20 years ago this week my mind was blown when I first listened to Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by a group of emcees from New York called the Wu-Tang Clan. I was just taken aback by the rawness of their rhymes, their lyrical skills, their wit, their firepower, their delivery, their flare, thier transparency, and their overall awesomeness. Never before that had I heard a crew of 8 emcees, which would eventually grown on to be more members, be so balanced, powerful, and to be frank, just damn good. All of these dudes in my opinion could spit, and spit their ass off with the best of em.
Wu-Tang Clan were more then just rappers. They were a movement. They were a culture. They were some of the most honest, in your face emcees that hip hop had ever seen. To this day, they seem to be bigger than just music. They are a pillar in rap’s legacy. Wu-Tang, which is the family unit, launched the careers of many talented rappers. Not only did they put Staten Island on the map, but the RZA, the group’s mastermind, had a strategic plan that he carried out to a tee. Loud/RCA Records agreed to signing an unorthodox deal at the time. They signed the Wu-Tang Clan to a multi album deal while allowing each individual member the autonomy to sign with other labels to put out their own solo records. The cool thing was even though Wu Tang was this powerful family, they still were a bunch of hungry individuals who at first had to hold back some of their own solo creative gifts for the betterment of the collective unit. RZA made sure that this motley crew would all get their chance to individually shine, and that is exactly what they did.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is known as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. The album features the hip hop anthems “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) “Protect Ya Neck,” “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man,” “Can It Be All So Simple,” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin to F@%k Wit.” The beats on this album are iconic and it really set up a shopping ground for the first round of solo albums that would come from it.
Method Man, one of the clan’s most well know members, was behind some of Enter the Wu-Tang‘s most catchiest lines. His solo album, Tical, was released in 1994. Method Man probably had the most solo success out of any Wu Tang member. He dropped Tical, and Tical 2: Judgement Day, went on to make two albums with his buddy Redman, and crossover into TV and film. I think he will alwawys be known from his earth shattering verses on “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” from the Enter the Wu-Tang album.
The late Ol Dirty Bastard was the second emcee to drop a solo album. Ol Dirty dropped the highly underrated, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version in March of 95. This album was home to the classics “Brooklyn Zoo,” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” ODB passed away on November 13, 2004 from a drug overdose. His legacy would live on over countless other Wu-Tang albums and solo projects. He is surely missed.
In the summer of 1995, Raekwon the Chef dropped the hip hop classic (and my personal favorite) Only Built for a Cuban Linx. This album is stacked with gems. “Ice Cream,” “Criminology,” “Verbal Intercourse,” “Glaciers of Ice,” are all fire and are just some of the jams on this record. Raekwon really showed off his lyrical skills on this album. The production on this record was the best at that point of any Wu project that had been released. Truly an incredible album Cuban Linx was.
The Wu followed that up that fall with the release of GZA’s Liquid Swords. This was another head banger, and a very underrated album. I wish that the GZA had stayed on this lyrical level for years to follow because this album was the truth and the real deal. This album delivered us the hits “Shadowboxin,” “Cold World,” and the title track, “Liquid Swords.”
Finally in 1996, Ghostface Killah got his time to shine, when he dropped his solo album, Ironman. This was another critically acclaimed album from yet another one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s dope emcees. Ironman gave us “Daytona 500,” “Winter Warz,” and the smash hit, “All That I Got is You.” Ghostface has been the most consistent of all the Wu members in terms of quality solo albums. He has put out the most albums of any emcee as well as the best albums within the Clan.
The best thing about all of the Wu-Tang Clan solo members albums was that they basicaly kept the music in house. Most of these albums were still produced by the RZA, even though they were all on different labels, and all of the albums featured different members of the Wu rhyming on each others projects. They kept their product within the family and really launched a model of what would be the new standard of crew love within hip hop. Young Money, Rocafella, Bad Boy, MMG, DipSet, Junior Mafia, G.O.O.D., TDE, and many of the other crews in hip hop all owe a little bit of props to the Wu-Tang Clan for being the originators of this effective crew model where individuals and collectives could all flourish financially and musically. Wu-Tang Clan was an enterprise, a rap juggernaut, and a strong musical force to be reckoned with.
In 1997, the Clan joined forces together as a collective to drop Wu-Tang Forever, a double album filled with street bangers for all hip hop lovers. The album was a smash hit and has sold over 8.3 million copies to date worldwide. Over the next three years, Wu-Tang Clan continued to drop more solo albums. RZA dropepd his debut Bobby Digitia in Stereo, Inspecta Deck dropped his, Uncontrolled Substance, and U-God dropped his with Golden Arms. Heavy hitters in the group, Method Man, (Tical 2: Judgement Day) Raekwon, (Immobilarity) and Ghostface Killah (Supreme Clientle) all dropped their second albums. The Wu-Tang Clan invasion was still evident. They were the strongest collective in hip hop and their presence was dominant on not only the hip hop scene, but with music in general. During that time the Clan embarked on a successful summer tour with Rage Against the Machine, and remained a group that was in high demand, even though to the mainstream public, some Wu-Tang fatigue was starting tos set in. It’s hard to maintain your dominance for over two decades in hip hop. Very few have been that successful, but Wu-Tang Clan have been one of the artists that have perserveared over time and still have relevance today, and that is truly important.
Wu-Tang Clan has never gone away. They are still important in 2013 like they were in 1993 when they came bumrushing the rap scene like a left hook from Mike Tyson. The band had a prime time slot at this year’s Coachella Music Festival and continues to be a group that is revered and loved my millions. The RZA, the groups moral compass has advanced into scoring major motion pictures and acting, and the Clan’s members are continuing in various projects up to the current day. With group and individual artists album sales combined, the Wu-Tang Clan have sold over 40 million albums worldwide. There are too many solo albums to count, and five Wu-Tang Clan joint albums. They are legendary and deserve all of the credit in the world for being a ground breaking band thats defined the odds, did things their own way, and were very successful in the process. This Wu-Tang takeover all started because of one monumental album. It is my honor to see this album turn 20 years old this week. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) will always go down as one of my favorite albums of all time. To me it epotimizes what hip hop is all about, beats, rhymes, and life. Happy Birthday Wu-Tang! In closing, I will leave with the great words of the late Ol Dirty Bastard, WU-TANG FOREVER MOTHA F@%KERS!!!!
MY TOP TEN WU ALBUMS OF ALL TIME
1. Wu-Tang Clan-Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
2. Raekwon the Chef-Only Built for a Cuban Linx
3. Ghostface Killah-Supreme Clientle
4. GZA-Liquid Swords
5. Wu-Tang Clan-Wu Tang Forever
6. Ghostface Killah-Ironman
7. Ol Dirty Bastard-Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
8. Ghostface Killah-Fishscale
9. RZA-Bobby Digital in Stereo
10. Method Man-Tical