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