s just that classic RZA sound that we all know and love. If I’m not mistaken, the general consensus is that his production skills kinda deteriorated after Wu-Tang Forever, but I think this beat would’ve worked really well as a full track. I can hear Ghost & Rae slaughtering this. It’s not particularly intricate, but the track is short enough to prevent the loop from getting too stale. I think it’s pretty dope. It’s followed by Gangster’s Theme, which I like even more. I really love how dark this beat is. It sounds less like the classic Wu-Tang sound than the preceding track. I think it works well for what it is though. It definitely sounds like it’d fit as background music for the movie nicely. This is just an aside, but I feel like Roc Marciano would sound great over every track I’ve written about so far. I don’t know what it is, but I just feel like his style would fit this beat perfectly. Westside Gunn would work well over this one too. It sounds like crime in the form of music, so I guess it’s appropriate as the Gangster’s Theme. The next track that I like is called RZA #7. Once again, it’s more of that classic RZA sound. I love the dusty, hard-hitting drums, and the weird vocal sample is pretty cool. Again, the song doesn’t ever really evolve at any point, but the loop itself is enjoyable. I would rap over this if I recorded music. The next one I like is called RZA’s Theme. Pretty much everything I said about RZA #7 applies to this one, although this track is far more melodic. This one is definitely a bit more intricate too. There’s way more going on here. It’s not a favorite of mine, but I do like it. It’s followed by a track called Samurai Showdown (Raise Your Sword), which actually features rapping from RZA himself. I think the dark, melodic, nocturnal-sounding production here is really cool. I feel like MF DOOM would’ve sounded really good over this in his prime. The hook is super simplistic, but it serves its purpose well enough. The first verse here kinda sounds like a freestyle, but a good one.

Kept his mind focused, meditation position half lotus
Abbot's sword novas couldn't match his magnum opus
Deluxe stroke, son move like a ghost
Struck in an instance, unnoticed like a lamp post
Radar sharp precision gunfire, explode
'Til his clips unload, it's a samurai code

I’m not really a fan of the way the beat switches up for the second verse. It’s just really uninteresting to me. It sounds like what I’d hear if I went to YouTube and searched “rza type beat.” It definitely matches his style, but it just sounds really dull to me. The verse itself is thankfully good enough to keep me entertained though. That Tekken reference was nice.

Murderous rap track to me, is ego felony
Can't accept what you analog cats be tellin' me
I get the verbal weapon, won't hesitate for one second
To break your back like Big Jack from Tekken

It’s a pretty dope track. I fuck with it. The penultimate track is called Untitled #12 (Free Jazz), and it’s really the only song that I would say I love. As the title indicates, this is RZA’s attempt at creating a Jazz Rap beat, and it’s actually really fucking cool. Even though it’s a different style for him, it’s still got that signature flair that he has in all of his beats. It’s way more off-kilter than your typical Ali Shaheed Muhammad beat. The way the percussion eventually comes in is really goddamn cool. I feel like someone like Danny Brown or maybe even Your Old Droog would sound amazing over this. It’s easily my favorite track on the album. I think it’s dope as hell. The closing track is called Wu-World Order (Version 1). For whatever reason the entire Wu-Tang Clan is listed as a feature here, but the only Wu member to perform here is RZA himself. Anyway, the first verse is performed by La the Darkman, who did a pretty nice job.

I'm Darkman, Iceman, La, Wu-Tang Clan
Trapacanty, sensei, ¿comprendé?
My marine corps straight from the Trojan war
Black caped crusader, trapped off flame thrower
Stuck a chain store when I was dirt poor for my reward
Next week the Germans had me on a bulletin board
I beat that case, they couldn't identify my face
I'm triple darkness, silencer'll have you erased

The second verse from RZA is way more interesting though.

I enter through the chamber of your ear
In a high-pitched silent tone only a dog could hear
And impregnate you with the wisdom of the Wu
Then your subconscious dreams come constantly true
Have you in such deep thought
Your pulse and blood pressure's so low
You diagnosed as corpse
Having out of body experience, Clan no interference
Everything with physical form lose appearance
We become one with the formless, now you feel the strongest
Escape time, realize you live for the longest

I don’t think the beat is anything special, but it’s fine. It gets the job done. The RZA verse is really the one thing that makes the song worth returning to for me. I think it’s pretty good overall. Those are all the tracks that I like though, so now I’ll get into what I didn’t like. The very first song on the album is called Ghost Dog Theme (w/ Dogs & EFX). It’s kind of interesting, but it’s just not really something I’d listen to again. I feel like RZA was trying to go for what Ka eventually did on Conflicted way better. This beat is just way too skeletal. It never goes anywhere. You basically know what the whole thing sounds like after the first 20 seconds. As the title indicates, there are some sound effects in the background—mainly just dogs barking—but that’s hardly enough to keep it interesting. For whatever reason, this same exact song shows up again later on in the album, but without the sound effects. So I guess if you want the song to somehow be even less interesting you can listen to that version. Both of them are very mediocre to me. Track 2 is called Opening Theme (Raise Your Swords Instrumental). As you can see from the title, it’s just the instrumental to Samurai Showdown (Raise Your Swords), which I wrote about already. However, this time the beats are switched, so the instrumental I disliked comes first, and then it switches to the one I did like. Just on its own, I think it’s a pretty average track. I wouldn’t listen to it again, but I think it’s okay. Track 7 is called Fast Shadow (Version 1). This is a really dull song that has “Wu-Tang Clan” listed as a feature. The first verse is performed by Method Man, and it sounds like an off the top freestyle. It’s a decent verse I guess, but not good enough to make the song worth returning to. The ODB verse was an ODB verse. He was being himself. Version 2 of this song shows up towards the end of the record, and it’s the same exact song, except with additional performances from RZA, U-God, and Masta Killa. I think the verse from RZA is cool, and the hook from U-God is fine. I actually think the Masta Killa verse sucks though to be honest, and I’m not just saying that because he dropped a homophobic slur. If I had to choose one version over the other, I’d obviously go for Version 2, but neither of them are particularly good to me. Track 9 is called Funky Theme, and I actually thought it was cool when it first started, but it doesn’t ever go anywhere. You know what the whole instrumental sounds like after listening to the first 10 seconds, and it just gets really tedious. I think it’s okay, but I’d never listen to it again. Track 14 is called Untitled #8, and it’s easily my least favorite song on the album. I think this beat is legitimately terrible. It’s just so ugly, and not in a cool way. The horns and discordant piano keys are just… I don’t know. It’s such an odd beat. I don’t know why he thought this was good enough to put on an album. It’s super wack to me.

This is an okay album I guess. I’m sure these tracks worked well in the context of the movie, but as an isolated listening experience it just isn’t very enjoyable. I don’t know why anyone would go out of there way to put this on instead of an actual Wu-Tang album. I think if you’re a super diehard Wu-Tang fanatic this might be cool to have as a collector’s item, but under no other circumstance would it make sense to have this. I guess it was kind of interesting to listen to as a side project, but I can’t say I enjoyed it that much. There are definitely some songs I like though, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. The only way I can recommend this would be if you’re just super curious in everything the RZA does, but aside from that it’s probably not worth your time. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Favorite Song: Untitled #12 (Free Jazz)
Least Favorite Song: Untitled #8


Grade: C

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