Through the years there have been many monumental release dates in hip-hop. Ten years ago, two of the biggest names in hip-hop, 50 Cent and Kanye West, released Curtis and Graduation, respectfully, on September 11, 2007. Social media and magazines like Rolling Stone (which on the cover of their September 2007 issue had a picture of the two artist face to face like heavyweight boxers getting ready to square up, with the caption “SHOWDOWN! 50 CENT VS KANYE WEST” underneath it) helped hype the “battle” which resulted in some pretty impressive first week sells numbers for both albums. Ultimately, Kanye would when the battle of numbers and had the better product, as I’m sure only G-Unit members can name more than two songs off of Curtis, while Graduation was littered with bangers that sound even better when you put them on today. But since only one of the two albums is classic material, we have to rule out September 11, 2007 as the supreme hip-hop release date.
One could also argue that July 25, 1989 was the greatest hip-hop release date when EPMD and the Beastie Boys released their sophomore albums Unfinished Business and Paul’s Boutique, respectfully. Or maybe February 13, 1996 when The Fugees released The Score and 2pac released All Eyez On Me. Or maybe September 29, 1998 when Outkast released Aquemini and Jay-Z, Vol.2 Hard Knock Life. There’s also Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP and The Roots’ Things Fall Apart on February 23, 1999. All worthy dates in that debate (although I probably would throw July 25 1989 out, since I’m not a huge fan of the Beastie’s or Paul’s Boutique (read my thoughts on that album here)), but in my opinion, November 9, 1993 is the greatest release date in hip-hop’s storied history, as the world would receive two of the greatest and most influential hip-hop albums of all-time: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Midnight Marauders. Today marks the 24th anniversary of these two monumental albums, so I decided to double your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
“People say different things about how it went down, but technically we were the ones who brought hip-hop back to the East Coast at the time. Us and Wu-Tang- not Nas and Biggie”. Theses are the words from Da Beatminerz Mr. Walt taken from Brian Coleman’s book Don’t Sweat The Technique, in reference to the resurgence of East Coast hip-hop, post The Chronic. I reviewed Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage about a month ago (read my thoughts on that album here), and I have to agree with Mr. Walt to a certain extent. Enta Da Stage was a definite classic, even if it didn’t necessarily kick in the door like Nas and Biggie’s debut albums would the following year. But the Wu-Tang Clan on the other hand…
The Wu-Tang Clan is literally a clan, as it was said to be comprised of over 300 actual crew members, but the group only consisted of 8:The Rza, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck aka The Rebel INS, Raekwon The Chef, Ghostface Killah, Old Dirty Bastard and The Gza aka The Genius (before you tell me there were nine members, the liner notes don’t include Masta Killa as an official member at this point; he wouldn’t get his membership until Wu-Tang Forever, so, (*in my Little Richard voice*) shut up!). The Rza (formerly known as Prince Rakeem) and The Genius both previously pursued solo rap careers, with minimal success (I’ve heard Gza’s first solo album, and it was actually pretty good…read my thought on it here) , so a few years later they found themselves regrouping (both literally and figuratively), and along with the other six, they formed the Wu-Tang Clan. The Staten Island based collective would shop their demos and eventually signed with Loud Records where they would release their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
The group’s name and the album’s theme are based on the early eighties Kung-Fu flick Shaolin Vs Wu Tang (the Clan would often refer to their Staten Island stomping ground as Shaolin) and would include several sound bites from the movie throughout the album. Rza would handle the production on 36 Chambers from beginning to end (with a few co-production credits going to a few of the other crew members). A few years after its release, 36 Chambers would earn the Clan a platinum plaque, but the critical acclaim came early, and it came in heaps.
Several of the members would go onto have successful solo careers after their celebrated debut, but throughout the years they’ve managed to make time and form like Voltron and release group projects, including their 7th group effort this past October, The Saga Continues.
It’s always good to come back home.
Bring Da Ruckus – After a sound bite from the old Shaolin vs Wu-Tang karate flick plays, The Rza comes in repeating the song title as the hook, before Ghostface Killah (the liner notes spell his name as “Ghost Face Killer”…tomato, tomahto) drops the first verse on 36 Chambers. His lyrical sword has definitely gotten sharper over the years, but he doesn’t sound terrible on this one. Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and The Genius each add solid verses (in that order), with The Genius walking away victorious in this battle. But Rza’s cinematic backdrop is the true star of this song: from the tribal like drums, to the dirty breaks (I love the dark break that comes in at the very end of the song), Rza’s production work is brilliant.
Shame On A Nigga – Rza lightens things up a bit from the last track, laying down a playfully bouncy instrumental that serves as the bullseye for Ol Dirty Bastard, Method Man and Raekwon to fire their verbal darts at. Even though Meth and Rae spit verses, this is essentially ODB’s song, as he gets the first and last verse and provides one of the most entertaining refrains in hip-hop history. This one still sounds dope today.
Clan In Da Front – Gza gets the first solo joint of the evening (and one of only two solo joints on 36 Chambers) and rips a nice Rza backdrop to perfection. Nuff Said.
Wu-Tang: 7Th Chamber – This song opens with a short skit that has Raekwon drilling Meth about his missing “Killer tape” (the back and forth between these two is hi-larious!) before Ghostface comes in telling them that their boy Shameek just got shot twice in the head. The Clan then collectively decides to go ride for their fallen solider, while U-God sounds like an idiot asking the most moronic questions (“Is he dead?”). This all bleeds (no pun intended) into the actual song that has Raekwon, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Rza, ODB and Gza spitting over Rza’s simple drums and slick piano loop. Gza completely shuts this one down on the final verse with a clever reference to the old Lucky Charms commercial. I guess U-God got left out of the song for asking those dumbass questions during the skit.
Can It Be All So Simple – This was the third single released from 36 Chambers. Rza hooks up a somber backdrop that pairs Rae with Ghost (a pairing that would stand strong throughout both of their solo careers) recalling the “good old days”. Classic.
Intermission – Method breaks down each clan member’s alias and its meaning to an interviewer, before Rae and Ghost jump into the conversation, sharing their colorful personalities with the journalist when he asks about Wu’s vision. And that completes the “Shaolin Sword Side” of 36 Chambers.
Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ – Now this may not have been released as a single, but their was definitely a video for this one, I’m sure of it. Rza hooks up a beautiful Kung-Fu flavored backdrop (with a co-production credit going to ODB) for U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, ODB, and special guest, Masta Killa to sharpen their skills over, with Meth being delegated hook duties. This one still sounds dope, and what a sick song title.
Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit – Rza, Method and Inspectah Deck join forces over Rza’s (with co-credit going to Meth) dark and dusty instrumental, as they continue to chop off heads with their Wu-Tang swords.
C.R.E.A.M. – This was the second single from 36 Chambers and is arguably the biggest hit from the album. Over a chilling and emotional Rza production, Raekwon and Deck pair up and discuss the harsh reality of the street life, while Method Man provides an infectious hook that is one of the most memorable acronyms in hip-hop history. Rae is solid, but Deck steals the show, as he gets vulnerable and “kicks the truth to the young black youth” in his well sculptured verse. (Side note: In Brian Coleman’s book Don’t Sweat The Technique, Inspectah Deck says the original version of this song was recorded over a different beat and he and Rae each had four verses). If you don’t love this song, you don’t love hip-hop.
Method Man – This one opens with Meth and Raekwon playing a friendly game of Torture, which is basically when two people try to out do each other by describing the most outlandish (and sometimes obscene) forms of torture and playfully threatening to perform said acts on their opponent. Yeah, it’s pretty juvenile, but it’s still hi-larious (this should have probably been its own track, but whatever). Then you hear the voice of Gza running down the list of all the Clan Members (and just like the liner notes, he doesn’t mention Masta Killa’s name, people!). This was actually released as the B-side to “Protect Ya Neck”, but would go on to become a way bigger hit than the A-side. When this song first came out back in the day I wasn’t a huge fan, but in time it grew on me. It’s not Rza’s best production work, but it’s solid. Considering this was recorded a few years prior to the rest of 36 Chambers, Meth sounds decent on the mic, but he would only get better as time when on (I recently heard him spittin’ on Sway In The Morning, and the boy is still sharp with them lyrical darts, even if he has to read them off of his Iphone).
Protect Ya Neck – This was Wu-Tang’s introduction to the world, as it was their first independently released single. Rza hooks up a high energy backdrop for all 8 members of Wu to get down on, even if U-God only gets a short four bars (poor U-God). With the exception of U-God, everybody shows up and puts in a solid verse, but Rza walks away with the crown on this one, just barely edging out Meth. This is how a posse song is supposed to sound.
Tearz – Rza and Ghost team up for this duet, as they share two different stories about the consequences that come with making bad decisions. I love the way Rza flips the Wendy Rene record giving it a blunted feel. It’s kind of a odd place to put the song in the album’s sequencing, but it’s still a sick record.
Wu Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II – Same lyrics as the original, but Rza replaces the simple drums and slick piano loop with a bonafide banger. I like this version a lot more than the original.
Conclusion – The album ends with the same interviewer from “Intermission” asking the Clan to describe their style, to which they respond with a few karate chops to his dome, courtesy of sound bites from a Kung-Fu movie.
Black Moon may have knocked on the door with Enta Da Stage, but Wu completely kicked it off the hinges with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), making way for Nas and Biggie to enter. 36 Chambers is the perfect hip-hop sampler of eight unique emcee styles mixed with karate soundbites and masterful dusty production. The Wu does take a break or two to get serious (and those breaks happen to be great songs), but they spends the majority of 36 Chambers sparring against each other, spittin’ lyrical Kung-Fu and sharping each others iron in the process. 36 Chambers is a flawless undisputed hip-hop classic from the Shaolin collective, from arguably the greatest era of hip-hop. Long live The Wu!