THE 1990S was a seminal time for hip-hop from New York. Jay Z, Nas, and Biggie all released important albums in those 10 years, but none of them would have had the chance if it wasn’t for Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). With Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg pioneering the G-Funk scene at the West Coast, Enter the Wu-Tang opened the flood gates for East Coast artists to creatively retaliate in their own scene. With the distinctive voices of the Clan already adding character to the release, the process if complimented by the RZA’s outstandingly gritty production.
Like so many releases at the time, Soul music played a key part in the sound of this album. But with that you have these quirky film samples from dubbed Martial Arts films, something the RZA weaves effortlessly amongst the creeping piano lines and angelic voices of the songs. Layered underneath these are some dirty, dirty beats. Thanks in part to the poor quality of the equipment, the drums and bass are grimy, filtered through static. In a way though, this adds to atmosphere of the album, sourcing the gritty streets of New York City. Whereas an album like The Chronic had a very upbeat, sunny side vibe, Enter the Wu-Tang is a dark, shadowy affair.
And narrating these stories come the unique verses of each Wu-Tang member. Opening the album, the legendary first verse of ‘Bring da Ruckus’ is performed by Ghostface Killah, who spits rhymes through a gruff, high pitched voice. Raekwon follows, with Inspectah Deck giving two of the most memorable lines of the album: ‘I rip it hardcore like porno-flick bitches/I roll with ghetto bastards with biscuits’. ‘Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber’ shows seven of the MCs exhibiting some of their best raps. One of the most notable voices comes from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, whose voice warbles through each rhyme, like a cross between a priest and a soul singer. While his rhymes are dope, his voice is almost comical, yet so good.
And there are slight comical references on this album. Perhaps more to be viewed as dark humour, it’s slipped neatly in the small skits between songs, notably in the start of ‘Method Man’, where Raekwon and Method Man jokingly(?) discuss various forms of torture. But then you get various lyrical references, again in ‘Method Man’, pointing towards Mary Poppins, Dr. Suess and Loony Tunes. Then there’s the traditionally ‘gangsta rap’ ‘Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta Fuck Wit’, with an excellently chanted chorus, that’s one of the catchiest on the record. With each member bigging himself up, there’s even a couple of comic book references dropped in there.
But is isn’t all fun and games. Some of the darkest riffs and lyrical themes can be found in ‘C.R.E.A.M.’, which stands in ‘cash rules everything around me’. The eerie piano line soundtracks the tail of poverty and want, with Raekwon and Inspectah Deck dropping some great verses. ‘Tearz’ is another darker track that employs an intro based on gang violence. With a chugging drum and organ based beat and the fitting Wendy Rene sample that gives a melancholy atmosphere topped off by RZA and Ghostface Killah’s verses.
It’s not hard to see why Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) received such acclaim upon it’s release. It’s exceptional production accompanied by the darkly humorous voices of the Clan make for some amazing listening. Despite the poor quality of some of the recording, this albums production is still better than most hip hop albums released in this day and age, while the characters and the story is still fresh and intriguing as the day it came out. For anyone looking to get into hip hop, this is a must. It’s easily one of the best East Coast, hell, one of the best rap albums to ever be released.
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