Masta Killa

In 1993 Jamel Arief, better known as Masta Killa (né Noodles), was chosen as the ninth core member of the then-formidable Wu-Tang Clan. It took the professional rookie the next decade, dog years in the rap game, to ready his solo debut. No Said Date arrives as the rap cognoscenti raise pimp chalices of young blood in posthumous respect to his Shaolin brethren -- an occurrence alarming in its frequency, because the Wu averages one nail-hard LP a year (Ghostface's The Pretty Toney Album) for every pawned Tical 0: The Prequel.

But never mind that. Japanese fans are wondering: What in the Hattori Hanzo has Masta Killa been up to? Inquiring minds will remain stumped, if musically quelled, by the identity responsible for No Said Date. Rapping with a reserved, no-nonsense aplomb that on occasion moves like Ma$e, Masta Killa and his more image-conscious Clansmen (all of whom lend a verse or a chorus here) create crackling crime noir, including the palpitating "Do the Dance." But when standing alone on tracks such as "Grab the Microphone," he promotes an endearingly humble testament to the street codes of hardcore hip-hop. Masta Killa's years of traveling off the beaten path have proved to be a smart, if bizarre, career move.

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Hunter Stephenson