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Throwback Thursday: Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers

Check out this weeks #TBT as we review a Wu-Tang Classic.

Wu-TangClanEntertheWu-TangalbumcoverArtist: Wu-Tang Clan
Album: Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Release Date: November 9, 1993
Cast your mind back to 1993… if you’re old enough to remember 1993. If you’re not, just do what I do and imagine it. Dr Dre had recently released The Chronic, then the defining sound of the West Coast, and Cali artists were filling up the charts. The DreEazy beef was at its peak, 2Pac’s breakthrough second album was out, and the world had just been introduced to a young Long Beach rapper called Snoop Doggy Dogg. Although East Coast greats like Run-DMC, KRS-One and Heavy D were still putting out music, the new obsession was with West Coast gangsta rap, and they seemed outdated and (although the word didn’t exist then and I’m not sure it exists now) outswagged by artists like Pac, Snoop, and Cypress Hill. The scene belonged to California, and raps about macking hoes, puffing blunts and swigging 40-ouncers were what the summer of ’93 was all about. Then the winter came, and far away from G-Funk’s squealing synths and squelching basslines, like a ninja from an old kung fu movie, something new leapt out of the shadows.

Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers was more than an album. It was an ethic, an ideology on CD. Sounding lo-fi and vintage but at the same time totally fresh and unlike anything that had been heard before, the production ripped sound effects and dialogue from martial arts B-movies and used old soul records alongside spartan, heavy drum patterns. Lyrically it was violent and unrelenting, an array of exaggerated threats and boasts that were more like battle raps than verses on an LP. This constant intensity was given variety by the astonishingly unique voices and distinct personalities of the group’s members. On the album cover they appeared hooded and masked in matching Wu-Tang hoodies, but no uniform could conceal their individuality when they spat their rhymes. The first track showcased the atmospheric brutality of RZA’s production, with the man himself yelling “BRING THA MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS!” and then chopping it up to turn it into a simple and massively aggressive chorus. The plinking and crackling of the piano in the background is melodramatic and effortless at the same time, and the verses are a revolving door of lyrical domination. The chemistry between the group’s members is such that you can imagine the mic being snatched as each rapper finishes his verse and the next takes over. Next, ‘Shame On A Nigga’ unleashes ODB and Method Man onto the scene, two of the group’s biggest personalities who, in a very eccentric way, are also their most accessible. The intensity continues throughout the album, never letting up and never getting old. The amazing and unique thing about 36 Chambers is the way that it balances consistency and variety. It feels like one single creative vision, yet it’s by a group who are nine deep. They all use the same points of reference, giving the album a uniform style that is soaked in martial arts pulp grandeur, and yet each one of them brings their own personality completely to the fore. Every track on the album is instantly recognisable, and yet there is a completely defined Wu-Tang sound that the whole album subscribes to.

The album’s impact was massive. Ready To Die, Illmatic and The Infamous all came after it, and none would have sounded the same without it. It set the standard for a generation of rap artists who some now perceive as the greatest of all time, and even when you listen to it now, it still sounds as visceral and original as it would have done when it was first released. It is an album which seems to operate outside the normal restrictions of time and space, thumping away in its own fictionalised world where rappers divide each other with samurai swords and the sun never rises. It is timeless and ageless, which is what defines a true classic.


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