Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) Music Album Reviews

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) Music Album Reviews
Today on Pitchfork, we are celebrating the messy, game-changing, era-defining genius of the Wu-Tang Clan with five new reviews: two albums, two solo projects, and a film score.

On August 11, 1973, at a back-to-school party in the Bronx, a local DJ named Kool Herc used two copies of a James Brown LP to create a blockbuster dance number from the breakbeat of “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” that shook the party to its core. Just over a week later, Enter the Dragon—the story of martial artists Lee (played by an ascendent Bruce Lee), Roper (John Saxon), and Williams (Jim Kelly) infiltrating a fighting tournament—hit movie theaters. The film capitalized on the emerging kung fu craze, but Lee, Saxon, and Kelly kicking ass together had a stronger impact: the sight of a Chinese, white, and Black actor coming together to fight a common enemy was a sign of racial unity that also happened to appeal to as many ticket buyers as possible.

These converging movements—hip-hop, kung fu, and the unabashed culture mixing—would come to define the life and life’s work of Robert Diggs, who turned 4 years old in 1973. Diggs spent much of his early years traveling across the United States, but when he first heard rap music at a block party, his life found a new purpose. By 11, he was cutting up in rap battles across the East Coast, and whenever he was in New York, crashing with his family in the Stapleton Houses projects on Staten Island, he’d kill time seeing kung fu films with his cousin Russell Jones at the scuzzy Times Square theaters. The duo quickly adopted a regular weekend habit: They’d go to the movies, leave, fight each other with the moves they learned, hop the train back home, fight some more, run into other MCs, fight them, and then get into rap battles with said MCs.

But it was Enter The Dragon in particular—and another movie by director Lau Kar-leung, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin—that changed Diggs’ life. “It was through these films that I was able to see and feel from a non-Western point of view,” he explained. He also took the implicit message of the multicultural trio to heart, as he later told Andscape: “[Lee, Saxon, & Kelly] were all working together against the oppressor who was poisoning the people. If you add in a few other elements, that’s our country, bro!” The dual philosophies of martial arts films and the Five-Percenter Muslim teachings of his native New York were what pushed Diggs, in 1984, to corral Jones and fellow cousin Gary Grice to form their own rap group Force of the Imperial Master, which was changed to the less distinct All In Together Now less than a year later. At the same time, Diggs formed another group, D.M.D. Posse, with friends he’d made in his Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island: Clifford Smith Jr., Lamont Hawkins, Jason Hunter, and Corey Woods. During a brief solo stint at Tommy Boy Records that involved a chintzy single titled “Ooh I Love You Rakeem,” Diggs relocated to Steubenville, Ohio to live with his mother for a brief period.

It didn’t take long before Diggs was swept up in petty crime, leading to an altercation where he was arrested for allegedly shooting someone in the leg. Had Diggs been convicted, the eight-year prison sentence he was staring down might’ve squashed his rap ambitions before they ever truly began. With a second chance in hand, he was ready to turn his and his friends’ lives around for the better. While in Ohio, Diggs became friendly with producer Selwyn Bougard, later known as 4th Disciple. Before long, Bougard and Diggs were talking music and began recording demos in Bougard’s grandmother’s basement with a visiting Jones and Dennis Coles, a friend and roommate of Diggs’s who had bonded over Five Percent Nations teachings and comic books together. Dingy setup aside—the mic was hung from a wire hanger with a sock as a pop filter—the group’s chaotic yet productive energy further inflated Diggs’s sense of purpose.

Once they all got back to New York in 1991, Diggs was ready to unite his friends under all things hip-hop, kung fu, and nerdy: He became the RZA; Jones was christened Ol’ Dirty Bastard; Grice transformed into the GZA; Smith Jr. dubbed himself Method Man; Hawkins took on the name U-God; Hunter emerged as Inspectah Deck; Woods took the mantle of Raekwon The Chef; Coles was reborn as the Ghostface Killah. Jamel Irief, a friend and mentee of GZA’s, joined shortly after and dubbed himself Masta Killa. RZA’s Avengers had been assembled, a cabal of microphone warriors who each brought their own piece of New York to the table. With a group name nicked from one of RZA and ODB’s favorite movies—1983’s *Shaolin and Wu Tang—*Staten Island would become their Shaolin, the first to bear witness to the Wu-Tang Clan.

Wu-Tang entered a rap world far removed from the grimy atmosphere they were looking to conjure; jazz rap on the East Coast and G Funk on the West Coast took up most of the mainstream real estate, and it was hard for anything else to get a word in edgewise. But RZA’s approach was murky, rain-damaged, and hard as a roundhouse kick to the chest. He created many of the beats for Wu-Tang’s early music with a banged-up Ensoniq keyboard sampler he got from a trade with producer RNS of the Staten Island group the UMCs, a hand-me-down that reflected the DIY nature of his early music. RZA manifested a dark, warm, and playful energy for everyone to tap into, like they were standing around a bonfire in a junkyard.

The Wu-Tang Clan began recording at Firehouse Studios, a cheap spot in Brooklyn ill-equipped to handle one vocalist, nevermind nine. Their first session cost $300, which they largely paid for in quarters; the recording booth was a walk-in closet connected to a living room that had to house the entire collective as they jammed in, taking turns recording verses with the little time they had. After they were done attempting the first song, an unsatisfied RZA completely remade the beat and gathered the group for another session where he rearranged the verses. Inspectah Deck’s verse, which was originally second, started the song off with a straight shot: “I smoke on the mic like ‘Smokin’ Joe’ Frazier.” The new beat throbbed with bass plinks, faint horns, and a kettle whistle similar to the one from Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without a Pause.” But where Public Enemy’s song sounded like a bubbling pot about to boil over, “Protect Ya Neck” seethed and rumbled like liquified concrete.

Every member of the Wu—save for Masta Killa, who had yet to formally join—fought for space and came out with swords swinging. It was the first example of their group chemistry on full display: Inspectah Deck’s guillotine-sharp brashness scraping against Raekwon and Method Man’s swagger; U-God’s smooth psychotics folding into ODB’s controlled chaos; Ghostface’s howling precision playing against the stoic headbutts of RZA and GZA. “Protect Ya Neck” isn’t a song about anything more than proving your worth on the mic, eight passionate and talented rappers commiserating around years of joy, pain, and sacrifice filtered through a distorted sample of James Brown’s band the J.B.’s. Sampling soul records wasn’t unheard of at the time, but RZA had taken the early teachings of Kool Herc and DJ Premier and made them uglier and sadder, a novel reflection of the dusty metropolis they called home. It was a warning that New York rap was about to get a whole lot darker.

Wu-Tang released “Protect Ya Neck” as a single through their label Wu-Tang Records in December of ’92, where it quickly gathered steam in the underground. Every record sold came with the RZA’s phone number, in case any bigger fish wanted a piece. Eventually, he parlayed that hype into a group deal with Loud Records, which kicked off the creation of their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in earnest. This modest windfall didn’t improve conditions much. Even though several members were selling drugs at this point, recording at Firehouse was still all they could afford. On the days they couldn’t pay for chicken wings to feed the members and engineers, Ghostface, clad in a long and oversized coat, would make grocery store runs and steal as many canned goods as he could fit in his pockets.

The cramped space and shoddy equipment meant that RZA and company had to get creative with recording. Much of the dusty atmosphere associated with 36 Chambers came from the studio’s outdated technology, and transitions between songs were harsh—“C.R.E.A.M.” begins with the sound of a new tape being added to the reel in the studio, less a creative choice and more an unerasable leftover. RZA’s grand vision involved melding samples of the soul, funk, and jazz records he loved with samples from his beloved kung fu flicks, a synthesis that gave every beat some cinematic heft without losing the dank and dingy lo-fi charm. On “Bring Da Ruckus,” sampled pianos from the Dramatics’ “In The Rain” sit next to a makeshift snare RZA created by placing the mic in a paint bucket and slapping it repeatedly. The theme song from popular cartoon Underdog was slowed down and placed over drums from Joe Tex and Biz Markie cuts to create the rolling thunder of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit.”

Seven of the album’s 13 tracks have at least one sampled bit of film dialogue on them, usually at the very beginning or hovering in the background of a hook. Of those seven, dialogue from Shaolin and Wu Tang appears on six of them, sometimes by itself, sometimes doubled up with others like Five Deadly Venoms (“Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”) or Ten Tigers from Kwangtung (“Bring Da Ruckus”.) The first words uttered on opening track “Bring Da Ruckus” are from Shaolin, used to explain the function of RZA’s beats and the Wu’s raps, respectively: “Shaolin shadowboxing and the Wu-Tang sword style…Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?” Over the next four minutes, Ghost, Rae, Deck, and GZA use biography, current events and pop culture reference to eviscerate each other on the mic: styles are tricky like Richard Nixon, rugged as the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and ripped hardcore like porno-flick bitches. Each verse feels like the introduction of a new challenger, amplifying the filmic qualities brought about by the Shaolin samples.

And with nearly a dozen different voices populating these songs—many of whom had never recorded music beforehand—everyone’s personality and backstory is somehow given time to blossom. As the architect, RZA affords himself a bit of the spotlight, but his greatest achievement on 36 Chambers was trusting his instincts to fit these wily and charismatic rappers onto just the right weird and wonderful beats. ODB’s wail was made for the creaky mandolin sample on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” just as Method Man’s hazy proclamation that “cash rules everything around me” wouldn’t make sense outside of the dreamy piano keys on “C.R.E.A.M.” Each piece of the album, no matter how incongruous, feeds back into a whole like the shattered fragments of an ancient medallion.

Every member gets at least one standout moment, but most have several. U-God’s four-bar appearance at the opening of “Chessboxin’” would still be a concise powerhouse even if he didn’t record it days before being convicted for firearm and drug possession. On “Can It All Be So Simple,” the undeniable chemistry that would later power Ghostface and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… manifests as stories of innocence lost, as dreams of lamping on expensive yachts are interrupted by calls from friends in upstate prison over a ghostly Gladys Knight & The Pips sample. Method Man spits rhymes about peanut butter, Dick Van Dyke, Looney Tunes characters, and croons about White Owl blunts while chewing all available scenery across a vicious three-and-a-half minute verse on his own self-titled track. Each element of *36 Chambers—*its swirl of rhyme styles and reference points, its musical blemishes and unfixable production quirks—coalesces into a bulletproof melancholy whole through RZA’s and his newfound brothers’ sheer force of will. It proved that they were as strong apart as they were together.

36 Chambers, an insular and weird album by design, arrived not a moment too soon in a decade where insular and weird music found unexpected traction in the mainstream. It made an impact when it was released on November 9, 1993, peaking at No. 41 on the Billboard 200 and selling 30,000 units in its first week. But as the album sold and the singles spread, the Cult of Wu began to grow: the album went platinum by 1995, minting the collective and slashing a buck fifty across the face of anyone who would dare oppose New York hip-hop. It set the stage for the barrage of solo albums—Cuban Linx, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Method Man’s Tical, and Ghostface’s *Ironman—*that would further cement the Wu legacy by the end of the ‘90s. Before long, RZA was legitimately scoring movies, beginning with 1999’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai; a fighting video game was conceived and eventually abandoned, though it would live on as a novelty about the time they made a fighting video game about the Wu-Tang Clan; the group’s West-meets-East ethos would become crystallized in books and Chappelle’s Show skits.

36 Chambers directly paved the way for harder-edged New York rap from Nas, Mobb Deep, and The Notorious B.I.G,. and provided a hardcore hip-hop blueprint that’s been followed by rap purists and collectives for nearly three decades. It began the Tao of Wu, bonding nine Staten Island dreamers by philosophies of the mind and the scents of the fried food wafting past Brooklyn’s Palmetto Playground. But more than anything, it’s a testament to pop culture’s power to create and forge brotherhood. In 2004’s Wu-Tang Manual, just over 10 years after the album’s release, RZA broke down the significance of its title as only he could: “You have the thirty-six chambers, and there's nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Each member of Wu-Tang has four chambers of the heart. And what's nine times four?” 

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) Music Album Reviews Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 16, 2022 Rating: 5


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