Our "Classic Rotation" series revisits classic albums on the anniversary of their release. Today, we take a look at Wu-Tang Clan's classic album, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)", which dropped twenty-one years ago on November 9, 1993.
In the late 80s, a few cousins got together to form a little rap crew in Brooklyn, New York. Robert Diggs, Gary Grice and Russel Jones, better known as Rza, Gza and Ol' Dirty Bastard respectively, had no idea what kind of world-changing journey they were about to embark on. They were simply teenagers who enjoyed kung fu, hip-hop and probably a little weed smoke. Fortunately for us, the All In Together Now Crew were the roots of what became the mighty Wu-Tang Clan, in all their profound glory and cringing controversy.
After a couple pre-Wu-Tang album flops, Rza and Gza stayed determined. The Rza linked up with a young Ghostface Killah to start a hip-hop group who was influenced by "Eastern philosophy picked up from kung fu movies, watered-down Nation of Islam preaching picked up on the New York streets, and comic books."
In 1992 and 1993, the dudes, along with some friends, recorded legendary material that would form in an LP called Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Armed with plenty of liquid swards and a low budget, the lo-fi album's rough sound is emulated today, albeit for aesthetic, not by necessity.
36 Chambers is littered with metaphors and deep references, many of which we'll never understand even after reading Rza's books. What any average Joe can understand, however, is the genius of these nine dudes from all over NYC on the microphone and production alike. The album has changed the game in countless ways, from skits and samples to aesthetic and concept.
The sound has become a pinnacle for hardcore hip-hop with it's grimy contact and in-your-face delivery. Members Rza, Gza, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Method Man still hold a massive influence in hip-hop culture, lesser-known cats like Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck and U-God still hold an amount of respect in the underground scene, and ODB's loss is still felt. This unlikely album became one of the greatest rap albums of all time, undeniably.
The album begins with a sample from 1981 kung fu movie called Shaolin and Wu-Tang. The obscurity holds to the present day, where no other rap group has really honed in on this concept since. A sword-draw sound sample gives way to the lo-fi boom-bap beat, met with Rza's growling shouts of "bring da the motha fuckin ruckus" before Ghostface Killah comes in.
"Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse
My Glock burst, leave in a hearse, I did worse
I come rough, tough like an elephant tusk
Ya head rush, fly like Egyptian musk
Aww shit Wu-Tang Clan spark the wicks an'
However I master the trick just like Nixon
Causing terror, quick damage your whole era
Hardrocks is locked the fuck up or found shot
P.L.O. style, hazardous cause I wreck this dangerous
I blow spots like Waco, Texas"
Before you know it you are knee-deep in the rawest hip-hop album you've ever heard. Raekwon comes in for the second punch, before Inspectah Deck and Gza come in and finish you off. Their gang-like mentality likens them to a group of lethal ninjas, ready to tap any member on the shoulder to deal out the next blow. These guys literally destroy you while rattling off mad lyrics about destroying you. You're simply left destroyed, in the same kind of way you feel after you leave the best concert you've ever attended.
In each song a different lineup of Clan members throws their lyrical daggers. On the second track, "Shame On A Nigga," two classic Ol' Dirty Bastard verses sandwich epic material Method Man and Raekwon, rendering each second of the song lyrically impeccable over the Rza's blend of Thelonious Monk and Syl Johnson samples bump over drums that would go on to influence producers like J Dilla and Madlib. The tenacity of this group was unknown at the time, and it can be taken for granted by those growing up in a time where it was already considered the Holy Grail. There was a time that this was new and boundary-pushing. Hell, it still sounds more different than most of the music you've heard since.
Another highly interesting element to this album was the differences in song approach. Songs like "Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber" would feature a drawn-out, sort of hilarious introduction before getting annihilated by 7 full verses. Other joints like "Clan In Da Front" were more specialized, allowing Gza to handle all of the verses himself. Nothing ever feels forced or out of place as each MC only flexes when it is needed.
After four hardcore joints kick off the album, the clan takes it down a notch with "Can It Be All So Simple," a Raekwon and Ghostface Killah track that would reflect a 20+ year collaborative relationship that those two have flourished in. The track would be remixed for Raekwon's acclaimed Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
"I want to lamp, I want to be in the shade
Plus the spotlight, getting my dick rode all night
I want to have me a phat yacht
And enough land to go and plant my own sess crops
But for now it's just a big dream
Cause I find myself in the place where I'm last seen
My thoughts must be relaxed, be able to maintain
Cause times is changed and life is strange
The glorious days is gone, and everybody's doing bad
Yo, mad lives is up for grabs
Brothers passing away, I gotta make wakes
Receiving all types of calls from upstate
Yo, I can't cope with the pressure
Settling for lesser
The God left lessons on my dresser
So I can bloom and blossom, find a new way
To continue to make more hits with Rae and A
Sunshine plays a major part in the daytime
Peace to mankind, (Ghostface carry a black nine)"
The pining for the simple, successful life made this track relatable to all races, communities and social statuses. Good sex, good weed and a boat...what else could a man want?
To round out the Shaolin Sword side of the album, Method Man gives us a crash course of the Wu-Tang Clan and their respective roles within the group. It's hilarious, strikingly accurate and definitely the most entertaining skit you'll never hit skip on.
The Wu-Tang Sword side of the album follows up, beginning with track 6 and U-God's best verse he'll ever rap. "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" is another thick posse cut with a cypher vibe. U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa exchange lively verses while the Rza unearths Otis Redding's 1967 drums from the song "Tramp."
The following two tracks go down as two of the most iconic songs in rap history. "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothin' ta Fuck Wit'" has been sampled, played and parodied to a point most songs can't survive. However, it's still hard in 2014, despite the fact Kanye had Justin Bieber sing over it a few years back.
"C.R.E.A.M." is much the same way. Your great Aunt could probably complete the chorus and about a million knock-off t-shirts have been made to capitalize on the quintessential slogan. Raekwon and Inspectah Deck handle the verses by themselves while Method Man's signature flow provides the hook.
Method Man gets his own spotlight on the song that bares his name. The cut has virtually spawned one of the most prolific careers in rap history along with a never-ending spiral of influence that Clifford Smith has provided.
One last posse cut comes in the form of "Protect Ya Neck" as everyone in the clan adds something to the track, besides Masta Killa. Finally, "Tearz" belongs to Ghostface Killah before the conclusion of the album, a remix of the joint "Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber" that allows Rza to kick up the bass a notch, making the song harder and heavier, an unprecedented accomplishment given the rowdiness of the original.
The Wu-Tang Clan have all gone on to give the hip-hop world something in the form of solo and Clan albums alike. Members like Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Method Man have seen more mainstream success than U-God and Masta Killa, but the Clan is truly at its best with the first album: a raunchy New York City hip-hop album influenced by unique concepts like Islam and kung fu. The perfect execution spearheaded by the Rza puts this one not just at the top of the list of hip-hop's best albums, but of best albums in music, period.
Happy anniversary, Wu-Tang Clan. Thanks for this gift.