(Editor’s Note: I first started reading Zilla Rocca‘s Rework the Angles series on Jeff Weiss’s blog and 1) loved the concept and 2) thought it aligned in spirit with the After Further Review series I’ve tried to mount. I reached out to Rocha about collaborating for a podcast where we combined our mutual interests in revisiting older albums and because of our crazy schedules, we ended up banging this out in print instead over the courses of several weeks. –O.W.)
Oliver Wang: Zilla, since you’re my guest here, I did the host-ly thing and let you pick what album we’d revisit. You chose Method Man’s 1998 album, Tical 2000. Why?
Zilla Rocca: I always like looking back on albums that were misunderstood or downright hated on arrival. That’s the case with Tical 2000 — it’s a victim of the late ’90s Music Industry Boom. CDs were moving millions every week, but CDs also gave artists too much time. There was no restraint in the CD heyday – 22 track albums with 75 minutes of playing time was the norm in rap back then.
The original Tical is a great cassette album: it’s muddy, it’s bass heavy, and it’s 13 songs long. That was ’94. By ’98, when Tical 2000 dropped, Def Jam was on fire, and Method Man was a super duper star. So when I revisit Tical 2000 now, I have to wade through literally TEN SKITS and countless wrong turns before I find an album worthy of Method Man’s talent. If you have some patience and rearrange the tracklisting, you’ll notice that Tical 2000 shows Method Man as one of the best emcees of 1998 (he was competing with Jay-Z, DMX, Big Pun, Canibus, Busta, Outkast,Black Star, etc)
Tical 2000 never comes up when discussing great Wu-Tang solo albums (and rightfully so), but when I cut it down to size, it’s a really devastating record. And enough time has passed for people to get over the disappointment or the bad experiences they had with it back then to just enjoy a great rap record by one of the most entertaining rappers of all time.OW: First of all, that “best MCs of ’98” list gives me some pause, not the least of which is because DMX and Canibus are both on there. But maybe that’s a discussion for another time.
My memory of Tical 2000 is pretty blurry if only because it came out in that post Wu-Tang Forever era where the Wu went from the baddest dudes on the block to being everywhere and then some. Put aside the fact that Wu-Tang Forever was a bloated mess of a 2xLP but by the time Tical 2000 dropped, most of the Wu’s starters had solo LPs out already, second-stringers had deals – Cappadonna, holla – and RZA had prepped their D-League too. I felt Wu weary by that point. Tical 2000, especially as Method Man’s second solo effort, felt indistinguishable against that avalanche of a backdrop.
ZR: See, I think Wu-Tang Forever is a borderline classic and it’s the last time all members were involved together on an album. But I get how most people would think it was bloated and sloppy. The second wave of Wu releases after that album really soured people, but if you revisit those albums today, they’re great (Killah Priest, Cappa, Killarmy, Bobby Digital, etc).
The problem was, the expectation level was so high from the initial wave of Wu releases — no one could ever make something better than Liquid Swords, Cuban Linx, Enter the 36, etc. If the first wave of Wu albums are on average 4.5 mics, the next wave are 3.5 mic average — still pretty damn good. Tical 2000 is the definition of “bloated mess” because it lacked focus, but there’s great moments to be heard. It was Method Man trying to make a Y2K Rap/Busta Rhymes album, but because he was associated with a crew making some of the best rap albums of all time back-to-back, and he was the front man, he could’ve never carried that weight. He’s not that kind of artist.
He really is like Busta – great charisma, flow, personality, and hyper talented, but not a “classic album” guy. He’s a “classic single” type of guy who can rap with anybody on the planet. When you strip Tical 2000 down to it’s best songs, you find an album about Y2K hysteria, and some serious nods to the blunted darkness of Tical, but also you just find a guy styling on you just to prove he’s nice.
OW: I will say this much…I never gave Tical 2000 that close of a listen when it first came out and going back now? A better album – considerably better – than I would have given it credit for back in the day. Yes, it’s still much longer than it needs/should be but by no means did I think it was tragically flawed or unlistenable. Meth sounds good (he sounds like Meth!). The production, for the most part, works well with both artist and song themes.
But before we get into all that, can we take a step back and revisit Y2K Rap? Looking back, it seems like one of the silliest things hip-hop artists have ever concerned themselves with – which is saying a lot – but some very serious MCs seemed to have taken the idea that 2000 = DOOM quite seriously. One of my permanent earworms is the sound of Wyclef Jean on “Year of the Dragon” intoning “Jewish calendar has already arrived at the year 2000”…like this is supposed to mean something important besides the fact that his Jewish peeps weren’t down with the Gregorian calendar. Now that we’re Y2K + 15, what can we make of this moment in hindsight?
ZR: I just came across something that might explain the genesis of Y2K Rap — it was Busta Rhymes being infatuated with the book Behold the Pale Horse and passing it off to Goodie Mob and Dungeon Family. They all absorbed it first and put it in their records, namely “Cell Therapy”. It was also a marketing trend back then, remember? The Year 2000 was a big thing everywhere.
OW: Quite true but the Y2K bug felt like it was based in something more tangible (to the extent that computing code is “tangible”) vs. Y2K rap was pegging disaster to an arbitrary calendar date. For real, the Universe cares not for what number gets assigned our planetary solar rotation cycle (and it certainly doesn’t know when January 1st is). I’m really not trying to clown that hard here. There’s far worse fads in hip-hop than Y2K paranoia to pick on.
ZR: I will say that Y2K Rap was useful in a time where everything was going great: Bill Clinton’s economy was booming, records were flying off the shelves, and rappers finally seemed to be making good money. So the paranoia of the impending new millennium gave rappers something to be afraid of.
OW: As it turns out, it was just Autotune.
Anyways…back to Mr. Meth. As your series often does, you take an album that you think is in need of a revision and then re-sequence and trim. Here’s the new playlist you came up with for Tical 2000:1
- 1. Perfect World (prod by RZA)
- 2. Shaolin What (prod by 4th Disciple)
- 3. Dangerous Ground (prod by True Master) feat Streetlife
- 4. Grid Iron Rap (prod by True Master) feat Streetlife
- 5. Killin Fields (prod by True Master)
- 6. Big Dogs (prod by Erick Sermon) feat Redman
- 7. Spazzola (prod by Inspectah Deck) feat Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, Killa Sin, Streetlife, Raekwon
- 8. Step By Step (prod by Erick Sermon)
- 9. Sweet Love (prod by True Master) feat Streetlife and Cappadonna
- 10. Break-ups 2 Make-ups (prod by Trackmaster) feat D’Angelo
- 11. Play IV Keeps (prod by Havoc) feat Inspectah Deck, Streetlife, Mobb Deep
- 12. Cradle Rock (prod by LB Da Life Bringa) feat Left Eye
- 13. Suspect Chin Music (prod by RZA) feat Streetlife
- 14. Judgement Day (prod by Method Man and 4th Disciple)
First off: you pretty much killed nearly all the skits, no? I don’t necessarily disagree with that move since most of the skits are hella “meh.” Maybe the Lyor Cohen one was vaguely funny, but the rest? Definitely nothing touching “Where’s my Killa tape at?”
ZR: Yeah no skits whatsoever. Unless a skit is hilarious or adds to the overall cohesion of a rap album, I think they’re just filler. It’s weird that Tical 2000 had back to back skits for that matter.
OW: You cut Chris Rock’s “You Play Too Much,” which I thought was one of the few truly funny skits on the album, especially with how he was clowning on how every Wu member had 20 nicknames. No love for the R.O.C.(K)?
ZR: Yeah that one hurt. Chris Rock’s involvement on any rap album is good. But for this version of Tical 2000, I wanted the focus to be on Meth’s greatness as an emcee in 1998. When Meth starting doing more records with Redman, he adopted this goofball/punchline steez, but to me he’s at his best when he’s sinister, grimy, and barely smiling on the mic. So I had to cut that skit to keep this album closer to the original Tical.
OW: In terms of your new sequence, you cut the intro skit but still kept “Perfect World” as the first song. You felt like it still worked in that pole position?
ZR: I like “Perfect World” because it feels like an extensive of the first album — RZA laced the beat. It’s incredibly dark and has that post-Wu-Tang Forever steez of dusty digital. Meth is doing his creepy voice over about some apocalyptic event. I realized the more I listened to this album that you have to treat it like a Busta album – there’s a concrete title with imagery to match, but the bulk of the album has nothing to do with the concept. The imagery of Tical 2000, from the album packaging, to the video for “Judgement Day”, was outstanding. You just have to let go of the wheel later on. “Perfect World” sets the table.
OW: I should back up a second: what’s your approach to figuring out how to re-sequence an album? What are you listening for? What kind of standards are you applying?
ZR: I’ve been doing stuff like this since cassettes — that scene in High Fidelity where they obsess over how to make the perfect mix tape, I used to have those conversations with my dad. Start with a high energy song, maybe 2-3 more songs that capture that feeling, and then start cooling off until you build the next climax.
I think about arranging rap albums in two ways: either there’s a story or theme woven throughout the songs already, and you need a way to tie them together to tell the story, or it’s an album with no heavy intentions, so you’re arranging production choices, energy levels, climaxes, and come downs. When I make my albums, I have ideas about which songs would be openers or closers after I make them, but later on in the album making process, they might fit certain energy levels better earlier or later in the album. And unless it’s a clear cut concept album (like Deltron or Prince Paul or Kendrick Lamar), I don’t think most rappers are aware that they repeat certain topics or themes multiple times throughout an album. So when I re-arrange records, I’m trying to find the story that the original artist didn’t recognize. Or, I try to make a collection of random songs more cohesive, lean, and rewarding. The new Action Bronson album, which is just a collection of random thoughts and beats, is one of the best arranged albums I can remember.
OW: Your new sequencing has “Shaolin What” moved up to the #2 spot. This is listed as a “skit” but it’s really a song that just happens to an (unnecessarily) long intro. To me, it’s a great example of how the album could have used more aggressive editing. As a standalone cut, it’s great but that long intro? Who sat around some overpriced studio and thought “yeah, this is gonna kill”?
ZR: “Shaolin What” is really just a sequel to “What the Blood Clot”. I moved it up because it’s two minutes of Method Man rapping his ass off and it’s arguably the best beat on the entire album. He opens and closes the song with sound effects tying into the apocalyptic theme of “Judgement Day”. So it’s a familiar continuation to one of the best songs on Tical while reiterating the disaster movie/Y2K idea of Tical 2000
OW: Next in your re-sequence is one of the singles that came off Tical 2000: “Dangerous Grounds.” I didn’t think it was straight fire but it was “very Wu” with that relentless twang of a guitar loop. (Side question: Was True Master the “most RZA-esque” of The Abbot’s various acolytes?) We also have Streetlife on here. Wu really tried to get him into the mix – he cameoed on a slew of releases by Clan members – but honestly, I still don’t remember a single verse he ever kicked.
ZR: “Dangerous Grounds” was the street single. It did really well in that regard – I remember hearing it on the radio alot in Philly. It’s this album’s “Bring the Pain” with Meth and Streetlife going back and forth. And the title once again lets you know the world is ending. Streetlife’s multiple appearances on this album made it very Wu — it’s he and Meth’s version of Cuban Linx with Rae and Ghost co-piloting the album. Street’s had some memorable moments over the years (namely on Wu-Tang Forever), and he’s always had a great voice and delivery. I think he was the guy keeping Meth grounded after Meth became a superstar.
True Master doesn’t get the credit he deserves — his chemistry with Meth is just as good, if not better, than RZA. I read a story once where Lyor Cohen brought him in to the Def Jam offices after hearing Tical 2000 and realizing that True Master made all the best beats on the albums. He was like “Who are you!?? What do you want? Name your price.” He’s the most overlooked GREAT producer – his first beat placement was “Brooklyn Zoo.”
OW: Ok, so I now feel like an idiot because I always thought “Brooklyn Zoo” was a RZA beat. Clearly I needed to take GZA’s advice. Ok, skipping ahead a couple of tracks, we arrive at “Big Dogs,” the Meth/Red-men pairing that, I think, happened right before the two joined forces for Blackout. Despite the similarity in their names (and being Def Jam labelmates), I don’t know if I would have predicted that Red and Meth would have made such a great pairing together but their chemistry was a really pleasant surprise.
ZR: I have a theory that Meth meshes so well with Redman and leaned on him more as his career progressed because Ol Dirty just wasn’t around much. Dirty is the glue to the entire clan. My friend Barry Schwartz rightfully stated before that the Clan idea of Wu-Tang died with Dirty. Now, they’re just a bunch of ornery guys who don’t like each other, but Dirty made them not take themselves so seriously. They’ve each said he made them not be mad at each other for long because he was so funny and lovable. He and Meth really connected – anytime they did a song together, it was incredible. Meth even put a vintage pic of him and Dirty in the CD tray of his album 4:21. So I think he found a similar energy with Redman, a guy who’s just fun to be around. Once Meth starting working with Red, he took on more of the joking/punchline style of rapping. Red sounds great over RZA beats, and Meth is strangely effective over Erick Sermon production. Def Squad is the yin to Wu-Tang’s yang.
OW: I’ll skip ahead to where you place two “love” songs back-to-back though “Sweet Love” is basically another R-rated sex jam ala “Ice Cream” while “Break Ups 2 Make Up” is the PG-13-ish radio jam. Why include both?
ZR: “Sweet Love” is one of my favorite songs in the history of Wu. Incredible True Master beat, Cappa being goofy and quotable. It was too graphic to be a single, lyrically — Meth says some highly explicit sexual lines. So it made me think of “Break Ups 2 Make Up” in another light — it was the biggest and most memorable single off the album, but it didn’t fit the original tracklisting. So I had to do the “for the ladies” suite because Tical 2000 overall is definitely NOT for the ladies. “Break Ups 2 Make Ups” is the formula sequel to “All I Need” (pair Meth with the go-to R&B artist of the time) just the opposite concept: you piss me off so much, and your friends are toxic, but we can’t just walk away from this dysfunctional relationship.
OW: Also, listening to this in 2015, I’m thinking “oh yeah, this was back when D’Angelo was actually cameoing on people’s songs as opposed to be hidden away in a cave for like 15 years.
ZR: Yeah and back then, Meth and D were huge sex symbols that really hated the title.
OW: Penultimate choice in your reworked tracklisting is “Suspect Chin Music,” which is easily the best-titled song on this album. Crazy track – feels very Y2K RZA, which is to say: it has that lurching, off-beat feel but with a Bobby Digital panache.
ZR: It’s one of Meth’s best performances on the album. The beat is so bizarre and off kilter – it has the post Wu-Tang Forever aesthetic where RZA wasn’t sampling as much, but still keeping his beats filthy as hell. It reminds me of something he’d place on a compilation like The Swarm. It’s kind of amazing that “Suspect Chin Music” was placed on a platinum album by a superstar rapper. The hook is “Shotgun slammin in yo chest piece, BLAOW!” It’s another callback to Tical.
OW: You kept “Judgement Day” here as the closer. I have to say, title track or no, never liked it much myself. Feels all frenetic but with no groove. Why keep it as anchor?
ZR: It’s a leftfield beat and single. The song and video are the biggest tie-ins to the apocalyptic theme of the album – it’s almost 20 years old but the video still looks great. It’s one of those songs that did well on TRL and other video shows but got no radio play whatsoever (Busta and Missy had a few songs like this). The hook is really cool, and Meth does an old school rhyme scheme on a jungle-type of beat. It doesn’t fit anywhere else but last, since he’s counting down the armageddon clock like it’s December 31, 1999. The beat is hectic and not very hip hop, a staple of Y2K rap paranoia and experimentation. I think it was a song he made for the overseas audience and the skateboarding white kids who loved Wu-tang.
OW: Wrapping this up…you said up top that Meth isn’t a “classic album” kind of artist even though I think we’d both agree 1) he’s a gifted MC with 2) one of the best voices in the game. So what was he missing that limited his ability to create something on the level of, say, Supreme Clientele? My impulsive hot take here is that Meth tasted real commercial success early and in an attempt to mint radio hits, that would make creating a fully realized album far more challenging. (Obligatory observation that To Pimp A Butterfly basically has no “radio hits.” WEST UP!)
ZR: That makes sense. I also think he was being pulled in too many directions. Tical 2000 has some sequel-type songs to Tical (“Shaolin What”, “Suspect Chin Music”, “Dangerous Grounds” and “Cradle Rock” all have that ultra Shaolin grit) which bang. Meth’s problem, historically after Tical, is that he doesn’t stick to the type of beats he sounds GREAT on. He’s so talented, and so charismatic, and was a sex symbol from the gate, so he wasn’t afforded the time like Ghost to make weird, dusted soul albums front to back. The best part of Tical 2000 is Meth’s chemistry with True Master, who is responsible for every great song on the album. And yet he only gets 6-7 beats out of 22 retail tracks. I think Meth’s problem was always being told what he NEEDED to be doing rather than what he SHOULD have been doing.
365 Days of Soul, #153