“Rappers claim that they changed the game. But ask them how. They wouldn’t be able to tell you because it’s so cliché. But the way WE changed the game, we signed to a record label as a group, with the option to sign solo deals with different labels. UNHEARD OF…. now it’s the norm. You got groups coming out saying ‘we wanna Wu-Tang deal’…”(Method Man, 2004)
Such legendary groups, such as NWA, Beastie Boys, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, all made their impact in hip hop differently. But never has there been a group that had such an impact in the culture spawned so many hit albums, group, solo, launched a clothing line, landed acting roles, directed films, scored soundtracks, wrote books, released their own video game, a swarm of affiliates, the list goes on. It all came from a symbol that was designed by producer Allah Mathematics.That symbol has become the most powerful and recognizable logo in hip hop, and has a worldwide cult-like following. Fans drew the logo on their school books, used it as graffiti in the streets, had it shaved in their hair, tattooed from their arm to their face. These fans come together on the internet, social networking, move as one, and chop off the head of a keyboard warrior who dares defy the dynasty.
November 9, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary of the album that started it all. Never mind Prince Rakeem’s ‘Ooh I Love You Rakeem’ or GZA’s ‘Words From the Genius’ album, even though they were great respectfully, never mind the All Together Now crew, which were the cousins RZA, GZA & ODB, 20 years ago on this day, two albums came out that shook the very foundation of hip hop and turned it on its axis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders and Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.
Track by track, Rhyme & Reason, this is my story of how I became a loyal fan.
1. BRING DA RUCKUS 4:10
As soon as the album starts, you feel like a kung fu star, well at least I did. Then suddenly you got that screwface look. You feel like kicking anything in sight. You feel like you can take on anybody. No matter where you were, you felt like you were in a music video with your desired weapon in your hands. That’s what this tune meant to me.
2. SHAME ON A NIGGA 2:57
Ol’ Dirty Bastard was my early favourite member of the clan as I guess it was most fans, simply because of his unorthodox style… never heard before. It would be the first time you heard that trademark voice effect of a gun going off or something on impact – BLAOW!!!!
3. CLAN IN DA FRONT 4:33
The beginning of this sounds like the scene RZA described in Wu-Tang Forever’s ‘Triumph’: “These C-Cypher punks couldn’t hold us, a thousand men rushing in, not one n!**@ was sober…” Since GZA was the first member with a solo album (pre-Wu), the clan stepped back, chanted WU! in the background and let the Genius expose wack MCs with human faeces in their draws.
4. WU-TANG: 7th CHAMBER 6:05
Unlike many fans, truth be told, I prefer this version to Part II, not taking anything away from it of course. The skit that comes before this track may or may not be intended to be funny. What I wanna know is, who was the idiot that asked Ghostface ‘Is he dead?’ and ‘Are we out?’ Ghost sounded like he wanted to slap him upside the head! Who was that guy? Answers on a postcard please!
5. CAN IT BE ALL SO SIMPLE 6:53
Little did we know that the pairing of Raekwon & Ghostface on this track would be the beginning of that PURPLE TAPE that was released in 1995 that changed the game again. Everyone started having a.k.a.’s outside of the Wu, the same album had a blessed remix which had RZA have a mess around with the original track, even Lauryn Hill took the track and turned it into a runaway success with ‘Ex-Factor’ on her critically acclaimed ‘Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ album. It’s not every artist that can take a Wu track, remake it and create another classic out of it. Take notes Drake, oh too late… as in the words of Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2, ‘He ruined a classic!!!’
I love this because it really introduces each member and breaks down their style individually. Raekwon reveals that they are here forever… and 20 years later look! Albums are still dropping, more projects in the works, the shows keep going. We also had the idea that GZA was the ‘leader’ of the clan. Maybe because he got the most experience on a solo tip at the time.
Before I continue I wanna make a small point; back then cassettes were labeled Side 1 or Side 2. I found it creative that Wu-Tang kept the concept with the sides of their tapes. After the intermission you turned over the tape in your system, you swung the Shaolin Sword, now we swing the….
6. DA MYSTERY OF CHESSBOXIN’ 4:48
The funny thing about this video is I saw the making of it on Yo! MTV Raps, but unless I missed a few episodes, I never saw the video on MTV. I saw the video on ‘The Box: Music Television You Control’ music channel. I even remember the number selection – it was #310. ‘Can It Be All…’ was #547. Know that I’m not lying – check your VHS tapes! This was the tune that officially made me a Wu-Tang fan. It was the tune that officially made Ol’ Dirty Bastard my favourite member, that didn’t last long though.. when Method Man and Mary J Blige dropped that Tical classic, it went from ODB to Meth. All the while Ghostface Killah was lurking in the shadows slowly emerging as the true (in my opinion) Wu-Tang star and it wasn’t until 2000 when he released the single ‘Apollo Kids’ that I truly realised that he is not only my favourite member of the Wu but my favourite artist of all time. Going back to this video, apart from ODB’s charisma, the picture that has inscribed in every Wu fan’s mind is Masta Killa’s début, wielding machetes around a chess person as he rhymes his most memorable verse. NEVER SEEN BEFORE. I respect the chess person that remained still while Masta Killa even did that!
7. WU-TANG CLAN AIN’T NUTHING TA F* WIT 3:36
If you have a Facebook account, log into it. Click on any Wu-Tang link. Look at the comments. 9 times out of 10 guaranteed a fan will utter those words – Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F* Wit!!! You see fans live by that code and believe in it and adapt it to their lives. Every once in a while an internet troll or a hater will crop up and say something disrespectful about the Wu… that person is asking to be blocked, reported and thrown off the site. That’s how the fans roll. You can have fans of Noreaga, Busta Rhymes, DMX, Nas etc… but they are not a movement like the Wu fans are. That single line has translated into T-shirt sales, and it SOLD. The best thing about this track is its origins as narrated by The RZA. Knowing that it was originally called ‘Who The F**k Are You’, fans immediately searched high and low for that rarity.
8. C.R.E.A.M. 4:12
Arguably the most popular track of Wu-Tang’s career, and I think a lot of people related because of Raekwon and Inspectah Deck’s storytelling, like in earlier tracks in the album before this, it was pretty much straight spitting lyrics. this track shown that Wu-Tang can also give realistic and positive messages in their music. One thing I loved about the video was the symbol at the bottom right of the screen as if you were watching Wu-Tang TV. I wished they kept that going in every single video they did. They did it one other time with ‘Uzi (Pinky Ring)’. This track is so classic that rappers, singers, actors and so on and so forth still quote the acronym, sample it in some way or another, use interpolations. RZA once said that you could take this track and make an album out of it. He’s right. Considering what people have done over 20 years, a compilation album could be made, and it would sell by the bucketload.
9. METHOD MAN 5:50
The torture skit before this was mad!!! The way Method Man & Raekwon described the tortures and trying to out do each other, they did with so much feeling you could actually imagine it through your ear drums. I don’t even know why this skit even happened… I think the clan had various random conversations and RZA would have his DAT player recording live. It wasn’t like RZA told Meth & Rae to go in the studio and start talking random. I think it was something that got caught in the moment and I think that’s what gave it that realism and authenticity. A lot of women fell in love/lust with this man because of his track with Mary J Blige. It sure as hell wasn’t this track. Don’t get me wrong, the real female Method Man fans ARE out there because they are on my fb friends list… but ask an average woman who loves Method Man, to recite this track right here start to finish. Smart money says they wouldn’t be able to do it.
10: PROTECT YA NECK 4:52
True story: I have gone on record and said that Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album was the very first album I ever purchased. So that might leave some of you wondering – how did I get son involved with 36 Chambers? The answer is simple. Ever since I heard ‘Chessboxing’, I just had to have a copy of this album. I began doing paper round at age 13, I was earning £11 a week. My fam instilled the ‘saving money in the bank’ in me, so half the money went in the bank, the other half went on arcade games, blank cassette tapes and kebab & chips. Eventually I saved enough to buy a Sony Walkman. What happened was I had a friend at school that loved the Wu-Tang like I did. We used to recite the lyrics in class and get in trouble many times for it! He did me a copy but the tracks were in the wrong order. The first track I heard was this, while ‘Method Man’ sounded like the last track on the tape based on how it ended. I didn’t even realise that these were the guys who performed this (Protect Ya Neck) as I heard it on the radio a year earlier.
11. TEARZ 4:17
“How do I say goodbye, it’s always the good ones that have to die…” (THE RZA)
Even though the two subject matters described in the song happen in reality too often, that one line by the RZA didn’t relate to me until 2008 when my Grandma returned to the essence. See no one can tell me that Wu have fell off, when their favourite current rapper cannot put out a positive record about AIDS like the clan did. Ghostface Killah’s storytelling started right here, and escalated into another acronym track that the clan are known for making creatively: America Is Dying Slowly. Wu fans started hunting down the original soul samples and storing them in their archives. Sampling was happening way before Wu but I don’t think they were appreciated enough until Wu started doing it.
12. WU-TANG: 7th CHAMBER – PART II 5:08
“I be that insane n!**@ from the psycho ward I’m on the trigger, plus I got the Wu-Tang Sword so how you figure…” (Method Man)
When I heard that line and in the early years, I lived through Method Man warrioristically. I really felt that I had an imaginary Wu-Tang sword and would use it to cut through my life’s goals and cut out all the negativity that stands in the way. I have always said that any track that has the Wu chant in it is instantly a classic, whether it’s WU, or WU-TANG! I think this is partly the reason Wu fans prefer this version. I could be wrong though.
13: METHOD MAN (REMIX) SKUNK MIX 3:12
This is a true story – first time I heard this, I wasn’t so keen on it. Now hear me out before you stone me for blasphemy. When I was young, I would listen to the radio or hear tapes that my cousin recorded from the radio. I didn’t know a lot of rappers names, but along came this one track that I found myself rewinding again and again. It would be this track B.U.T. it was a rare remix version – that’s the version I heard first not knowing it was a remix of a remix!
The conclusion is very simple: You just heard a classic. The jewel behind the Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang kung fu film sample was saying ‘don’t bite our sh!t’… eventually that was unavoidable. A lot of artists and producers that came out since then were influenced by the Wu-Tang in some way or another. Many have paid homage, from Cilvaringz to Drake to even De La Soul who are legends in their own right. For me personally, I am known by the name ‘Wu-Tang’ in the barbershop because I rock Wu-Wear and I used to put a Wu tape in their system and blast away. Then in the social media era, I have connected with the most beautiful fans around the world. So I can’t understand why some people use it just to create drama and be uncivilised. Some fans on my page have even met the clan and chilled with them, took photos the lot, what I’ve achieved I’m most proud of, even though it feels like nothing in comparison, GZA took my camera at a show while performing and recorded the fans in the venue. I greeted Inspectah Deck and told him how much of a great show he put on and he told me that he appreciated that. I’ve become one of many Wu Fans that have held Method Man afloat during a stage dive. Even though that was physical connections, what happened on twitter had me the most star struck. One day I discovered that Ghostface Killah was following me on twitter. I thought it was a fake, then I realised it was the verified account. This is the man who I praise as my favourite MC of all time.
…and it all started with THAT SYMBOL. WU-TANG CLAN: SALUTE.
Michael Grant – CEO of RePPiN 4U