El Michels Affair: Return to the 37th Chamber

Article originally appeared on 4ZZZ Apr 24th 2017

Back in 2009 Leon Michels, le titular the in El Michels Affair, put together a collection of funk riddled neo-soul renditions of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The original being an inarguably seminal album, certainly sacrosanct to some, Michels efforts were met with both derision and celebration. Seen by some critics as poorly sketched shadows of their inspirations, and by others (Raekwon included) as interesting extensions of source material, obviously the best thing to do was wait almost a decade then try the same thing all over again.

Where Enter the 37th Chamber was a more straight laced piece of interpretive derivation, Return to the 37th Chamber offers a much more oblique approach to appropriation, with far less Wu-Tang touchstone moments than the 2009 offering. In the intervening years acts like Vulture St Tape GangKerbside Collection or BADBADNOTGOOD have done a lot more to reshape the territory, El Michels Affair seems almost tawdry in its ministrations now, a little late game Mrs. Robinson play.

The whole thing would have been better served without the immediate affiliation, the ghost of the Clan hovers over this, and not completely in that pleasant Patrick Swayze way. Standing alone these could have been a brace of largely instrumental curios smattered with surprising vocals, a handful of interesting thematic deviations and a benignly upbeat disposition, making your toes take note to tap later. So you know, all in all, good, good, not bad.

That’s what a Return to the 37th Chamber feels like, really, not exactly fresh and not exactly stale, a state of fresh-yesterday forward thinking nostalgia that feels like a score to an unwritten movie you’re sure you know you saw, which, if you wanna talk appropriation, is like a stalker becoming their own victim by wearing their parents’ clothes. That’s not how identity theft works.

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