The Essential Wu-Tang Clan Part 3
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).