As two very separate artists with very different legacies—Paul Banks as lead singer of rock band Interpol and RZA as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan and a prominent hip-hop figure in general— Banks & Steelz’s Anything But Words initially looks a little questionable; one couldn’t really be sure as to how the two artists’ styles would mesh together in a collaborative process such as this. In action and across the album, however, things work out much smoother than anticipated; in fact, it stands out as one of the better hip-hop albums of 2016.
In terms of performance, duties across the album are about as evenly split as one could expect. Hip-hop beats and verses dominated by RZA’s raps segue seamlessly into the rock verses, where Banks takes the lead on vocals. Elements intermingle between sections tying the entire package together, especially on the seamlessly flowing Speedway Sonora; there’s a disjointedness to it thanks to the differences between the genres, but they’re mixed in a way that makes it feel natural rather than haphazard. It does have its more coherent moments, however, with Conceal in particular mixing subdued synth beats with light use of live percussion in a sluggish, retro mid-tempo track. It’s a closer marriage of the styles, and one that works out just as well in the long run.
Even when extra artists are thrown into the mix, with their own spin being thrown onto the track, things manage to work out perfectly. Without a doubt, the album’s strongest moment is its fifth track, Wild Season, featuring Florence + the Machine frontwoman Florence Welch. The hip-hop beats continue to run rampant, though the song runs wild with samples of flourishing strings, muffled blasts of grand accompaniment, giving it a clear taste of Florence’s own music that gives the track a unique vibe. Welch has collaborated with hi-hop artists and sounded perfectly at home before, but she particularly shines on Wild Season as the song reaches its peak and all vocalists chime in as the song swells into a wall of sound. Other collaborations with the likes of Kool Keith and Ghostface Killah litter the album and stand strong as well, but lack the unique edge that makes Wild Season such a highlight point of the album and the perfect indicator of why a collaborative album like this was such a good idea.
While it may seem like a strange collaboration at first, and one that many doubted the fruition of considering it was originally conceived in 2013, Anything But Words is a triumphant mix of genres that shows off the talents of both artists involved. Neither artist loses their own essence in the collaboration, making it feel like a truly equal exchange of ideas that transformed into a truly commendable crossover album. Hopefully this isn’t the last we hear of Banks & Steelz, because Anything But Words is a truly refreshing piece of work.