Article by Andrés Alvarado
“The Wu is coming through, the outcome is critical.” — GZA
The importance tied to the Wu-Tang Clan‘s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), cannot be overstated. At a time when hip-hop was shapeshifting from the signature street sounds of New York City to a cool suave flow of West Coast gangsta rap, there entered the Wu-Tang Clan. Nine cats from Staten Island on a mission to recoup what had always belonged to the East Coast. Naturally, the outcome was critical.
At the time, the idea of a rap group was not all that new; after all, before the Wu-Tang Clan stomped onto the scene, we had the likes of Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, and The Sugarhill Gang, among notorious others. Nonetheless, the notion of a rap entourage composed of 9 front-men had never been seen. It was unfathomable, it was unusual and so remarkably crazy, that it just might work. And work it did — handsomely. The boys of the Wu-Tang Clan formed like a musical Voltron and created a new sound that turned heads. It was rugged, it was grimy, it was baggy-jeans-and-Timberland-boots hardcore, it was new, it was a memorable lo-fi presentation card for Masta Killa, the RZA, the GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and the M-E-T-H-O-D Man.
The artistry and originality on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut LP is nothing short of mesmerizing. Wordsmith after wordsmith outdoing and dueling one another for track superiority. Several personalities spitting wicked bars and picking up fans along the way. “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthing ta F’ wit” spits RZA, on the track of the same name. Cocky words coming from a group making their first impressions, but history has proven the RZA right. Twenty five long years since their freshman effort dropped, ricochets of the Wu’s signature musicianship and inspiration can still be felt. The record has aged better than fine wine. At the time of release, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was hailed as an extraordinary record, today it is considered a straight masterpiece.
Coming in at over an hour of rhyme-spittin’ mastery, the Clan made their first impression with fire single “Protect Ya Neck.” A number rooted to a rap-battle lifeblood. It was quite easy to be sucked into what the Clan was handing down. It was a raw style recording that felt legitimate, felt rough, felt full of heart. “Protect Ya Neck” challenged the music industry to pay attention to the formula, and challenged listeners to pick their favorite member.
The Clan’s most commercial member, Method Man, would be the focus of the group’s next namesake offering. A rap throw-down that orbited around the many styles of Johnny Blaze — which included rhymes tied to the huffs and puffs of blunts, cartoons, edibles, and nursery tales. It was clever, addictive, and catapulted Method Man to be the de facto face of the Clan.
And so it goes, tight rap battles carry on throughout on classic gems like “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” “C.R.E.A.M.“, and “Can It All Be So Simple.” Moreover, from the martial arts flick snippets to Raekwon, Method Man, and Ghostface Killah discussing murder and losing tapes as topics of an even plane, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is full of gold and relatable tales of the early ’90s New York street undertones.
Hindsight is a funny thing. More often than not, we tend to find our initial reactions are quite off. However, when this album dropped, all of New York paid attention, then all of the hip-hop community, then the world. This record is one of those rare times that in hindsight we were mostly correct. Looking back, the only obvious failure was not deeming it an instant classic. The Wu-Tang Clan broke a mold with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
Subjectively, it’s impossible to determine which is the best hip-hop album of all time. One thing is for sure, if Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is not the best hip-hop album of all time, it might just be the most important one. It spawned the successful careers of several MCs, served as the mothership for various follow-up critically acclaimed solo records, boomeranged the hip-hop scene back to its hometown of New York City, and defeated the odds, by proving that if 9 rappers could check their egos at the door and work together, nothing is impossible.
“Right about now, I ain’t braggin’ or nothin’, but yo, the Wu, the Wu got somethin’ that I know that everybody wanna hear. ‘Cause I know I’ve been waitin’ to hear.” — Raekwon
The man knew. The Wu-Tang Clan was not only for the children. The Wu-Tang Clan was for everyone.