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Return of the Classics Chapter 3: It doesn't get much better than this...
In my long and dense search to find the greatest hip-hop masterpiece in history, I have found stacks and stacks of great albums by many different artists and examined them thoroughly. From the legendary Queensbridge classic Illmatic by Nas, to the gritty street narratives on The Infamous by Mobb Deep, to the heartfelt passion on Me Against the World from the deceased Tupac Shakur, to the hard hitting education of BDP's Criminal Minded, to even the mafiosio knowledge on Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt. I keep all of these albums very dear to my heart, but one, out of all of them, stands out above the rest. Probably the one which I listened to the most after first purchase and NOT played out (it still isn't). That album, my friends, is Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which could be the greatest hip-hop album ever created.
What would've happened if Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) had never been released? Would Hip-Hop music and the culture have remained the same as it was in the late 80s? Would we be swarmed with noisy political banter and flashy braggadocio forever? Would we have ever gotten the glory years of street music we got in the mid 90s? Would other classics have even thought of coming out had it not been for the sharp lyrical fangs of the Staten Island lyricists and the dark, grimy beats? I think not.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) not only smashed the generation barrier, but it punched it, kicked it, top-rope head-butted it, Crippler Crossfaced it, then obliterated it by taking a huge shit on the smashed pieces. Yeah, it's that groundbreaking. Rza's production was like no other at the time and has constantly been emulated over and over that it makes me sick. Well, let me rephrase that. When his style is taken and played with, it can provide some awesome results (Havoc, Jus Blaze), but other times it can get annoying (Eminem), specially when others like to take credit for it (Kanye). Either way, Rza is the innovator. Rza is the brilliant mind behind it and the hip-hop community owes him a thousand kisses on his ass.
Besides that, what else can be said about the actual Clan as emcees. The team of nine, consisting of Ghostface Killah, The Gza, The Rza, Method Man, Old Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, and Masta Killa are all distinct in their own ways. Each has their own "style" (to keep with the martial arts theme), and their own unique delivery and cadence. Gza is slow and thoughtful, while Ghostface is aggressive and technical. ODB is hardcore and vulgar, while Meth is laid back and fun. Masta Killa is threatening, while Raekwon specializes at street poetry. Deck is the battler, and U-God is the prodigal child. Each member brings something special and a unique chemistry on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which will probably never be duplicated a-GAIN...
Track List & Rating
1. Bring Da Ruckus (******)
2. Shame On A Nigga (*****)
3. Clan In Da Front (*****)
4. Wu-Tang 7th Chamber (*****)
5. Can It Be All So Simple (******)
6. Da Mystery Of Chessboxin' (******)
7. Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit (*****)
8. C.R.E.A.M. (******)
9. Method Man (******)
10. Protect Ya Neck (******)
11. Tearz (******)
12. Wu-Tang 7th Chamber (Part II) (****)
The album's opener "Bring Da Ruckus" is the first of 12 reasons as to why the Wu-Tang Clan were untouchable. Opening with a familiar martial arts film sample (which would become a common staple for them in the future), the production is the first thing that you will note is different. Different doesn't always mean good, but oh God it does here. After Rza's movie sample, the freakishly gritty production kicks in, and you know you're in for something nuts. The inane sound effects and strange LACK of instrumentation provides an atmosphere that quite simply cannot be duplicated on paper. The grimy, hard-hitting drum loops and horrorcore screeches are simply menacing. The blend of this kind of production with hungry vocals and metaphoric lyricism would be commonplace for most of the cuts on this album. Group members Raekwon the Chef, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, The Rza, and the Gza appear here, with Gza stealing the show like he almost always does.
"Shame On A Nigga" tends to sound much more lighthearted than "Bring Da Ruckus", but still retains the trademark Rza production. This time, Rza samples trumpets and pianos, flipping his style to a more musical tone while still retaining the aggressive noise, mainly in part to his drum loops, scratching, and the seemingly nonchalant bass. Method Man and the late Old Dirty Bastard make their debuts on here, and would soon go on to become arguably the two most famous members of the Wu-Tang Clan, and it wasn't because of their lyrical skill either. However, on this album, everybody is superb. ODB steals the show with his relentless flow and charisma, and it's a shame that he passed a way because he had so much untapped potential that we'd only get a glimpse of on this album and on his debut. This song acts as a good way to remember ODB, and on it's own merits is still excellent hip-hop music.
I have and always will say that Gza is the best lyricist in the entire Wu-Tang Clan and one of the greatest, most slept-on emcees of ALL TIME. Anyone who's a non-believer should check out "Clan In Da Front", his solo. Production-wise, Rza switches it up a bit here, utilyzing a distinct P-Funk sample with slow guitar flicks, a drum loop, bass, piano, and... that's it. Yes, it's that simple. The production is so simple, yet at the same time sounds like something that cannot be duplicated. Like I said, Gza is the absolute elite member of the Wu, bar none. Gza can do it all, and never once wastes a bar. His metaphors are well-thought out, his similes are stimulating, his cadence is somewhere in the middle of laid-back and aggressive, and his punchlines are flaming.
"Throw your shitty drawers in the hamper
Next time come strapped with a fuckin Pamper
How ya sound B? You're better off a quitter
I'm on the mound G, and it's a no-hitter"
One thing I have failed to mention thus far on this review is subject matter. The main reason is because the majority of the songs on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) are just posse cuts with braggadocio battle rhymes and a little storytelling. There really isn't much to it. Now normally this would be a detractor, but the Wu-Tang Clan are so talented and Rza is so diverse and abstract as a producer that there's virtually NO wasted moment on this entire album. "Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber" is the first track on the album that attempts subject matter. The song opens with an intro telling us that one of their homies was blasted, and that now it's time for revenge. This song in particular would be the groundbreaking moment when hip-hop changed in the mid-90s to a more street oriented, hardcore style. Inspirational doesn't begin to describe it. Almost every member of the Wu-Tang Clan comes correct with lines which are still remembered by Wu-Tang fans to this day. I can safely say that this is timeless music:
"Ruler Zig Zag, Zig-Allah jam is fatal
Quick to stick my Wu-Tang sword right through ya navel
Suspenseful, plus bein bought through my utensil
The pencil, I break strong winds up against your
Abbott, that run up through your county like the Maverick
Caps through the tablets, I gots to make the fabrics"
"Can It All Be So Simple" is another track with depth and meaning, as well as one of the final singles from this album. Raekwon and Ghostface would begin the first of their many collaborations, using their time here to analyze their life and reflect on their decisions in the past in relations to the way they carried themselves in the street. Raekwon questions whether or not that life is worth it, but also comes off being a tad bit nihilistic in it. The songs retrospective nature and emotion would be carried on in future Raekwon and Ghostface cuts. The Rza brings the goods with a nostalgic piece of sombre music. A thumping bassline, some abstract cello and a tiny snare come together to bring a completely new sound to your eardrums.
Rza's ability to make something which isn't typically bouncy into something musical is a gift, and you can see it with the little background sound effects he implements into his beats. He fine-tunes every little nook and cranie in the beat while the emcees do their thing. This ability to craft newer, grittier, more subterranean sounding instrumentals is the backbone of the Wu-Tang sound, and something that was almost never duplicated after this album.
The relentless battle rapping returns on "The Mystery of Chessboxin'" and "Wu-Tang Ain't Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit'". U-God and Masta Killa make their debuts on "The Mystery of Chessboxin'", which to this day is one of my top 5 favorite posse cuts... ever. It becomes more and more obvious to the listener that the Wu-Tang Clan can do no wrong. Rza forever cements his status as one of the greatest producers of all time (top 3) here, redefining what's "cool" about hip-hop. The unique blend of strings and drums is a blend which cannot be duplicated. The beat is perfect, and I mean that. The rapping? Perfect too. Every single verse is thought-out and spat with so much ferocity that you have to rewind it a number of times to get it. ODB is sick on it, U-God brings it, Deck never wastes a moment, Raekwon is still as gritty as ever, Ghostface is pissed, and Masta Killa spits the verse OF HIS CAREER. I'm not joking. This is the greatest verse Masta Killa has ever spat:
"Homicide's illegal and death is the penalty
What justifies the homicide, when he dies?
In his own iniquity it's the
Master of the Mantis Rapture comin at cha
We have an APB on an emcee KILLAH
Looks like the work of a Masta
Evidence indicates that's it's stature
Merciless like a terrorist hard to capture
The flow, changes like a chameleon
Plays like a friend, and stabs you like a dagger
This technique attacks the immune system
Disguised like a lie paralyzin the victim
You scream, as it enters your bloodstream
Erupts your brain from the pain these thoughts contain
Novin on a nigga with the speed of a centipede
and injure, any motherfuckin contender..."
What can I say that hasn't been said yet about this next track. Simply put, "C.R.E.A.M." is one of the best songs ever made. Anybody who has never listened to this once needs to get a copy now or their bones will rot and they'll die... really, they will. Okay well, to sum it up, Rza makes one of the best beats in the history of hip-hop here, with a piano, a crescendoing echo, and bass. Raekwon the Chef and Inspectah Deck drop career-making verses, and I say that because they rarely outdid them in the future. Method Man's signature chorus is what wraps it all up nicely ("Cash Rules Everything Around Me, CREAM, Get the Money... Dollar Dollar Bill Ya'll). Why am I not getting into this deeper? Well, two reasons. First reason: chances are, you've already heard it. Second reason: I plan to review this as a single someday, so I'll get deep there.
"M.E.T.H.O.D. Man" is yet another famous track and stands as Meth's breakthrough solo debut. While Method Man's lyrics are nowhere near to the complexities we've heard thusfar, his charismatic delivery, potent flow, and unique weed humor carries the track. The one thing that always keeps me coming back though is the beat. Rza is gritty, yet clean here, finding a true balance between the two. The fun piano melody and dirty bass is relentless and keeps your head bobbing for the entire duration of the track. Wu-Tang fans had best treasure this simply because it is one of the few instances where Method could actually hold his own, and he did it perhaps better than ever. Yup, much like everything on this LP, this is the Wu-Tang at their BEST, and seldom achieved this level of illness again,
Okay. This may be hard for some to swallow, but I don't give a damn. "Protect Ya Neck" is the greatest posse cut in the history of music... bar none. First of all, the psychotic, throat-cutting production is one of the reasons why this album smashed all generation barriers in 93. The pain-inducing scratching and synthesizers, backed by a sombre piano will bring memories of Norman Bates creeping back in your cerebrum. The beat is so effective and sharp that it bombards your ears. Likewise, the emceeing is an equivalent to the poison-tipped darts launching at every pore in your body. All the members of the Wu-Tang Clan on here (and it is almost all of them) are excellent, with nobody outshining nobody and everybody breathing those trademark flaming hardcore lyrics all over the place. I simply cannot put over "Protect Ya Neck" as much as I would like to. Just listen for yourself.
The grand finale comes with "Tearz", where the Wu switches it up a bit and gets to more conscious, thought-provoking lyricism as opposed to the ruthless battling we've seen for most of the LP. Rza and Ghostface are the team here, and would reunite for future projects, but not as many as you'd hope to hear after this. "Tearz" is a horrorcore-esque track where Rza gets bloody and nihilistic describing what he does to his foes on the streets in a dark, fantasy atmosphere. Ghostface uses a more descriptive tone with a few underlining messages, but main stays on topic. The production is a bouncy little piece produced by Rza mainly composed of percussion instruments, synthesizers and a little soul sample. This style would later be emulated by Jus Blaze, Kanye West, and Eminem.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, perhaps a million words can't describe how good this album is. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was the start of a powerful dynasty that would never reclaim the true power it had in its early tenure. Most of the Wu is destroyed, and in one emcees case, sadly deceased. However, nobody can ever deny to their dying day that the Wu-Tang wasn't at their very best on this CD. Everything was just perfect, and the group reached a plateau that perhaps no other group can and influenced an entire generation. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is more than just an album. It set into motion the greatest time period that hip-hop has ever had, to this day (at least in my opinion). It single handedly kickstarted the flurry of classic albums that we'd grow to love. It inspired a horde of new producers to get behind the boards and really hit us with inspiring stuff. It inspired emcees to write harder and with more of an edge. Yes sir, this album is a masterpiece, and shame on you if you don't own it. If you really don't, then do yourself a favor a capture a piece of history...
BEST WU-TANG ALBUMS EVER:
The Gza - Liquid Swords
Ghostface Killah - Ironman
Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever
Raekwon the Chef - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
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