I'm sure all of you readers (however many of you there actually are) have been waiting for this review. It was probably silly of me to review Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (which can be found here) before Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (which I will simply be referring to as "36 Chambers" from here on out), but hindsight is 20/20, and I'm about to review 36 Chambers now, so whatever.
Anyway, I'm sure the Wu-Tang Clan needs no introduction. It is a nine-rapper collective (now eight due to the death of Ol' Dirty Bastard [R.I.P.]) that consists of RZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, GZA, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, U-God, and ODB. Some (myself included) even consider Cappadonna to be a member, as, even if he isn't an "official" Wu-Tang member, he is omnipresent on basically every Wu project except for 36 Chambers, where he does not make a single appearance.
The Clan, along with rappers such as Nas and The Notorious B.I.G., helped revive the east coast rap scene in the mid 90s (how many times have I written that on this blog? Feels like 100) and is revered as the greatest group in hip-hop history. The Wu was founded by RZA, GZA, and Ol' Dirty Bastard (all three of whom are cousins), first forming the group "Force Of The Imperial Master" in the 1980s. However, the trio was unable to secure a record deal, and it wasn't until 1992 that the entire Wu-Tang Clan officially came together.
One year after assembling, the Clan released 36 Chambers, a remarkably organized (given the sheer number of rappers in the group) 12-track album produced entirely by RZA. RZA's beats on the project are well-known for their dusty, grimy nature and, of course, abundant amount of kung-fu samples. The funny thing is, RZA wasn't even intentionally trying to give his instrumentals a dusty sound; they just ended up sounding that way because he didn't have the greatest recording equipment in the world. Thank God for cheap recording equipment!
18 years and countless amounts of records later, the Wu-Tang Clan's influence is still alive-and-well in the rap game, and even though the group doesn't exactly pack the same kind of punch it once did (not even close, actually), any project that a Wu member drops is always highly anticipated, demonstrating the kind of respect that hip-hop fans have for the collective.
So, now that I've given you some background information that you probably already knew as it was, let's jump into that review.
1. Bring Da Ruckus
What a phenomenal way to open up the album. "Bring Da Ruckus" features RZA (who lays out the banging beat and raps a hook that should pump you up like nothing else in the world), Ghostface, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, and GZA, and each and every one of them absolutely holds their own. Also, GZA (who I've always felt is the best member of the Wu) displays here why he earned "Clan In Da Front" (which appears in two tracks) all to himself.
2. Shame On a Nigga
Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, and Method Man trade verses on this relatively short cut, and it is Method Man who steals the show, ripping his verse to pieces over the smooth, traditional instrumental by RZA. ODB gets two verses and the chorus, and while he's always been my least favorite member of the Clan (I was just never a fan of his voice), he sounds good on this. This isn't as good as "Bring Da Ruckus," but hey; how many songs are?
3. Clan In Da Front
The aforementioned GZA solo cut (well, RZA introduces the track over the course of the first minute-and-a-half or so, but he doesn't do any rapping over it, so, to me, this is a GZA solo). The Genius (GZA, for those of you who don't know) eats RZA's piano-driven beat for breakfast, brandishing a ridiculously smooth delivery to go along with his verbal darts. I mean, the dude is called "The Genius" for a reason.
4. Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber
As evidenced by the track's title, seven of the nine Wu members spit on this cut, those seven being Rae, Meth, Deck, Ghost, RZA, Ol' Dirty, and GZA. RZA's beat possesses a somewhat eerie quality, and all seven participants are able to go in on it without constraint. I will say, though, that "Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber" may have been a couple of verses too long, as the simple production does grow tiresome after a while. I know what you're thinking now: "Did he seriously just criticize 36 Chambers?" Yes; I effing did.
5. Can It Be All So Simple
Well, get ready for me to drop some more criticism, because I have never liked "Can It Be All So Simple." To me, it has always felt out of place on the album, as RZA's instrumental sounds nothing like the rest of the project (it's just flat out boring), and, plain and simply, it blows. The fact that Raekwon and Ghostface Killah trade verses on this song does not matter to me. I just don't like it.
6. Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'
Okay; now this I like. The beat on "Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'" is very, very similar to that of Raekwon's "Guillotine (Swordz)" off of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., and I'm sure this is where RZA got the idea from for the Raekwon cut (yes; an idea from something that was his own idea originally). The production is fast-paced, containing booming, dusty drums and an ominous piano riff. U-God and Masta Killa (who I've always felt is the most underrated member of the Clan) make their first appearances on 36 Chambers here, and both oblige RZA's great production with admirable performances. Inspectah Deck, The Chef, ODB, and Ghostface also drop verses.
7. Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothin' Ta Fuck Wit
One of the most well-known songs in the Wu-Tang catalog, "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothin' Ta Fuck Wit" is easily one of the best tracks on the entire album. RZA, Deck, and Method Man rip the fantastic beat, and although the meaning of this cut has certainly diminished over the years (as the Wu has sadly disintegrated), it was a valid anthem back in the 90s.
When people think of the Wu-Tang Clan, they generally think of this song. I have actually never loved "C.R.E.A.M." as much as most others do, although I still think it's a good record (obviously). This is one of the dustiest RZA productions ever, containing hard drums and a high-pitched piano that Raekwon, Meth, and Inspectah Deck put to bed. "C.R.E.A.M." is also home to a hook by Method Man that everyone and their mother knows, making it one of the most influential songs in rap history.
9. Method Man
Although GZA, Rae, and Ghostface all make appearances on this track, this is a Method Man solo, as he is the only one who actually raps. This is certainly one of my favorite songs on 36 Chambers, as RZA's instrumental is crazy and Meth tears it to bits. This cut personifies the definition of a head-nodder.
10. Protect Ya Neck
Another banger. RZA's eerie beat is tremendous, and every Clan member with the exception of Masta Killa raps over this. Perhaps most notable about "Protect Ya Neck" is that it is one of the few songs in which Ol' Dirty Bastard sounds like a normal rapper, and I actually very much enjoyed his verse. That said, no one even touched GZA on this cut, as he gets the last verse and makes sure everyone remembers it.
RZA's production on "Tearz" exemplifies what an old-school sound should be, and he and Ghostface Killah bury it. This song actually contains a very good message, as RZA and Ghost talk about the tragedy of death, proving that the Wu can also be serious when appropriate. Good track.
12. Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, Pt. 2
This track follows the same order as part one, as Raekwon, Meth, Deck, Ghostface, RZA, ODB, and GZA spit in that order. I really wasn't all that crazy about this cut, though, as RZA's production sounds way too messy and choppy. Whether or not it was intentional, I don't know, but it doesn't come across as too appealing.
As I'm sure you can tell, I am not as big of a fan of 36 Chambers as most people, but that isn't to say that I don't think this album is a sure-fire classic and one of the most important hip-hop records to ever be released. The Wu-Tang Clan's debut clearly set a precedent in the rap game and paved the way for countless amounts of artists that would soon make their presence known in the industry.
Most would probably say that 36 Chambers is the Wu's best effort (including solo albums), but I certainly enjoyed Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., and Tical more, as I felt the production on each of those three albums was more advanced and versatile, but that's to be expected given that RZA was just getting started on 36 Chambers. What is amazing about this record, though, is the cohesiveness that the Clan displays.
While listening to the album, you tend to forget that the Wu-Tang Clan is made up of nine members, as they are able to maintain unbelievable balance throughout and demonstrate the ability to work together seamlessly. It is also clear from listening to 36 Chambers that just about every member of the collective (Ol' Dirty is probably the lone exception) is gifted with a great feel for the mic, particularly GZA, who routinely outshines his Wu comrades for the duration of the 12-track project.
There are a lot of people who will say that 36 Chambers is the greatest rap album of all-time. While I would certainly disagree with that, I would definitely place it among the best and state that it was undoubtedly one of the most influential records ever. There is a reason why the Wu-Tang Clan is considered to be the best rap group in history, and it all started on 36 Chambers.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Method Man
2. Bring Da Ruckus
3. Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothin' Ta Fuck Wit
4. Protect Ya Neck
5. Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'
Even though I couldn't stand "Can It Be All So Simple," I'm going to go ahead and pay some respect and say none.