Monday, October 24, 2011

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 3 - A Guide By Mark 563

What's good people? here's the third installment of my Wu-Tang Clan Guide for - check the link, or read below.


Mark 563

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 3 - A Guide By Mark 563

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 3

Mark 563

Part 3 – First Round of Solos – Gravediggaz, Method Man & Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Following the unexpected success of the 1993, critically acclaimed Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) LP, Wu-Tang Clan’s leader, Rza, negotiated an unheard of contract with Loud Records, allowing the individual members of the clan to pursue solo careers with other record labels, whilst still under the umbrella of Rza’s own Razor Sharp Records. But before the other Clan members dropped any solo material, it was the Rza who would branch out and join quirky production legend, Prince Paul’s side group, the Gravediggaz.

A super group in itself, comprising of Prince Paul (formerly of Stetsasonic, and the production genius behind De La Soul’s first three albums), the Rza, Frukwan (also of Stetsasonic) and Too Poetic (a solo artist, previously known as Poetic), the group came together based around a mutual disdain for their perceived individual unfair treatment by the music industry. Both Rza and Poetic had previous been signed to Tommy Boy Records, with both releasing 12” singles before being dropped by the label before finalizing albums, while Prince Paul and Frukwan had also been signed to Tommy Boy in the group Stetsasonic. Paul had also had to deal with label issues at Def Jam, where his own imprint, Dewdooman Records suffered problems, seeing only one official release, the Mr. Boops 12” from Resident Alien, before being shut down.

They debuted in June 1994 with their first group single, Diary Of A Mad Man, released on Gee Street Records. The track, produced by Rza alongside Wu-Tang affiliate, RNS, is a haunting enactment of a courtroom scene which finds the four vocalists on trial for various murders. Notably, Poetic doesn’t have a verse on the cut, but Wu-associates Scientific Shabazz (better known as Shabazz The Disciple) and Killah Priest (both originally in the group Sunz Of Man) drop great verses alongside the Rza and Frukwan. On the flip you have the Prince Paul produced, Constant Elevation, a simple piano looped beat with smashing snares, over which the Gravediggaz fully realize their adopted Gravedigga personas – Too Poetic as The Grym Reaper, Frukwan as The Gatekeeper, The Rza as The Rzarector and Prince Paul as the Undertaker.

Gravediggaz Diary Of A Mad Man Video

In August 1994, the Gravediggaz released their first full-length album, 6 Feet Deep, on Gee Street Records. The album was originally planned to be named Niggamortis, but the title was considered too offensive (although the British release strangely kept the original name). It is a mix of horror movie referencing ultra violence, blood and guts gore, paranoia, schizophrenia, hallucination, sadism and suicide packaged perfectly with Prince Paul’s unique humour. Both Frukwan and Rza deliver on-point verses throughout, but the standout is Too Poetic, with his outlandish vocal style. Highlights include the low-fi, self-murder tale, 1-800-Suicide, and the industrial-rock/rap banger, Bang Your Head. The album is incredible, and is most certainly a valuable addition to any Hip Hop heads’ collection. If you can find it, it’s also well worth copping the UK pressing of the album, as it features one of their better tracks, the up-tempo Pass The Shovel, which was inexplicably absent from the US pressing.

Following the long player, the Gravediggaz put out a whole heap of singles with a wide selection of re-makes and remixes with varying degrees of quality. For the most part, it’s the European pressings that saw fit to couple the Gravediggaz with ambient / Trip-Hop acts such as Portishead and Tricky for re-workings of their cuts, and in most cases these are best avoided.

Gravediggaz Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide Video

The Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide single is definitely one of the better offerings if only for the fantastic, non-album cut, Freak The Sorceress. 1-800-Suicide dropped in a few formats with a number of remixes, but the version you want is the New Vocal Version from the Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight movie soundtrack, which uses the original instrumental, but with all new verses. Also worth investigating is the 12” version of Mommy, What’s A Gravedigga? which takes the album skit and turns it into a full track.

Gravediggaz 1-800-Suicide (Alternative Lyrics) Video

Gravediggaz Interview and live footage from the 6 Feet Deep album release party

Around the time the Gravediggaz released their album, Samuel L Jackson guest-starred in Brooklyn drug-running / chess movie, Fresh. The film’s soundtrack, put out by Loud Records, comprised mainly of classic Old School artists such as Spoonie G, Whodini, Cold Crush Brothers and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, but the opening three tracks were of great interest to Wu-Tang fans. The first cut, I Gotcha’ Back, is a dark cautionary tale by the Gza, here credited as The Genius, produced by the Rza. Track two finds Rza behind the boards again for the incredible, slow paced Heaven & Hell from Raekwon, featuring Ghostface Killah. The third cut, billed as a remix to Can It Be All So Simple?, is more a remake or continuation of the classic Wu-Tang album cut, again featuring Rae and Ghost, but credited as the Wu-Tang Clan. Both the Gza cut and Heaven & Hell were also released as separate 12”s and both got treated to music videos.

The Genius I Gotcha’ Back Video

Raekwon Heaven & Hell Featuring Ghostface Killah Video

The first proper Wu-Tang solo offering came courtesy of the youngest member of the Clan, Method Man. Following his show-stealing performances on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Meth’ inked a deal with Russell Simmons’ iconic Hip Hop label, Def Jam. In a joint promotion with label mate, Redman, Def Jam released the ‘Month Of The Man” double 12” single – a packaging of Redman’s Rockafella, the lead single to his second album Dare Iz A Darkside, and Meth’s Bring The Pain. Promoted off the tenuous fact that the two rappers simply both had the word ‘Man’ in their names, this was the first time Red’ and Meth’ had been grouped together (albeit not on a track together), but would prove to be a significant pairing for later in their careers.

A dark, up-tempo Rza produced beat, with Meth’ flipping his half rapped / half sung, dusted vocals, interpolating lyrics from Ninja Man’s Test The High Power, Bring The Pain was the classic Method Man his fan base had hoped for after hearing him on the Wu album. As well as being packaged with the Redman 12”, the record was also available on its own with grimy head-nodder, PLO Style on the flip, and a video featuring Meth’ and his crew cruising the night streets in a tagged up bus.

Method Man Bring The Pain Video

Meth’s much anticipated long-player, Tical, dropped in November 1994 and was an instant hit. Rza oversaw the production (with the exception of Sub Crazy and PLO Style, which were co-produced by Wu-Tang cohort, 4th Disciple, and Method Man respectively), offering a bleaker and more deranged soundscape, than we’d heard from him before. Throughout, the beats were stripped down to the barest of elements – raw drums, gritty bass lines, eerie keys and abrasive horn stabs, while the star of the show, Mr. Meth’, took centre stage and proved why he was the breakout star of the Wu debut. Method Man’s rhymes switch from authentically menacing, to charmingly witty within the blink of an eye, whilst riding the beats with an astounding ease and a flow that most emcees would kill for. Wu-Tang cameos are kept surprisingly short, with Inspectah Deck and Rza delivering rhymes on Mr. Sandman, and Raekwon challenging his host on Meth Vs Chef. Meth’ does, however bring through a few of his personal peoples – both Carlton Fisk and Streetlife feature on a couple of tracks each. While Fisk’s career would false-start due to getting locked up, Streetlife would go on to appear on a number of later Wu projects, but would be most notable for being Meth’s number-one weed-carrier.

Best listened to through walkman (iPod) speakers, Tical was most certainly recorded with no regard for radio play, and it’s all the more better for it. But that didn’t stop Def Jam from correctly plucking the chaotic Release Yo’ Delf as the second single. There aren’t many hardcore emcees that could get away with borrowing choruses from Gloria Gaynor, but if anyone can, it’s Meth’, who, appropriately rocks a straight jacket and sliver fanged-fronts in the music video. The European releases of the single came packaged with remixes at the hand of the Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, but neither are worth bothering with.

Method Man Release Yo’ Delf Video

The track that really broke Method Man into the mainstream wasn’t even originally included on the album. Legend has it that Russell Simmons convinced Meth’ to remix hardcore ghetto-love tale, album track, All I Need, by offering him a new car. Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs and the Rza both supplied fantastic re-workings of the track, adding Soul diva, Mary J. Blige to the mix to make the most of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell chorus. Backed with a classic music video that sees Meth’ running from the law while out shopping for Maxi-pads for his lady-friend, I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By won Meth’ and Mary a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1996, and was added as a bonus track to later pressings of the Tical album.

Method Man and Mary J. Blige I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By Uncut Video

Method Man interviewed by Fab 5 Freddy Pt.1 @ Yo MTV Raps

Method Man interviewed by Fab 5 Freddy Pt.2 @ Yo MTV Raps

Method Man interviewed by Fab 5 Freddy Pt.3 @ Yo MTV Raps

Method Man interviewed by Fab 5 Freddy Pt.4 @ Yo MTV Raps

Next up to bat on a solo tip was the Clan’s favourite drunken monk, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who released the fantastic Brooklyn Zoo single in the first week of January 1995 on Elektra Records. Brooklyn Zoo found Dirty firing off warning shots at any challenger over a beat by Wu-related producer, True Master, and flipping a section of his verse from Wu’s Protect Ya Neck for the songs chorus. Dirty’s performance was on a completely different level, proving himself to be an absolute unique, with insanely spat rhymes bouncing between calm and chaotic within words. The 12” came packaged with a handful of extra goodies including a bass-heavy, orchestral-string flexing reworking of the cut at the hands of Lord Digga (of Masta Ace Incorporated fame). Give It To Ya Raw was another joint that was exclusive to the single, and was presented in two different formats – the original Rza version, and the more polished SD50 remix, produced by Elektra’s in-house production team, Stimulated Dummies (Dante Ross, Engineer Gammz & Geeby Dajani). Both versions are great, but the SD50 Remix is the one you need.

For no apparent reason, there are actually two music videos for Brooklyn Zoo. There’s the clip you’ve all seen, with Ol’ Dirty bugging out in a Housing Projects corridor with his Wu-Tang Crew, and then there’s the little-seen, so-called original version which features Dirty acting out the role of Pimp Daddy, interspersed with shots from the other video.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard Brooklyn Zoo Video – Original Version

Ol’ Dirty Bastard Brooklyn Zoo Video

In March 1995, Ol’ Dirty Bastard dropped the superb Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version LP. The album presented ODB in all his eccentric, borderline-insane beauty, with its mix of hardcore beats and over-the-top, erratic vocals. Dirty would flex on some Lounge Jazz type singing vibe, slipping into drunken outbursts, whilst still managing to flip some straight-up rhymes, captivating the listener from start to finish. Rza was still positioned very much at the production helm, adding that gritty Wu flavor, aided along the way by True Master, 4th Disciple and Ol’ Dirty.

Again, fellow Clan’s men were never far away. Ghostface shines on Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane) while Gza and Dirty trade bars and finish one-another’s lines on Damage. Meth’ & Raekwon pass through to support on Raw Hide, and for posse cut, Snakes, Rza and Masta Killa are joined by Killer Priest (Sunz Of Man) and ODB’s right-hand-man, Buddah Monk. Besides his Wu comrades, Dirty also introduces us to his own gang, the Brooklyn Zu on Protect Ya Neck II The Zoo. Comprising of assorted friends and family members, the Brooklyn Zu include the likes of Buddah Monk, 12 O-Clock, Murdoch, Zoo Keeper and the delightfully titled Shorty Shit Stain.

If you only ever heard the vinyl version of Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, then do yourself a favour and check out the CD release, which comes packaged with two bonus cuts. Harlem World is entertaining enough, but the track you’ll go back to is Dirty Dancin’ featuring Method Man.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s second single is the real jewel in his crown. Released in May 1995, the stone-cold classic, Shimmy Shimmy Ya, become a Wu-anthem, driven by a killer piano loop and Dirty’s infectious sing-along vocals. The 12” release features an extended version of the cut and is backed with album track Baby C’mon. Worth investigating is the promo version of the record which offers up the Studio Ton remix. The remix has a classic West Coast flavor, utilizing squelchy bass and wailing synths and features Bay Area veteran E-40 and Compton’s Most Wanted’s MC Eiht.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard Shimmy Shimmy Ya Video

Another promotional 12” worth looking for is his Raw Hide record, which features the classic Meth’ and Rae’ aided joint, plus the non-LP jam, Don’t U Know Part II. If you’re looking for the remixes and exclusives that were originally found on the singles, and you can’t be bothered copping all the 12”s, there was a limited CD only release, ODBEP, that dropped in 1996, which does the job of packaging all those cuts together on one CD.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard on MTV – Collects welfare in a Limousine

Ol’ Dirty Bastard drunken freestyle @ Yo MTV Raps

Make sure you check out the Wu-Tang Clan show at your nearest venue – Wu-Tang Clan play Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Friday 5th August (tickets from Ticketek), Melbourne’s Festival Hall on Saturday 6th August (tickets from Ticketmaster) and Perth’s Metro City on Sunday 7th August (tickets from Moshtix).

Mark 563

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Soul Survivor...

It's been so long since I've sat down and drawn a portrait - family and work have been keeping me super busy - but, this weekend with my Wife and kids on holiday, I broke out the pencils and took advantage of the free time.

Some folks have suggested I should be drawing some less obvious artists, so I thought I'd take their advice and look at producers rather than rappers. As a Golden Era Hip Hop fan, it's probably no surprise that Pete Rock ranks up there, for me, as one of the finest ever beat-makers, so he was the first subject I thought I'd tackle.

Have a look below at the result and feel free to leave a comment.

All the best,

Mark 563

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 2 - A Guide By Mark 563

Here's the second installment of my Essential Guide to Wu-Tang Clan for - check the link, or read on.


Mark 563

The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 2 - A Guide By Mark 563

Writing an introduction to Hip Hop super group, the Wu-Tang Clan, seems somewhat absurd. After all, the Wu-Tang is an empire that has permeated all aspects of the entertainment industry and beyond. From music and television, to film and literature, to fashion and video games, the Staten Island posse have more than stamped their mark, they even had their own nail salon. The Wu ‘W’ has become a pop-culture icon, as recognizable as McDonalds’ Golden Arches, yet there are still some heads out there that aren’t fully up on the good shit put out by the Shaolin clan. So, here’s part 2 of my essential guide to the Wu-Tang Clan, this time focusing on their groundbreaking debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

After embarking on solo careers with limited success (as discussed in Part 1), cousins Rza and Gza split ways with their record labels (Tommy Boy and Cold Chillin’ respectively) and focused efforts on a group project, enlisting the talents of their homeboys and family.

Rza’s Stapleton Projects basement served as Wu-HQ as the Clan assembled to put together their first record. The result was an independently released 12” posse cut featuring no less than 8 emcees on one mammoth, hardcore track. Protect Ya Neck, initially pressed in a vinyl run of 500 records, perfectly presented the individual Wu-Tang members, as each took a verse to introduce themselves. Originally released in 1992 with the Rza / Ghostface duet After The Laughter Comes Tears (an early version of album track Tearz) on the B-Side, Protect Ya Neck was re-packaged and rereleased in 1993 on Loud records, this time with Method Man’s eponymously titled solo track on the flip. Both tracks become underground smashes building anticipation for the debut full length.

In November 1993 Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) dropped and it changed the game. Released to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim, the album is an incredible blend of Kung-Fu movie dialogue, classic Soul breaks, tales of life in Staten Island’s toughest housing projects and braggadocios freestyles.

With Rza at the production helm, the overall sound of the album epitomizes hardcore, with gritty, unpolished samples that were in stark contrast to the saccharine sweet sound of the West Coast G-Funk that had been dominating Rap radio at the time. The Wu introduced a unique lexicon of slang that further enhanced their Shaolin mystique, inviting the listener into their Staten Island world of ancient martial arts, White Owl blunts, pissy stairwells, drug deals, drive-bys in Jeeps and Land Cruisers and, surprisingly, chess.

As a package, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is sequenced perfectly, but each track also stands alone, offering the audience something different, with each Wu member establishing their own individual style. Instant breakout stars, Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard master flows like no other - Meth’ comfortably delivering both smoked out verses (Shame On A Nigga and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit) and charismatic sing-song hooks (C.R.E.A.M.), while Ol’ Dirty’s drunken style positions him as one of Hip Hop’s truly original, eccentric characters (Shame On A Nigga, Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’). Raekwon and Ghostface cement their future partnership with swagger filled cuts like Can It Be All So Simple, while lyrical technicians, Inspectah Deck and Gza posited themselves as fan favourites with their no-nonsense verses – Deck delivering complex rhyme schemes (C.R.E.A.M., Bring Da Ruckus, Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber) and Gza dropping relaxed, precise lyrical wisdom (Protect Ya Neck and his solo cut, Clan In Da Front). Rza proves he’s equally at home on the microphone as he is behind the boards while U-God, in jail for the majority of the albums’ recording, serves up a meager verse and a half in his distinctive baritone voice, but as one of the lesser talents of the Wu, his sparsity is welcomed. The often forgotten ninth member of the Clan, Masta Killa only delivers one verse (closing Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’), and, as legend has it, he barely made the cut, edging out Wu affiliate, Killah Priest (Sunz Of Man) for the position after the two competed for the spot.

A few singles were released from the LP, the aforementioned Protect Ya Neck obviously being the first. Ghetto-life tale, C.R.E.A.M. was the second single released in January 1994, with Raekwon and Inspectah Deck laying down classic verses and Method Man pledging his allegiance to the pursuit of money (Cash rules everything around me. CREAM. Get the money. Dollar dollar bill, y’all) on the chorus. The track was backed with Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’, which finds the majority of the Clan representing, dropping ferocious battle raps. The 3rd single, Can It Be All So Simple, dropped a month later, and is a more soulful, reflective joint, with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah reminiscing on their hardships coming-up and expressing their aspirations for a lavish lifestyle. On the B-side, we’re treated to the all out, call to arms, Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit, a motto by which the Clan most certainly lived, courtesy of Rza, Deck and Meth’.

If you already have the album, the only advantage to copping the C.R.E.A.M. and Can It Be All So Simple singles would be for the instrumentals, and (in the case of the vinyl) slightly louder pressings. The Loud pressing of Protect Ya Neck offers a couple of versions of both Protect Ya Neck, most notably the Bloody Version (which features the swearing, unlike the album version), and Method Man, which delivers Smoked Out and Home Grown mixes of the track. The Method Man track also got dropped as a limited run Promo only 12”, on which you’ll find the Skunk Mix, which was not on the original pressing of the album (but was included on later pressings as a bonus track). Another Promo single worth investigating is the promotional only Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit 12” single, which has album track, Shame On A Nigga on the flip, supplied in 2 formats; the regular album version, and the hilariously re-recorded, must-have Radio Edit, Shame On A Nuh. Both Promo 12”s are nice, but can often be relatively pricey.

Loud records obviously offered the Wu a decent budget, as there were plenty of music videos recorded from this era. Protect Ya Neck, presumably filmed before the record deal was inked, is a low budget camcorder affair, complete with timestamp. Enjoyable for what it is, no new ground is really broken here, with each emcee menacingly rhyming to the camera in front of their assembled homeboys.

Wu-Tang Clan Protect Ya Neck Video

Method Man unnecessarily got 2 videos. The original version, with Blunt-toting Meth’ performing on a rooftop, and the official video where the Clan inhabit a derelict building as an energized Method Man proves why he was deserving of a solo cut.

Wu-Tang Clan Method Man Original Version

Wu-Tang Clan Method Man

The C.R.E.A.M. video fully captures the essence of the vocals and served as the benchmark for grimy New York Hip Hop videos for the next few years. Shot on a freezing cold night in a Staten Island Housing Project, Method Man croons the chorus whilst warming himself over a burning garbage bin while Rae’ and Deck deliver their verses to the camera.

Wu-Tang Clan CREAM Video

The video for Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ takes a literal route, with the clansmen performing their battle raps during a game of human chess. During the filming of this video, Fab Five Freddy memorably interviewed the Clan for Yo! MTV Raps, introducing the audience to a fresh-faced, pre-celebrity Wu-Tang, complete with full-faced stocking masks.

Wu-Tang Clan Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’

The signature stylings of iconic Hip Hop music video director, Hype Williams, were called upon for the next 2 videos. The Can It be All So Simple clip found Ghost’ and Rae’ hanging out the front of their local grocery store, retelling their rags to riches tale while their crew lounged on the bonnets of their assembled vehicles, and features an unexpected cameo from Comptons Most Wanted’s MC Eiht.

Wu-Tang Clan Can It Be All So Simple Video

Hype’s other offering is a splicing together of 2 Wu-Tang tracks into one super video. Opening with Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’Wit, the video features a mash up of footage from the previous Wu videos mixed in with new footage of the entire Wu, plus what looks like an army of affiliates, franticly rapping on a bull-dozed housing plot, while firebombs explode and light up the sky. The second half of the video alludes to the release of a forthcoming Ol’ Dirty Bastard solo LP, before cutting to Ol’ Dirty’s performance of Shame On A Nigga.

Wu-Tang Clan Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit / Shame On A Nigga

It is not over the top to suggest that Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is a masterpiece. Held in tremendously high regard, the album is often touted as being one of the greatest of the genre and is essential in any music fans collection, but of course you already know that.

Make sure you check out the Wu-Tang Clan show at your nearest venue – Wu-Tang Clan play Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Friday 5th August (tickets from Ticketek), Melbourne’s Festival Hall on Saturday 6th August (tickets from Ticketmaster) and Perth’s Metro City on Sunday 7th August (tickets from Moshtix).

Wu-Tang Clan on the set of Mystery Of Chessboxin’ Video Pt.1 @ Yo MTV Raps 1994

Wu-Tang Clan on the set of Mystery Of Chessboxin’ Video Pt.2 @ Yo MTV Raps 1994

Wu-Tang Clan on the set of Mystery Of Chessboxin’ Video Pt.3 @ Yo MTV Raps 1994

Wu-Tang Clan on the set of Mystery Of Chessboxin’ Video Pt.4 @ Yo MTV Raps 1994