This album by the Genius/GZA was his first solo album released, and the second recorded. It was the fourth Wu Tang Clan solo album released, and at the time was considered to be Vintage Wu. The GZA has been a somewhat less than prominent Wu-Tang member in recent years, but when this album was released, it was perhaps the artistic high point of the Wu.
The album succeeds because it balances the two things the Wu always does- grit and philosophy so well. It is full of violent street tales interspiced with cosmological themes, inlcuding a running series of clips taken from the famous story of Itto Ogami, the Shogun Assassin. All of this fits together into a mishmash of references to drug trafficking, King Cyrus, slave trade and international conspiracy. Also, the last two songs allow the GZA to comment on his own life with such lines as "I could have written a book with a title 'Age twelve and and going through hell'".
The music on the album, as befits the somewhat somber lyrics, is somewhat more introspective and muted then the usual Wu fare. This is not party music. Not to say that none of the tracks bang. One or two do (such as 4th Chamber), but it is more the type of music to get hyped and pissed off with simuletaneously, then some of the purely boomable music found on other Wu-Tang albums.
This remains one of my favorite rap albums to this day. If anyone wants to understand the multifaceted world of the Wu, this is the place to start.