The Wu-Tang Clan has had many projects over the year, and amongst the nine of them, and their many disciples, they have released much very good material. But very few hip-hop fans would doubt that there debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), is what made them famous and is still their best material to this date. It was considered an instant classic when it was released, and paradoxically, 12 years later, still sounds fresh and cutting edge.
The Wu-Tang is full of many paradoxes. They are doubtless hardcore, yet they make poignant, emotional music. They are champions of the rap underground, due to their no-nonsense beats and rhymes, yet few rap groups can be as exciting with their hooks and sing-along choruses. The Wu-Tang world is full of convoluted esoterica, but also fills their song with pop culture references for everyone. One of the largest paradoxes about the Wu-Tang is they don't seem paradoxical, and I just took a statement like "Wu-Tang Clan chopping necks...it ain't safe no more...PEACE" for years until someone pointed out to me what an odd statement that was.
Another paradox of the Wu-Tang Clan, and perhaps the greatest, is that it has such an easy formula, yet it can't be duplicated. The Wu-Tang Clan consists of one stellar producer (The RZA), three traditional MC-style rappers (The GZA, U-God and Inspecta Deck), two hardcore (but not gangsta) rappers) Ghost Faced Killah and The Chef Raekwon, and two rappers great for their comedic and hook singing value (Method Man and the late Ol Dirty Bastard). With these simple ingredients, they manage to come up with the perfect recipe for a classic, hardcore, yet accesible rap album:
- Bring Da Ruckus - the intro, which sounds very hard
- Shame on a N*gga - here, they shift gears, musically and lyrically, with a short, bubbly song showcasing the comedic style of the Ol Dirty Bastard
- Clan in Da Front - one of two solo tracks in the album, showcasing the GZA's classic battle rap style
- Wu-Tang:7th Chamber - the first posse cut, much less obviously exciting than the later Protect Ya Neck, but still showcasing the lyrical skill of the Clan
- Can it be all so Simple - And just as you thought you were getting the formula, Raekwon and Ghost switch gears from the boasting to tell an emotional autobiographical story, all backed up with a classic soul sample that is at one time obvious and genius.
- Da Mystery of Chessboxin - The Wu-Tang clan switches back to an intricate lyrical display
- Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthing ta f' with - And then they do it some more, and add a great hook
- C.R.E.A.M - Once again, the Wu-Tang, headlined by Raekwon, go back into meditative mode, with music to match
- Method Man - And just when things were getting too serious, the Method Man returns for the song's second solo, where he makes nursery rhymes and simple singalong choruses hardcore
- Protect Ya Neck - One of the hypest posse cuts of all time. Very few rap groups could handle 8 MCs all recording at once, without a chorus or hook to liven things up. Here, they liven themselves up.
- TEARZ - The RZA and Ghost return for a serious song, coupled with another classical soul sample.
- Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber - Part II - A reprise of the earlier song, with the same vocal track but different music. This in itself is a fairly innovative move, but it goes through without a question.
So, this album is 12 years old, (I personally have been listening to it for 9), and it ended up spawning an entire cottage industry, as well as reinvigorating East Coast hip-hop, all based on what should be a fairly simple formula: keeping hardcore beats and rhymes, mixed with occasional soul, and occasional humor, and not forgetting the hooks where they are needed. So why haven't we heard another rap album like this? What is, indeed, the Wu-Tang Clan's secret? Perhaps the "never teach the Wu-Tang" with which the album ends is not just a command, but simple a fact of life.