Mathematics, The Problem

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

A peripheral member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Mathematics never matched the stature of its central personas, but his contributions to the group — both beats as well as their famous "W" logo — were just as crucial. There's nothing on The Problem that's as dense or as desperate Mathematics 'work with the Wu-Tang, but that's a good thing — Math is at his best when he's slinging loose, limber beats like he does on the disco ass-mover "Two Shots of Henny" and the sunny Motownish slow-jam "Strawberries and Cream." Mathematics often relies on snippets of soul and R&B and, like a downtown Duchamp, his true genius is in repurposing. Math speeds his samples up, slows them down, amputates and oscillates them until they take new forms.

A Wu-Tang vet slings loose, limber beats

For all his ingenuity, though, Mathematics is ultimately at the mercy of his MCs — and not all of them are worthy of his innovations. Witness "Rush," where an eerie, mustachioed organ hook is sandbagged by halting, soulless contributions from GZA and Method Man. Ditto the (literally) phoned-in ranting from ODB that gums up "Break That." At times it's tempting to wish the record were more like MF Doom's Special Herbs series — a collection of blank beats unspoiled by petty rhymes. But fortunately, for every bad connection there are two that go through: "Real Nillaz" builds on the same Lalo Schifrin sample as Portishead's "Sour Times" but Mathematics doubles the pace and tops it with a breathless Ghostface verse; the grim, thudding "Can I Rise" sports a wild-eyed Hot Flames rhyme that recalls Nas at his nerviest. The Problem proves Mathematics 'skills are strong, even when his collaborators falter.