GZA/Genius

Photograph: Tamar Levine

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

At the beginning of “Duel of the Iron Mic,” the second song of arguably the best opening one-two-three combo in hip-hop history, GZA employed a clip from the cult movie Shogun Assassin. One samurai says to the other, “I see you’re using an old style; I was wondering where you’d learned it from.” The answer: “You know very well; it’s yours, too.”

The exchange in question comes from the now-classic Liquid Swords, which the Brooklyn rapper has taken to performing live in its entirety in the past year. Three solo albums and 15 years later, Pro Tools sees the Wu-Tang member as the transcendent representative of the new “old style,” a throwback to MCs like Rakim and Guru, who favored choice words over club beats, subtle rhymes over clubs to the head. If there’s any doubt that the Genius is sticking to his swords, he lays out his blueprint on “Alphabets”: “All I need is a beat with a continuous loop…composed like a symphony without a chorus.”

Many of the hook-free, antichoral movements may be a difficult listen for postmillennials. GZA’s songs are chock-full of complex similes and metaphors; blink and you’ll miss topical reflections on economics and black youth. RZA, producer and restrained guest on a couple of tracks, terms it “superlogical rap.” And while the paradigm can get a bit pedantic, it proves endlessly refreshing in an age of ring-tone hip-hop.

GZA performs Liquid Swords at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza Sept 12.

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Pro Tools (Babygrande)