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The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 1 - A Guide By Mark 563
Anyone with even the slightest interest in Hip-Hop will be familiar with the Wu-Tang Clan. Their catalogue is deep but not all of it is indispensable. Certainly, their better material ranks up there as some of the best of the genre, but other releases can be quite forgettable. The crew is currently on their Rebirth tour with dates announced to include Australia, so in preparation for their local shows, we’re breaking down the essential Wu-Tang releases.
For the first installment, we’re taking it back to the essence and focusing on the early material.
Back in 1993, the Staten Island super-group exploded onto the Hip-Hop scene with the release of their certified classic debut group album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Prior to the LP, they dropped the 12” single, Protect Ya Neck, an underground smash featuring hot verses from no less than 8 fresh emcees.
The Protect Ya Neck single had initially been released in 1992 on an independent tip through Rza’s own Wu-Tang Records. This release had an orange and yellow centre label and different tracklist to the more familiar Loud Records release from 1993. Limited to a pressing of only 500 units, the original Wu-Tang Records pressing is a fairly sought after record and attracts a hefty price tag. The main difference between the 2 versions is the B-side cut, which on the Loud pressing was Method Man’s eponymously titled solo track, whereas on the earlier release you get After The Laughter Comes Tears, a rougher, slightly different version of the track Tearz. It was the underground success of the original Protect Ya Neck 12” that really got the Wu noticed and secured their group deal to Steve Rifkind’s Loud, which prompted the re-release of the single.
But even before that, members of the Wu had already experienced dealings within the recording industry.
It’s common knowledge that the Gza had previously had a record deal alongside the legendary Juice Crew at Fly Ty’s Cold Chillin’ Records. In 1991 the label released his debut album, under the stage-name The Genius, entitled Words From The Genius. The majority of the albums production was handled by Easy Mo Bee (who would later rise to fame for his work on Notorious BIG’s Ready To Die LP), but musically it sounded dated, even at the time. To the Gza’s credit his vocals don’t sound terrible on the album, but with such uninspired beats backing him, this makes the album only worth checking as a curiosity.
Before the deal turned sour, Cold Chillin’ released handful of 12” singles from the album. The instantly forgettable Who’s Your Rhymin’ Hero, Come Do Me, a horrible New Jack Swing type track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bel Biv Devoe album and finds the Genius dropping some sex-style lyrics that are a million miles away from the deep style he’s now known for, and Words From A Genius, one of the stronger cuts from the album, which gets the remix treatment at the hands the Rza and is well worth checking out.
The Genius Come Do Me
Capitalizing on the huge success of the Wu-Tang’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Cold Chillin’ re-released the Genius LP in 1994, albeit with the addition of Pass The Bone, a Prince Rakeem (Rza) produced track from ’91 that never made the original album. Not wanting to miss a dollar, the label also put the track out as a single, but without any added tracks, it’s only worth copping if you didn’t already grab the LP.
Prior to Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) dropping, the Rza, also had a brief solo career. Signed to Tommy Boy Records under the name Prince Rakeem, he released the 12” single, Ooh, I Love You, Rakeem. The record has 3 different tracks plus a couple of remixes, and all warrant a listen. Rakeem adopts a Loverman steez throughout the record that bares no resemblance to the Rzarector persona most Wu heads are more familiar with, but it works on a goofy tip. The title track flexes some sleazy horns as a posse of women provide a chanted chorus, while the Rza roll-calls all those special ladies that he loves. It’s is a personal favourite of mine and a track still gets regular burn, but I may be alone with that sentiment. Also worth noting is the cut, Sexcapades, which features a remix credited as ‘Wu-Tang Mix’.
Prince Rakeem Ooh, I Love You, Rakeem
Back in the day, before Myspace and Youtube, rappers had to actually record demo-tapes and shop them around to record labels before they released any material. Yeah, I know, judging by today’s scene, the whole process sounds archaic, but it was the standard process. As a result, there’s a plethora of rough, unfinished and original versions of tracks from most of your favourite established acts. A quick search online will find you links to various versions of the Wu-Tang Clan Demos. These include tracks from the original Wu demo-tape that was shopped around labels for a deal, as well as freestyles, outtakes and alternate versions of more recognizable songs. With almost all of the original members featuring throughout the various cuts, the sound quality tends to be pretty poor, but that’s to be expected.
Back before the Wu, the Rza, the Gza, and fellow cousin, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (then known as Ason Unique) were in a group known as All In Together Now. You may have seen the video floating around Youtube of the group performing at a talent show. If not, the live audio is included on the demo-tape, which features Ol’ Dirty ranting in his drunken style before laying down a beatbox for Rza to kick oral-sex based rhymes over.
All In Together Now Talent Show Freestyle
Bring Da Ruckus and After The Laughter are rough versions of the tracks that would eventually end up on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Both tracks are more relaxed than the final versions, but certainly have that gritty Wu-Tang feel that the album is known for.
Which Way Is Up and It’s Murdah are Rza solo joints that sound like they were recorded during the Ooh, I Love You, Rakeem session and are enjoyable, on that more lighthearted Prince Rakeem tip.
Method Man (known here as Shaquan) and U-God (Baby-U) Join the Rza on Your On. Meth is barely recognizable whereas U-God’s inimitable voice is instantly unmistakable, as are his robotic delivery and nursery rhyme lyrics. I Gets Down For My Crown sounds similar to Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance (recorded for the High School High soundtrack in 1996), with Meth, U-God and Rza joined by Inspectah Deck. Much like on the finished album proper, Meth also blesses a solo joint on the demo-tape, Ice Cream Man, which is much more of a nod to the charismatic style he’d go on to perfect.
Method Man Ice Cream Man
Ol’ Dirty Bastard pops up again on a number of tracks. The short freestyle, Take It Back To Brooklyn is an entertaining solo worth checking. Wu-Tang is a cracking track not dissimilar to Shame On A Nigga, featuring lyrics that Ol’ Dirty would eventually recycle on Funkmaster Flex’s Nuttin But Flavor single in ’95. He’s paired up with Gza on What Do You Say, where, again he spits verses that he would later reuse (this time for his hit single, Brooklyn Zoo).
Wu-Tang Clan (Ol’ Dirty Bastard) Wu-Tang
While none of this early material compares to the quality of the finished debut album, it’s all worth exploring. Some of it’s really good and some of it is really bad, but it’s out there for you to check.
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).
Pre-Wu-Tang Clan Gza, Rza and Ol’ Dirty Bastard on Rhythm & Soul Public Access TV March 1991