ENTER THE WU: 36 Chambers

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By TdotM

Unleashed in mid-November 1993 (hopefully on a blustery, numb New York night) the importance of Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album — titled officially Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), is difficult to comprehend.

The boasts, threats, and struggles of 9 native MCs — accompanied by frightening soul samples, rough drums and cartoon-like sword slashing sound effects — were to influence their entire chosen genre, and have cataclysmic effects on a generation of rappers, producers, and shady record industry people.

First and foremost, under the guidance of clan producer and leader RZA, 5 members soon spawned classic albums (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Liquid Swords being notable examples) with one neglected, another delivering 11 years on, and U-God. For RZA, generic Funky President samples would not do justice to the group’s ghoulish surroundings of drug-dealing New York City on Shaolin Island (as the Wu — inspired by childhood Kung Fu movies — call their native Staten Island).

The Wu Shaolin is a rough mindscape: marks were tied up and stuffed in the trunk, honey dipped blunts lay on the dashboard and one eye was kept on the rear-view mirror for ruthless sword-swinging ninjas. Thus, he dug deeper to provide an appropriately gritty soundscape for his crew, using eerie soul sampling techniques that have been and will be mimicked for decades to come. RZA can be heard in Mobb Deep’s two great albums, in 9th Wonder’s work, in Just Blaze’s mixed bag and a lot in Kanye West. Cannibal Ox, anyone? Next time a Big Sean song featuring CyHi Da Prince and Kid Cudi and John Legend and Willie D is on the radio, a sophisticated ear may detect the 7th Chamber influence.

The originality of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) cannot and should not be understated. Hungry from their unsatisfying dip into the mainstream, Robert “Prince Rakeem” Diggs and Gary “The Genius” Grice were keen to move away from parent-friendly De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest lyrics, as well as Public Enemy’s political preaching and shouting, and the glorified, Hennessy-soaked content of the west coast.

United, friends and colleagues, the nine members of the Clan established a healthy balance of slapstick humour, versatile boasts, despicable menace, slinging crack and poverty. Perhaps appearing contrived, the chemistry between the artists and their interaction with RZA’s instrumentals allowed this to produce a fresh, distinct and dirty sound. 11 original tracks, the majority prompted by well-spoken British ninjas, or light crew discussion, hold an individual resonance and importance. Ghostface’s impeccable flow on Bring Da Ruckus, Ol Dirty’s relief at having contracted only gonorrhoea of all STDs, the paradoxically light and thumping piano keys on Clan in Da Front, Deck’s tear-jerking verse on the album’s seminal track, RZA’s brother’s blood all over the hot concrete, and Method Man feeding you, and feeding you, and feeding you … The list could easily go on.

Sinister humour and fearsome production were both the mask and the perfectly subtle compliment for the grim circumstances the Clan existed in, and the underlying fact that life as a shorty was pretty rough in New York.

With the album’s release, the east coast was firmly back on the map, and the quality of albums released in the following few years served as a testament to the Clan, and evidence of their responsibility for hip-hop’s resurgence. The raw sound was not immediately embraced by critics, and is undeniably inaccessible to audiences, seeming stripped and intimidating: the opposite of a fully clothed Drake. Clearly, time was needed to realise 36 Chambers’ true magnificence, and appreciate how rewarding the broken bottles, cracked skulls, infected needles, petrifying drum stabs and gruesome shrieks could be, in comparison to the west coast’s increasingly generic feel. Going platinum with knock-off recording equipment and nine untamed savages on the microphone was audacious, but it happened. The underground had become the mainstream for a while, and intelligence, wit and ferocity had prevailed, something incapable of happening today without Bruno Mars singing on the hook about butterflies and clitorises.

Today, the majority of Wu-Tang Clan (R.I.P ODB) can look forward to a secure pension and free public transport in just over twenty years, and unsurprisingly lack the same hunger and passion present two decades ago, even if the chemistry remains. Nevertheless, by creating a work of immense cultural significance and resonance, not to mention quality, their place in hip-hop, and music as an art form has been immortalised. The legacy of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) shall exist long after RZA is accidentally sliced in half filming a futuristic sci-fi porno, Ghostface writes crime fiction best sellers, and U-God runs for Congress.

There’s a reason why every other rapper has fallen off, yet Wu-Tang is still hot 20 years later as Legendary Weapons drops. Wu Tang is not a rapper or a rap group — it’s a scalable, self-recreating religion. The kids of today need to be taught, and in this respect, Wu-Tang is quite literally Forever.

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