Sunday, August 25, 2013

Album Review: "Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version" - Ol' Dirty Bastard (1995)


The late Ol' Dirty Bastard (he passed away in 2004) was certainly an interesting character; that's for sure.

Whether it was his slurred, often indecipherable raps, interrupting the 1998 Grammys to proclaim that "Wu-Tang is for the children" or saving a four-year old girl who was trapped underneath a car, you can never say that ODB was not a fascinating individual.

The man whose government name was Russell Jones parlayed his effervescent personality into numerous hit songs, most notably the catchy "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," the second single off of his debut solo album, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.

Despite the fact that Ol' Dirty Bastard was clearly the least lyrically inclined in the Wu-Tang Clan, he was actually the second member to put out a solo LP, as Return To The 36 Chambers dropped on the heels of Method Man's Tical.

Considered a classic by some and an acquired taste by others, ODB's first release was undoubtedly an intriguing piece of work that has no equal (in terms of style) in the annals of hip-hop history. I'll let you decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

Return To The 36 Chambers features 17 tracks, 14 of them produced by RZA (yep; RZA surprisingly did not produce the entire album).

Let's sink our teeth into this one now.


1. Intro
A nearly five-minute long intro kicks things off. Not a good way to start, Mr. Jones.

2. Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Ol' Dirty Bastard wastes no time in letting his audience hear his most popular song, and why would he? To be perfectly honest, I've always found this track to be more silly than anything else, but isn't that essentially ODB in a nutshell? The thing about "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" is that no one else was doing anything like this in 1995, and that remains the case in 2013. It's rare you can say that about music. RZA's piano-sampled beat is pretty compelling, and Ol' Dirty Bastard spits mostly entertaining gibberish. The funny thing is, ODB's gibberish actually accommodates the instrumental pretty well.

3. Baby C'mon
The production by RZA is pretty nice here, particularly the drums which are extra dusty, but did Ol' Dirty Bastard seriously say that he has the "gift of gab?" Because, I mean, If there's one thing ODB isn't, it's fluent and understandable. Then again, I was able to discern the "gift of gab" line. Weird. Oh, and the way the vocals intentionally skip after Ol' Dirty says "baby" shortly after the two-minute mark is just annoying, and, actually, kind of creepy.

4. Brooklyn Zoo
I've always found it rather interesting that "Brooklyn Zoo" was the album's first single, as this is one of three songs on Return To The 36 Chambers that wasn't laced by RZA. Instead, True Master is the main man behind the boards, and ODB gets co-production credits. That being said, if liner notes didn't exist, I never would have guessed that RZA didn't do this beat. True Master certainly did a good imitation. Anyway, this sounds pretty freaking good.

5. Hippa To Da Hoppa
I get a kick out of Ol' Dirty Bastard saying "my beats are slammin'" at the beginning of this record. Did ODB not realize that this wasn't one of the three instrumentals that he had a hand in crafting? This beat does slam, though, as RZA definitely did his thing on this one. Also, Ol' Dirty is unusually perceivable on "Hippa To Da Hoppa." One thing I do wish, though: that the smooth piano was present throughout the entire song.

6. Raw Hide
For the first time on Return To The 36 Chambers, we get guest verses, as Method Man and Raekwon stop by to aid their Wu-Tang brother on "Raw Hide." RZA's beat sounds like something that could have been on Tical (and the way Meth knocks his verse out of the park lends credence to that thought), but it's a bit too repetitive for my taste. Method Man's contribution aside, this was just alright.

7. Damage
Both RZA and 4th Disciple were on the boards for this one, and the result is pretty damn nice, sounding fairly Liquid Swords-like. Appropriately, GZA drops guest rhymes on "Damage," and he adjusts his delivery to suit Ol' Dirty Bastard's style. Not only that, but ODB actually puts forth a pretty strong lyrical showing of his own on this cut. Perhaps it was GZA's presence elevating Ol' Dirty's own performance. Whatever it was, it made "Damage" a pretty awesome track.

8. Don't U Know
After a really awkward intro that lasts about 50 seconds, Mr. Jones starts rocking over a decent RZA instrumental. Those comprehensible rhymes that Ol' Dirty Bastard spit just a minute ago on "Damage" fundamentally go out the window here, though, as I honestly had no idea what the hell I was listening to for the majority of ODB's bars. The craziest thing about "Don't U Know" is that Killah Priest, one of the most lyrical dudes around, lays down a guest verse. Perhaps RZA should have just given this beat to Priest, because he rips it.

9. The Stomp
Ol' Dirty Bastard gets co-production credits with RZA here, but one would assume that he didn't exactly have much input. Maybe he just picked the hi-hat. Anyway, the instrumental is solid, but God only knows what ODB was talking about when he asked if you had ever "had a bald-headed bitch for your bald-headed wife."

10. Goin' Down
After 55 seconds of rather disturbing mouth noises from Ol' Dirty Bastard, a freaking sick RZA beat kicks in, but you know what? ODB effing wastes it by using it as a skit/interlude. Come on, man. You're really going to squander one of the best instrumentals RZA has ever done? Dirt McGirt does spit for a bit during the second half of the track, but it wasn't enough. RZA absolutely should have given this beat to someone else.

11. Drunk Game (Sugar Sweet Pie)
This is the second of three beats on the project that wasn't produced by Prince Rakeem (Ethan Ryman and Ol' Dirty Bastard himself were on the boards here), and my God can you tell right from the get-go. Every time I hear this song, I come away thinking the same thing: what the hell did I just listen to? I honestly couldn't even get through the whole cut for this review.

12. Snakes
"Snakes" is the best record on Return To The 36 Chambers. Period. Killah Priest hops on and drops some pretty awesome storytelling rhymes on his verse, and Masta Killa, RZA and Buddha Monk are also present on this posse track. RZA's instrumental bangs, and even if I was never crazy about his flow on the mic, he laces a nice verse of his own. Masta Killa's rhymes were great, too. The only beef I have is that you can hardly hear half of Buddha Monk's brief verse because of the skit playing in the background. Not that any of you actually care about Buddah Monk, anyway.

13. Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane)
Ghostface Killah finally makes an appearance on the album here, but he picked a pretty bad song to hop on. RZA's beat is sloppy, and for some reason, ODB decides to rehash lyrics from "Damage." Are you sure "Brooklyn Zoo II" was the right name, McGirt? Oh, and the medley of different Ol' Dirty Bastard verses that surfaces in the middle of this record is just stupid, as was the incredibly long and unnecessary skit at the end. I really see no reason for the inclusion of "Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane)" on Return To The 36 Chambers, but whatever.

14. Protect Ya Neck II
Another posse cut, this time consisting of ODB and the Wu-affiliated groups Sunz of Man and Brooklyn Zu, the latter of which probably would have been better-served appearing on one of the "Brooklyn Zoo" tracks (right?). RZA's beat sounds pretty good out of the gate, but it gets repetitive rather quickly. Perhaps this album is running a bit too long...

15. Cuttin' Headz
...Or maybe not. This song is really good, and if you listen carefully, you'll be able to hear that RZA's instrumental is actually "Clan In Da Front" played backward. Awesome. Ol' Dirty Bastard's rhymes are actually very coherent on this, and RZA joins in to drop some fine lines of his own. "Cuttin' Headz" is short, too, and that's always nice after five straight tracks that run at least four minutes long apiece.

16. Dirty Dancin'
Really? This was produced by RZA? It's definitely not one of his better instrumentals; that's for damn sure. Thankfully, Method Man swoops in and saves this record from eternal obscurity with a terrific performance.

17. Harlem World
Closing out the album with a track that wasn't blessed by Prince Rakeem just has disaster written all over it, especially when said track is over six minutes long. After about one minute and 15 seconds of bullcrap, Dirt McGirt finally starts to "rap," but once he does, he makes you wish he didn't. Actually, he makes you wish that "Harlem World" never existed to begin with.


Because of Ol' Dirty Bastard's lack of skill on the mic, I cannot endorse Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version as a classic. I can say with confidence, however, that this is certainly something that Wu-Tang fans will forever enjoy, and it's also 10 times better than most of the garbage out there today, regardless of ODB's relative ineptitude as a rapper.

While this album isn't RZA's finest hour, it absolutely contains some interesting production by him, and a couple of the joints on here really knock. Obviously, RZA had to craft beats that suited Ol' Dirty Bastard's style, and that was no easy task. As a matter of fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of instrumentals on Return To The 36 Chambers that other members of the Wu would have used on their own solo albums.

Accept ODB's debut for what it is: a project where the host was, for lack of a better phrase, just trying to wild out. I'm sure Mr. Jones knows that he is not exactly the most gifted rapper out there, although some of the boasts that he spits on Return To The 36 Chambers leave you wondering.

If you're a Wu-Tang enthusiast, you probably bump this religiously. If not but you just can't get enough of that golden era, then you may listen occasionally like I do. There is also a faction that more than likely find this unlistenable. That's cool, though. Not all hip-hop has to be serious, and not every good album has to be like Illmatic.

Rest in peace, ODB.


1. Snakes
2. Damage
3. Cuttin' Headz
4. Hippa To Da Hoppa
5. Brooklyn Zoo 

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