[Music] Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) – Wu-Tang Clan [1993]

wu-wu-yoAlbum: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan

Released: November 9, 1993

Rating: 9.2/10

Even if one were to utterly ignore the musical merits of this album, which is no mean feat to begin with, this would still be one of the most important hip-hop albums ever released. This album influenced some of the biggest names from the East Coast, names that today are synonymous with the word ‘legend’ among many hip-hop fans, names like Nas, Jay-Z and Mobb Deep. Perhaps even more than its far-reaching influence, this album’s success, launched the solo careers of at least half a dozen artists who would go on embody the very spirit of hardcore hip-hop. At it’s core, Enter the Wu-Tang is raw, grimy and real.

The trouble is, those words have been used to describe this album so often that they’ve lost the ability to capture what truly makes this album so unique. As far as debut albums go, this one was risky – it was a deliberate challenge to the established hierarchy of slicks beats and squeaky clean raps. It was a defiant roar in the face of that era’s commercial rap. It placed strict adherence to the truth and loyalty to reality above all else and if trifling matters like political correctness got in the way of those objectives, they were gleefully offered up as sacrifice. More than anything, it was about sharing personal realities with the listener on a level comparable to a first-hand experience. All good music possesses the power to take you places and this album is no different. For a little less than an hour, you travel through time and space to the mythical land of Shaolin in the early 1990s. To call this album’s sound unique is a gross understatement. To call the production simple would be both an understatement and insult – ‘simple’ implies a lack of talent and effort, an inability to create anytime more complex. Instead, let’s call the production on this album, crafted single-handedly by the genius of the RZA, minimalistic. His beats here are unassuming and modest – you know they’re there but not once do they threaten to steal the limelight. Instead, they dance an impressive waltz with the MCs’ verses. Those very verses, together with the sound, are what complete the musical journey – the beat creates the dark and foreboding atmosphere, while the verses give us a story and context, or at least a theme. Together, there’s enough energy and expression in the final product that the scenes illustrate themselves as the listener is guided through the 36 Chambers of reality and danger.

Lyrically, one of the wonders of the Clan is how unique they all sound – from the Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s drunken bawling, to Inspectah Deck’s effortless flow, to the GZA’s lyrical dominance, each member brings their own individual styles to the table. However, the true magic is in the chemistry between the members. The secret lies in the RZA’s production style – in the absence of complex loops and melodic structures, there is no inherent bias in the beat toward any particular style, giving even rappers as stylistically disparate as the GZA and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard a level platform and thus an equal opportunity to strut their stuff. Inspectah Deck especially shows just why he was in such high demand after the release of this album, with his verse in “C.R.E.A.M.” being possibly one of his best verses and certainly one of the best verses in the album. That the GZA got one track to himself should surprise no one – he has mentioned at some point that he was more or less restricted to performing the last verse of any song because otherwise it would have been unfair to whoever had to follow him. The choice of Method Man for the solo track always puzzled me from a musical standpoint – I can understand wanting to capitalize on his energy and fun-loving antics, but artistically, I felt the RZA and Inspectah Deck consistently out-performed him in this album.

The single greatest track on this album, as far as I’m concerned, is “C.R.E.A.M.”. Lyrically, it is a nostalgic tribute to the harsh realities that Raekwon and Deck are trying so desperately to escape from. The RZA, as expected, somehow managed to pick out the best 6 or so seconds from “As Long As I’ve Got You” by The Charmels to create a melancholic loop for Rae and Deck to reminisce over. However, what really sets this song apart, is the weary and frustrated familiarity with which both of them describe their respective situations. Deck’s tone, for example, belies his resignation as he informs us:

“As the world turns, I learned life is hell,

Living in the world,] no different from a cell,

Everyday I escape from jakes givin’ chase, sellin base,

Smokin bones in the staircase”

Another excellent track is “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” which features almost all the members of the Clan except the RZA. It’s one of those tracks which demands that every MC featuring on it perform to his maximum – and they all deliver. During the creation of this album, all 8 members of the Clan (Masta Killa was not officially confirmed until, co-incidentally, his verse in “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’), had to constantly battle each other to see who’s verse would get included in a song. Naturally, the competitive nature of this scheme meant that only the best verses got picked for the final product and nowhere is this as readily obvious as on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin”. “Tearz” features one of the RZA’s most authentic and heartfelt verses, showcasing pain so raw, yet so accessible that even if you never lived the street life, you could still appreciate the intensity of the lyrics and the anguish of the track. Ghostface then proceeds to deliver a follow-up verse of similar potency, telling the tale of a friend lost to AIDS.

There is a certain bravado to this album, a certain confidence that they have already created a lasting legacy, that comes across very strongly in this album. Right from the beginning we are questioned “Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?” before being warned later on that the “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ Ta Fuck Wit”. The reason is simple: anger them and you’ll have 9 lethally talented MCs coming at you from all sides and angles but yet co-ordinated by a gritty, soulful beat that will celebrate your demise while still mourning your loss.

Track Title Producer Length My Rating
Bring Da Ruckus RZA 4:11  4.56
Shame On A Nigga RZA 2:57  4.5
Clan In Da Front RZA 4:33  5
Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber RZA 6:06  4.59
Can It Be All So Simple RZA 6:52  4.56
Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard 4:47  4.90
Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit RZA and Method Man 3:36  4.83
C.R.E.A.M. RZA 4:12  5
Method Man RZA 5:50  4.88
Protect Ya Neck RZA 4:51 4.63
Tearz RZA 4:17 5
Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, Pt. 2 RZA 6:10 4.71

Other Information:

Sputnik Music
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