When it comes to the Wu-Tang Clan, their solo careers have been nothing short of genius, except for RZA. Now, before you crucify me, when it comes to the RZA, it was his focused hip-hop career under Bobby Digital that seemed to falter more consistently than his other work (movie soundtracks, production). He couldn’t find a balance between expressing his inner hedonism and having fun. I was never quite perturbed, considering RZA wasn’t the best lyricist, and his production reigned supreme – a statement that holds throughout his Bobby Digital runs. It continues to be the case with Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater; DJ Scratch brings a proper equilibrium of smooth disc-scratching and an atmosphere driven by a digital orchestra from an array of electronic keyboards, and RZA adds solid verses, even when his flows teeter into redundancy.
Unlike past Bobby Digital albums, Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater sees RZA weaving a tale of champions, creating a battle between egos. RZA brings an enlightened reflection on life, while Bobby Digital keeps flaunting and spearheading his obtuse demeanor. In doing so, he starts to find new ways to bridge his ideas together. Though Bobby Digital is far from his wild days, the disillusionment of his hedonistic tendencies swims in and out of his mind as he tries to find a balance between BD and RZA. Many alter-egos need both minds melded together to bring out that inner fire. However, it takes a realized duel for RZA and Bobby Digital to deliver their best. Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater triumphs because RZA is taking these contrasting ideologies and weaving them into a traditional Kung Fu-styled film, incorporating samples of his influences.
Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater is RZA’s third concept album under the moniker Bobby Digital, and it’s his best. While the other Bobby Digital albums take a personality-centric approach, showing us his life through these situations, this one is composed and straightforward. We see Bobby Digital taking the next step to return to hip-hop louder than the purchase of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. For the likes of this music, it does. “Pugilism,” “Kaiju,” and the eponymous track bring raw energy to the lyricism, specifically “Kaiju,” which sees RZA amounting both personas to the stature of a Kaiju’s or giant monster of Japanese fantasy and sci-fiction movies. Like the first half of the album, RZA raps with dual perspectives – it makes tracks like “Fisherman” stand out more than middle tracks.
Within his Bobby Digital albums, RZA always shined brighter when he embraced that archaic side instead of trying to tweed into a different style of writing that works better under the RZA moniker. There are keen highlights from past albums like “Be A Man” off Digital Bullet, but the lack of light in his more intellectual tracks makes them more forgettable, like “Never Love Again,” which starts strong but then starts to lose itself with more obscure references. I mean, would you ever expect RZA to drop a Seven-Year Itch reference? The production is critical and the main highlight, as evident with the two tracks in the middle. But as great as the production is, RZA’s flows aren’t as nuanced, repeating similar beats of the past. For those who can give leeway to an older rapper’s flows, you’ll hear some solid lyricism even if they aren’t as profound, like on the eponymous track where RZA raps: “Michael Myers mask on my face/Copper filtered in/N-95 edition boy, I’m a virus killa/Try to quarantine me/My chi increase like Akira,” where he refers to his preparedness to kill by using mask-COVID analogies.
Legendary master mixer and producer DJ Scratch handles the production for Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater and is MVP of the project. He blends film dialogue with old-school scratch-boom bap smoothly, creating clean transitions from song to song. Fortunately, it’s enough to keep RZA afloat through the missteps, like some line delivery in the second verse of “Kaiju,” which sometimes gets too metaphorical for its own good as you try to distinguish the personal from the external, like his semi-relevant-disease-line: “The rise of the kaijū from a sea that’s inside you/To fight the manmade virus, they tried to demise you.” Even the mundane “Never Love Again” gets that boost by a beautifully layered cluster of percussion and electronic overtones.
Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater is a solid return for RZA and Bobby Digital, as they find new ground with creating a moving image for us with words over some top-tier production by DJ Scratch. There are those downbeats, which usually are an issue for RZA since he has a better handle on the boards, but allowing himself to step back and focus on his songwriting reflects with his many metaphors and raw energy.