Very few things are more nauseating in music discussions to me than these fetal claims that Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is the only good Wu-Tang album or that it somehow single-handedly negates the importance of all their other work. This is a legendary group, world renowned and respected (even on the Big L album, for Christ’s sake), which is still together, has been together 30 years, and that absolutely epitomizes depth and character. They make rap music that hit it big but still are the anti-commercial, self-produced and perennially emphasizing bars and worldly lyricism over catchy hooks and material possessions.
Anyway, the problem of the myopic, 36-Chambers-Only mindset hits especially close to home to me, in that the last two bosses I’ve had who have put music on in the workplace, when they played Wu-Tang, played solely stuff from this album. Now, no doubt, Wu-Tang’s debut LP is packed with crunchy stuff. It would take a catatonic not to nod their head to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit’.” “Shame on a Ni**a” might be my favorite, anyway, with Tical’s spicy diction of “First I’m gonna get ya / Once I got ya / I Gat  ya”. And ok a lot of it’s pretty dope.
It might be their most CONSISTENT LP but I wouldn’t mail it in just yet: there’s still those cringe-worthy GZA lines about “mud-holes” and “mud-fights,” and all that junk. Plus, particularly for listening to in a group, it can veer toward the realm of conceptual. What I mean is that the issues taken on, particularly in “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Tearz,” represent serious, real-life maladies the group was trying to confront, hence making the music less suited to situations where people are getting together and having a good, light-hearted time.
This sounds like a job for “Triumph,” which culls from the group’s second full-length LP, the double album Wu-Tang Forever. This song is the very epitome of street battle, featuring no chorus and seeing all nine members take the mic to unleash some verbal damage. It’s all goin’ for self, in a New York state of mind, but the verses are loaded with metaphor, allusion and all types of crazy slang (as usual, Johnny Blaze comes to mind, with his mind-blowing rhyme of “My peoples if you wit’ me / Where the fu** you at? / Ni**az is strapped / And they’re tryin’ to twist my beer cap”).
I mean, it’s a six-minute song that doesn’t have a chorus, features all nine rappers, and some of the group’s most awesome, memorable lyrics to date. In truth, this should right away obliterate any impression that 36 Chambers contains all their good stuff. What’s more, it’s way better for bumping in a group than “C.R.E.A.M.,” the typically handled most-popular Wu-Tang song, and a song whose serious, downtrodden disposition makes it stick out like a sore thumb on workplace playlist, something I’ve surely discovered the hard way, in a certain circumstance.
But I’ve got more so I’m gonna give you more. Let’s keep it right there on Forever, the group’s ’97 double-CD, two tracks after “Triumph,” with “Little Ghetto Boys” feat. Cappadonna, the same rapper who appears on “Triumph” and essentially, ergo, establishes himself as the group’s honorary 12th member. He and Raekwon take sole vocal duties on this cut and the result is a crisp, disciplined and eerie masterpiece, with the electrifying lyricism of both emcees painting an ominous, unpredictable street picture. Particularly important here is the second verse, delivered by Cappadonna, in which he dictates that “Half the East Coast soundin’ just like Rae”, meaning Raekwon, one of the members of Wu-Tang, and “If you not a part of this / Kid / Act like you know”, a proclamation of how inquisitiveness might precipitate violence in their volatile environs. More classic songs on Forever alone include, in order of appearance, “Visionz”; “As High as Wu-Tang Get”; “Sever Punishment”; “Older Gods”; “It’s Yourz”; “Deadly Melody” feat. Street Life”; “Duck Seazon” and “Hellz Wind Staff”; with “Duck Seazon” notable to me for Raekwon’s quip of “You get the gold-di** award”. So I never said Forever was as consistent as 36 Chambers but to just foresake all of this golden material as if it’s insignificant is an egregious crime against humanity.
Now, one thing we know about Wu-Tang is that they make their bread and butter off of solo albums. Or, it’s more like, in solo projects, each emcee has the chance to really indulge in his own skill, get into some hypnotic bars, carve out a niche for himself and establish his artistic style, as distinct from the rest of the group, which, indeed, they all are. The wealth of choice material on solo albums like these is really staggering:
DJ Muggz vs. GZA – Grandmasters
Ghostface Killah – 12 Reasons to Die (The Brown Tape)
Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
Ghostface Killah – The Big Doe Rehab
GZA – Legend of the Liquid Sword
GZA – Liquid Swords
GZA – Pro Tools
Inspectah Deck – Uncontrolled Substance
Masta Killa – No Said Date
Method Man – Meth Lab Season 3: The Rehab
Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx
RZA – Bobby Digital in Stereo
I’d just like to preach a little bit more on the albums that contain the whole group, though, as a way of proving my point of how ridiculous the favoritism for the first LP is, and also as a way of paying respects to what the group can do when they get together. The W (2000), the group’s third album, is a singular masterpiece, staggering over all of their others, at very least, in the way of collabos, as it features Redman, Nas, Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes, as crazy as that seems. The opening cut “Intro (Shaolin Finger Jab) / Chamber Music” gets the ball rolling in style, with classic verses from GZA and also Tical, who spews the unforgettable lines “You know me / Every time you kiss that ho you blow me / You blow trial / Tryin’ to walk a mile in my Sauconys”. From there, on The W, admittedly, the mood can pretty dark and tense, and again it’s a case of the band bringing to light a lot of issues in society like violence, racism and systemic oppression, the noxious and ubiquitous marriage of the two. The unforgettable moments abound, though, a la Inspectah Deck’s invigorating verse on “Hollow Bones,” Masta Killa getting all Jah on “One Blood under W” and the earth-shattering beats from RZA on “Let My Ni**as Live” and “I Can’t Go to Sleep.” Granted, The W might not be the best album for putting on at work, or around people who aren’t seasoned in the hip-hop spirit, and maybe it’s just because I’m from the cold, gritty Midwest, but this is an album that always resonated with and spoke to me. And, as I allude to before, it’s undeniably got some of the best beats RZA ever made, such as “Careful (Click, Click),” which has even been transformed into a popular instrumental. The 2011 mix tape Legendary Weapons, with “Diesel Fluid” and “Never Feel This Pain,” among others, only serves to add to the Wu canon, further reiterating the foolishness of wearing 36 Chambers blinders. The 2015 album The Saga Continues also contained to tight beats and crisp wordplay, too, on the off chance that you even could ever find time to listen to this stuff. I pledge to the Buddha but really it’s Wu-ddha that I’ve been worshipping my whole adult life, like when I went six months in college listening to at least one joint by Wu every single day. You certainly can’t do that with just one album.
 For anyone who’s been residing in a Mary Poppins fun house for the last 30 years, this is a reference to the formidable Gatling Gun.
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