By 1995, the Wu-Tang Clan was on top of the hip-hop world. After releasing their classic debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993, the crew members begin signing solo deals and releasing solo projects. First up would be Rza with the Gravediggaz debut project, 6 Feet Deep, followed by Method Man’s Tical, both released in ’94. Next up to bat would be the crew jester, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who would sign with Elektra and release his debut album Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.
ODB would keep Rza at the helm to produce most of Return, with a few assists from some Wu-Affiliates. The album would become a commercial success (even though it took almost 25 years for it to be certified platinum) and received mostly positive reviews from the critics. The Source would include it on their 1998 list of 100 Best Rap Albums and it would also receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album in 1996. The artwork of ODB’s food stamp ID card is probably the funniest and most unique album cover in hip-hop history.
On November 13 2004, just two days before his 36th birthday, ODB collapsed at Rza’s recording studio in New York and was later pronounced dead. The official cause of death was an accidental drug overdose caused by a mixture of cocaine and prescription drugs.
This is the third rapper in my last 4 posts that died before the age of 40. Just a reminder how short life is, and that time is truly, illmatic.
ODB Mr. Russell Jones kicks off Return by introducing himself ODB to the show, the album and the listener. He also gives us a taste of his drunken singing and other antics.
Shimmy Shimmy Ya – This was the second single from Return. Rza lays down a simple piano loop and a loopy bass line that ODB uses to spit the same loony verse, twice. Not one of my favorite songs on the album, but it’s still decent.
Baby C’mon – Here’s another one I’ve never been crazy about, but it sounds better today than it did 25 years ago. Rza’s bangin’ bass line goes hard.
Brooklyn Zoo – This was the lead single from Return. ODB and True Master hook up a stuttering triumphant piano loop and turn it into a certified banger that our host uses to spew, arguably, his strongest bars on the album. This classic record will always be my favorite Ol’ Dirty Bastard song.
Hippa To Da Hoppa – See comments from “Baby C’mon”, minus the bangin’ bass line.
Raw Hide – ODB mixes a little bit of coo-coo with bat shit crazy on this one: “I wanna see blood, whether it’s period blood or bustin’ your fuckin’ face, some blood…Imagine gettin’ shot up with Ol’ Dirty insulin, you bound to catch AIDS or something…not sayin’ I got it, but if I got it, then you got it…what?!!!”. Our host also invites two of his Wu-Tang bredrin, Raekwon and Method Man, to join him, as they rock lovely over Rza’s ruggedly dark backdrop. Meth steals the show and shuts shit down with a slick closing verse delivered in his signature mesmerizing flow. This is an underrated Wu banger.
Damage – The Genius shows a more playful side, joining ODB on this duet, as the two pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato over one long verse. Rza and The 4th Disciple are credited for the light-hearted instrumental that works well behind the ODB and Gza’s antics.
Don’t U Know – The song starts with a skit that has two females discussing ODB’s appearance. One of the ladies is repulsed by the “dirty muthafucka”, while the other one is obsessed by his “disposition” (The whole exchange cracks me up every time I listen to it). After that, Ol’ Dirty and Killah Priest get nasty, as they holla at the objects of their erections in search of some snatch over Rza’s grimy canvas. ODB caps off the horny festivities with a hi-larious spoken word piece about getting a blow job from his teacher. This one is wildly entertaining.
The Stomp – With an assist from Rza, ODB hooks up a bangin’ instrumental and wiles out all over it: “Brothers always playin’ with the microphone, when it blows up in your face *BOOM* you leave it alone, You couldn’t touch it, this style is too much, it’s the rhymer, I don’t give a crippled crab clutch, about any nigga or niggarette, get burnt to the brimecell like a cigarette”. Not a great song, but it’s a solid album cut.
Goin’ Down – The intro is pretty hi-larious, but everything else about this song is mediocre.
Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) – Ethan Ryman and ODB concoct a smooth r&b groove that our host uses to give us a taste of his singing chops and pays homage to some of the soul legends that came before him. This is dope in its own zany way.
Snakes – Killah Priest, Rza, Masta Killa (I always confuse Killah Priest and Masta Killa with each other) and Buddah Monk join ODB as they each spit verses about shady dudes who sliver like snakes in these streets. ODB starts his verse on topic, but gets side-tracked midway through his verse, and I have no idea what the hell Buddah Monk is talking about on the song’s final verse. But the true star of this one is Rza’s gritty soulful production, punctuated by a pulsating bass line.
Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane) – ODB recycles the verse he and Gza shared on “Damage” but spits it by himself this time. Ghostface Killah drops by and tacks on a decent second verse, followed by a quick medley of snippets from about half the songs on Return up to this point. Then Rza brings back the dull instrumental for our host to ramble over for a few more minutes. The song is followed by an interlude that catches an extremely intoxicated OBD at a live show comparing hip-hop to a “bitch” who gets caught cheating.
Proteck Ya Neck II The Zoo – Rza lays down a dark unsettling frantic-paced backdrop for our host, who invites Brooklyn Zu (Buddha Monk, Zu Keeper, Murdoc, 12′ O’Clock, Shorty Shitstain) and Sunz Of Man (Prodigal Sunn, Killah Priest, 60 Second Assassin) to join him on this high energy cipher joint. This record doesn’t come close to touching the dopeness of the classic part one, but its dope in its own right.
Cuttin’ Headz – Rza and ODB dust off an old demo they made when Wu-Tang was shopping for a group deal, which uses the same drunken Thelonious Monk piano loop that Rza would later use on Enter The Wu-Tang’s “Clan In Da Front”. Rza doesn’t sound as aggressive as he would later become and ODB sounds way more tamed then he was on Enter The Wu-Tang and the rest of this album, but they still display an undeniable chemistry and sound dope bouncing rhymes off of each other. The poor sound quality of this record actually gives it a dope grimy feel, which is what made Rza’s production so appealing in the nineties. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Return.
The cd version of Return To The 36 Chambers features the following two bonus tracks:
Dirty Dancin’ – Rza hooks up a dark banger for ODB to clown and spaz out on, while Method Man returns to lace the track with “Teflon lyrics that you can’t get through”. If you’re going to add bonus songs to your album, make sure they’re this entertaining, please.
Harlem World – Somebody going by the alias of Big Dore, hooks us a dope mid-tempo groove with an ill bass line for Return’s finale. ODB is not a great lyricist, but the dude finds his pocket and wrecks the shit out of this banger with his drunken-style: “Is it the pork on your fork, or the swine on our mind, make you rap against a brother with a weak ass rhyme? Swine on your mind, pork on your fork, make you imitate a brother in the state of New York, chain on your BRAIN, that drove you InSANE, when you tried to CLAIM, for the talent and the FAME, nothin’ to GAIN, yet and still you CAME, suffer the PAIN, as I demolish your NAME, not like Betty Crocker bakin’ cake in the ov, sayin’ this is dedicated to the one I love”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Return and a great way to end the album.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but an album’s cover can sometimes give you a good indication on what to expect from that album. Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version does just that, as ODB takes the listener on a bizarre ride through his twisted, tormented and heavily intoxicated mind, with Rza and friends batch of boom-bap beats serving as the rollercoaster. Every song on Return doesn’t work, but most of the production bangs and ODB’s outrageously animated “half-rapped, half-sung” style will keep you entertained.