Wednesday, 4 June 2008



Black people.  When the Wu-Tang Clan arrived they were terrifying.  They were the baddest rappers in history and even though the early coverage in the UK was little more than a few minutes of weird clips on The Word, we knew their names and soon we had their record.

My introduction to the album was the cassette copy my friend Benfield lent me when we both worked shit jobs at Texas Homecare.  He had desires on being a hip-hop DJ and with that came a record collection more savvy than mine.  At the time I was driving a shit car with a shit stereo and after work when I drove us home we’d play the tape even though the speakers could not take it.  With so many groundbreaking moments provided he would intricately point where and how the beats on this record won.

Enter The Wu-Tang is an economic calling card where every track is rock solid and concise, successfully serving to introduce each member while not revealing too much and spoiling things too soon.  Every track on this record could be a single, albeit foul mouthed singles (indeed four of them actually were).  This was music for those with a strong stomach and subtle nonchalance for justice.  You could afford to cast a blind eye but definitely not a deaf ear.

At the time RZA was still also known as Prince Rakeem as he was clearly the driving force serving as producer, mixer, arranger and programmer.  The dirty beats were his and no one had ever heard anything like before.  In his words the Wu = the way and the Tang = the slang.

Protect ya neck.

Described elsewhere as “a dense and smoky fusion of New York crime rap and kung-fu mysticism” it doesn’t take long for the gang thug mentality to smash its mark on proceedings with tales of urban underground.  At a time when rap groups were rarely numbering more than three members, here was nine solid individuals all skilled, talented and prepared enough to take the lead.  Indeed in the case of Method Man and Raekwon they were chomping at the bit to grab the wheel.  Before this act extended crews were considered something of a liability but here it was the strength.

Side A is entitled the “Shaolin Sword” side.  It begins with “Bring Da Ruckus” and the kind entrance song others could only ever dream of.  Within seconds of their arrival they have turned the air blue and sent the puritans running.  The beats are dense and very effective while the rhymes rain in on a new level of aggression, ferocity and intensity.  In an effort to be the first to mark their mark it is one huge pile up of a track as Raekwon and Ghostface Killah kick the door in.

“Shame On A Nigga” was Hank Kingsley’s favourite track.  In a way you can see why with its flighty execution and grand military hook that introduces Ol’ Dirty Bastard live and uncut.  This track has real flow, lines that the surf and bounce off.

Forming like Voltron.

It is with “Clan In Da Front” that you finally experience some clarity as GZA rhymes with the first track to contain a coherent chorus.  Here was yet another mission statement introducing the kings of the yard.

Gritty and raw with “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” opens with an eavesdrop, the insight into the lifestyle of the Wu-Tang and the delights and dangers that come with.  Its bloody and explicit.  From here comes the beginning of the actual song with a dense snare that my Ford Escort stereo could never accommodate even at a low volume.  As the verses begin a spooky tone grips proceedings as the various members collaborate in the most coherent manner yet in a constant drive and solid flow.  There aren’t necessarily hooks or a real chorus but the narrative and journey are there.

Some kind of delicate remorse grips proceedings as “Can It Be All So Simple” opens with a haunting sample of Gladys Knight talking about the “good old days” from her song with The Pips “The Way We Were”.  Then as reality kicks in Raekwon and Ghostface Killah return to duel and exchange verses on gang life as immediately a close bond is being displayed between the pair of them.  The dedication list is almost endless.

At the close of the song the listener is offered another calling card, a clear introduction in the form of the two minute “Intermission” and a radio interview as Method Man leads something of a roll call describing each member.

Their arrival was timed to perfection; the placement was the right time at the right place.  This wasn’t by design is was the climate, the fortune of being around in a hip-hop golden era and rising just before the huge wave and big rap year that was 1994 when singles were still being released off this record.

“Right now we ain’t gettin’ what we want….right about now, I ain’t braggin’ or nuthin’, but yo the Wu got sumthin’ that I know anybody wanna hear, I know I been waitin’ to hear.”

And with that the record arrives at Side B and the Wu-Tang Sword.

It feels strange being a white man stood in my kitchen “rapping” along to “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’”, if the authors saw me, the authors would laugh then mock me.  The song does contain one of the strongest vocal hooks anywhere on this record.  And with that comes “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit”, another track my car stereo could not handle.  It’s a track says what it does on the tin and contains another killer hook/chorus.

At this point comes perhaps the two most important tracks on the album.

“C.R.E.A.M.” plays a similar card to “Can It Be All So Simple” tugging at nostalgia with a slow paced stand out track running on the wave of an organ sample (taken from The Charmels) that sounds like a buzzing influence acting as an earworm.  Opened up by Method Man the world and its sister knows the letters stand for “cash rules everything around men” as needs are expressed and dreams desired.  This is a song that sounds so majestic while carrying a strange combination of social comment and superficial statement.  A song about money is always going to run the risk of feeling tainted.  However in the grand scheme of things the Method Man intro/hook is regarded as one of the most sampled deliveries as the track features what is probably the largest contribution from Inspectah Deck on the record.

“Method Man” the track begins with one minute of “torture motherfucker” and truly the most vile banter which my work colleague used to think was “funny”.  I guess it is a bit absurd to talking about “sewing your asshole shut and keep feeding you and feeding you” but who knew with these guys at this stage.  Then with that we get something akin to a ring announcement and Method Man bounces in and delivers a very strong solo joint.  “Method Man” was originally the b-side to the first single “Protect Ya Neck” but soon it overtook it as the more popular track.  Not bad for a track with a ghetto Sesame Street tone.  His star was already on the rise before the album even dropped.

The aforementioned first single “Protect Ya Neck” follows in the line-up with everyone except Masta Killa involved rapping over startling and unnerving strings and atmospherics subtly bedding proceedings in a most effective manner.  “Protect Ya Neck” is a track without a chorus, without a hook, it is just one long barrage of brutality.

As the record reaches the closing stages “Tearz” drops with very aggressive gestures pounding over what appears the most explicitly Asian sounding backing on the record which reminds of the eventual RZA work on the Ghost Dog soundtrack.  Then it nails with a killer sample featuring soul singer Wendy Rene singing “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” providing an exclamation mark hook.

“Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II” rounds things off with a return to the “Clan In Da Front” refrain as the track purrs and sails off into the distance.

Then with that album is done and Wu-Tang has officially arrived.  As I say Enter The Wu-Tang is a rare record where every song would be good enough to be a single.  Unfortunately with every song being so thick in explicit language and hostile gestures the irony is that none of the tracks could work as singles without heavy attention and alteration.

The CD version comes with the addition of the “Method Man (Skunk Mix)” which ultimately isn’t too far removed from the original track now coming with added electronics and a bigger bass thump.  Essentially it offers nothing other than a workout for your speakers.

For me there always felt something genuinely frightening about the Wu-Tang Clan.  Their existence transcended the east coast west coast thing going on at the time.  Whereas those acts appeared to be jockeying for turf that had become corporate and commercialised, the menace of the Wu just felt bedded more in reality.  A word commonly used to describe their brand was gutter which was identity the unit chasers pursuing the mainstream and riches were keen to avoid.

Not many rap records hold the presence of this.

Thesaurus moment: mob.

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