Kiefer’s Music Mondays: Banks & Steelz’ ‘Anything But Words’

When you think about it, the unlikely, underrated rap-rock collaboration makes perfect sense.

So two New York City music legends walk into a bar…

No this isn’t some cheesy joke, this is the real life story of how Interpol frontman Paul Banks (a.k.a. Banks, a.k.a. Julian Plenti) and Wu-Tang Clan mastermind RZA (a.k.a. Bobby Steelz, a.k.a. Robert Diggs, a.k.a. Bobby Digital, Abbott, Prince Rakeem, etc.) formed Banks & Steelz and came to produce one of the most estranged hip-hop albums of the past 20 years, Anything But Words, released this day in 2016.

For those casual listeners of Wu-Tang and Interpol, the premise of the two converging seems almost laughable. For those of us who know RZA’s insanely extensive work (including production credits on nearly every single Wu album, to the Gravediggaz, and even his scoring the Kill Bill films), as well as Banks’ several solo projects (including one of the greatest, most coveted hip-hop mixtapes of the past 18 years, 2013’s Everybody On My Dick Like They Supposed To Be), the possibilities are interesting to say the least.

Banks’ very esoteric lyricism meets Steelz’ unique manner of delivery in almost perfect congruity. A lot of the backing music recalls the production of RZA’s 1998 solo debut, Bobby Digital in Stereo, as well as Banks’ guitar riffs on Interpol’s 2010 self-titled.

Tracks like “Wild Season,” featuring verses and harmonies by Florence Welch, bring a multifarious style to the record, beautifully blending choral harmonies, rap bars and soulfully sung verses in a dignified balance. Reminiscent of 36 Chamber‘s “Can It Be All So Simple,” songs like “Point of View” have that hollow, broken-down sound that made RZA’s career. Dually, “Speedway Sonora” is a direct connection to “All The Rage Back Home” from El Pintor, which Banks released only two years earlier with Interpol. “Love and War” and “Point of View” feature Wu cohorts Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Masta Killa, while “Sword In The Stone” has Kool Keith.

Stylistically, these are two of the most iconoclastic characters in contemporary music, so it comes as no surprise that Anything But Words would be so heavily stylized. 

The album walks a nice line of being conscious of larger concepts (something surely Steelz brings to the table) yet highly introspective (a trait of almost all of Banks’ work). “Giant” discusses the plundering of planet Earth and its effects on the morality of society, while “Wild Season” hones in on escaping those vices and how individual lives can be effected by their times. The discussions of family, decision making and the many ramifications of our actions are scattered about the album in a very mature fashion. It’s apparent that a lot of the content of Anything But Words is something these artists have thought about extensively in their careers but never so actively entertained before.

In every way this album is exactly what one might think a record created by RZA and Paul Banks would sound like. At face value its Wu-Tang production, Interpol riffs, Gravediggaz bars, Julian Plenti choruses, a couple dashes of The Man with the Iron Fists and a pinch of Everybody On My Dick. But really, what about that sounds so awful?

Two generation-defining, award-winning, multiplatinum-selling, globally-revered musician-producers walk into a bar, some tequila is imbibed, and a metaphysical game of chess begins.

Listen to: “Wild Season,” “Giant,” “Love And War”