GZA/GENIUS "Pro Tools" Babygrande

Friday, September 5, 2008

GZA/GENIUS"Pro Tools"Babygrande

KNOWN FOR CRAFTING vivid hip-hop narratives with literary flair, GZA 's greatest asset is his gritty, dexterous snarl that rhythmically punches carefully selected syllables like a boxer toying with an overmatched adversary.

On "Pro Tools," the Wu-Tang Clan veteran, alternatively referred to as Genius, wins a split decision but rarely goes for the knockout, falling short of his own lofty benchmarks. At times, his voice sounds tired and indifferent, as if it's all too easy.

The album's fine production carries GZA through several tracks, rather than the other way around. But his rhymes are sharp as ever, displaying his knack for imbuing his lyrics with double-entendres and extended metaphors: On "0% Finance," he nonchalantly weaves the names of more than 40 car makes and models into four breathless minutes, keeping pace with a distorted guitar chugging alongside him.

GZA finally finds his bite on "Cinema," the lyrical equivalent of packing a Wes Craven flick into an exhilarating three minutes: "In the back yard, two dogs were growling, barking/Eyes and their teeth were sparkling," he intones in a desperate whisper. "I started to sweat, they started to get closer/Then I saw the face on the Wanted poster."

"Pro Tools" is underwhelming compared with GZA's 1995 masterpiece, "Liquid Swords," which wouldn't be a fair comparison if he didn't routinely perform the latter in its entirety while touring. But it proves that an average day for GZA would be a great day for most others.

-- Alex Baldinger

Appearing Wednesday with Snapz and Only at Ram's Head Live (410-244-1131,http://www.ramsheadlive.com). Doors open at 8 p.m.

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