Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers is the type of classic that demands to be listened to every once in a while and now with this music blog I am obliged to share with you one of the finest Hip Hop records there is. For its artistic merit, gritty beats and lyrical creativity the Wu-Tang Clan from Staten Island New York changed the game with their iconic 93 debut. I found this record in my young teens thanks to my mother who brought me this obscure looking record with its masked members representing an unusual theme, oriental martial arts. I don't have much memory of my initial impressions however I never stopped listening to it and over time its strengths illuminated with timeless beats and free lyrics that offered a wealth of flair and variety. Its status in Hip Hop's legacy is indisputable and RZA's production style created a massive influence still felt today. It has also been praised for its lower fidelity and gritty production style which it is actually not the first to achieve. Black Moon's "Enta Da Stage" beat them too it by a few months and we will talk about that record tomorrow.
So who are the Wu-Tang Clan? They are a group of nine rappers with a set of unique styles who came from the under represented area of New York, Hip Hops home. Putting Staten Island on the map, the Wu-Tang burst out of nowhere with the single "Protect Your Neck" that went against the grain, featuring a verse from each rapper consecutively without a chorus and barely a break for respite. It was the perfect showcase of the group unique chemistry. RZA's mastermind beats utilizing soft piano samples between dingy string samples over foggy baselines while eight of the nine dropped classic verses with wildly fresh and innovative rap styles.
With the talents of Raekwon the chef, Ghostface Killer and Method Man the group had an array of distinct voices and styles that brought about the "free association" rap technique. In a non linear delivery many strings of rhymes can be heard in an associative manor, focusing on wordplay and creative rhyming to forge a scene or concept in contrast to walking the listener through a narrative. It can be heard sporadically though the record and would be further elaborated on by Raekwon who really masters the style in his solo records. Even in traditional verses the Wu-Tang rock it with an endless arsenal of classic lines that will have you memorizing it all, just take the opening track "Check it, my method on the microphones banging, Wu-Tang slang will leave your headpiece hanging"... and that's just the opening number with its four mighty verses. Classic stuff, the group have mesmerizing and in moments ludicrous flows, these verses are intoxicating and even littered with cryptic lyricism. "We usually take all niggaz garments"... W.U.T.A.N.G!
Another classic aspect of the record is the theme and sampling from 70s and 80s Chinese martial arts flicks which the group were obsessed with, their name taken from the "Shaolin and Wu-Tang" movie. There's tones of fantastic samples, from clashing blades in sword fights, the ughs and arghs of fist fights and plenty of Wu-Tang vs Shaolin narration that gives it a timeless charm, one Ive never heard anyone try to imitate, the Clan truly own it like no one else could. It plays so well into RZA's production style which extends beyond this record alone, helping his clan launch their solo careers producing many of their debuts if not all. RZA steered away from clean production and explored the charm of lower fidelity which can conjure a different range of moods and atmospheres. Deep muddy baselines, rugged drum beats and oriental instruments create an air of mystery around the rawkus rap energy. More conventionally the sampling of soft pianos and classic strings would become an inspiration for many future producers.
There's barely a flaw, literally nothing to nitpick on this record, the only thing I could ask for is more. Another aspect I adore is the drifting moods that occur as it plays through, from rough, rugged aggressiveness the album can get playful and grooving while finding a few sorrowful spots with "Can It Be All So Simple", "C.R.E.A.M." and "Tearz". Although drenched in its mythic martial arts it has a real grounded connection to the lives of the artists and servers as another fantastic story of rags to riches through their art. Wu-Tang could never top this, I think that much is inevitable from day one and this record will be celebrated for as long as Hip Hop lives on.
Favorite Songs: Bring Da Ruckus, Da Mystery Of Chessboxing, Wu-Tang Aint Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit, Protect Ya Neck