Wu Tang Clan

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36 Chambers - * * * *
Forever - * * * * *

"Turn the other cheek and I'll break your fucking chin

- RZA, Protect Ya Neck

I was thinking of doing this entire review in ebonics as sort of a joke, but fact is I have a lot of respect for Wu Tang Clan so I'll give them an honest review. It will only be partially in ebonics. To avoid saying the same things twice, I'll go through this one time for both their albums. Wu Tang deserve a seperate category to themselves in rap music. They are definitely trendsetters, their style often imitated but never duplicated. When they came onto the scene from the NY underground in 93, 36 Chambers marked a new era for rap. Slickly produced west coast gangsters were the trend of the day. Wu Tang came out with a minimalist old school DIY approach which was almost diametrically opposed to this trend. They effected an overnight revolution in the rap world, the effects of which are still being seen today. Wu Tang combines street lyrics, minimalist beats, and old Kung Fu movie imagery for a sound which is unique, and noticeably better than most of their contemporaries. Wu Tang defies the norm by foregoing the typical "gats and bitches" ranting of most rap recording. They are at a higher level, and well aware of that fact.

The intro track to the second disc on Forever takes a vitrolic stance toward the current trends in corporate rap ("Doctor Suess cat in the hat rappers, Mother Goose motherfuckers"), and stresses the need to return to street lyrics and MCs as the focus of attention. This stance is the source of their power as a group. Wu Tang consists of nine (or ten) full time members who each bring a unique personality and style into the mix, almost like different characters in a movie. There is no dead weight in Wu Tang Clan, as stated on 36 Chambers, they "form like Voltron". RZA is a prodigy as a producer as well as a gifted MC, writer, and arguably the groups best vocalist. The style to his raps is short and choppy, with obscure references and cryptic messages, delivered with a rough razor sharp vocal style which makes the hair on your neck stand on end. GZA is their most reliable MC, carrying damn near every song with at least one verse. Method Man, the groups most visible and vocal MC has an approach which is like a stoned drawl, laid back but confrontational at the same time. Old Dirty Bastard is the groups sense of humor, always insightful and always drunk, talking about bitches and hoes and smoking crack and shit like that. He does this however with a sort of self-parody and humor which is not found in other rappers who actually take this shit seriously. The elusive Master Killer and U-God are rarely seen, but when they are they make their presence known. U-God especially with possibly the most cryptic and fucked up lyrics to grace the Wu Tang records, philosophy and numerology and stream of conscoiusness schizophrenic verses, "9 Diagram acid black evil red". Inspectah Deck is an intelligent and gifted rapper who is rarely given the credit he deserves for carrying some of Wu Tang's best songs. Both Raekwon and Ghostface Killer are street poets in the truest sense. Ghostface is possibly the most gifted MC of the nineties with a gift for imagery and narrative which rivals full time writers. The narrative of both of these MCs is especially moving in its description of real life and death in the streets, holding nothing back. The way they are able to paint fucking pictures of violence, poverty, and death through their words alone with no posturing is something most MCs would not even be able to understand much less master. The thing to remember about Wu Tang is that they are half parody of themselves and half dead fucking serious. Old Dirty Bastard is funny when talks about some skank bitch that gave him gonnoreah (em>Shame On A Nigga), but RZA is brutally honest when he talks about the decaying morals of urban youth and the role of hip hop culture in contributing to that decline (Maria, A Better Tomorrow) They cover serious topics and lyrically are equal parts cryptic imagery and blunt face value honesty. Wu Tang makes no apologies and pulls no punches, they just tell the story well.

The Kung Fu imagery is worked well into their style and the samples are well placed especially on 36 Chambers adding a sort of backdrop to the whole group. RZA's production is legendary and he is definitely one of the most gifted producers in the world. At times, the mix is chaotic and at times it doesn't really flow well. This unnerving quality to the music, doing the unexpected, is perhaps the core of their DIY sound. The simple drumbeat and overamped vocals on Bring The (Motherfucking) Ruckus, the leadoff track on 36 Chambers sounds almost punk rock in its delivery, grabing the listener by the throat and then bludgeoning them with fast paced MC switch-ups. At times, the chaotic nature of the beats can get to be irritating, such as on Can It Be, an otherwise perfect song, where the music switches chords unexpectedly and sacrifices the flow, or Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nothing To Fuck With where the snaps are out of synch with the beat. RZA's genius as a producer lies in his unpredictability, but lets face it, rap is only beats and lyrics and if the two don't flow together you're fucked. However, when the two do flow together Wu Tang is unparalleled in their ability to mix narrative with sound. C.R.E.A.M and Severe Punishment are songs which Puff Daddy couldn't have written with a detailed instruction manual. The background of Severe Punishment is truly freightening, alternating off looped beats of heavy drums with violent Kung Fu sampling, "I'm going to chop off your arms, are you ready". C.R.E.A.M. lays broken piano tracks over tales of drug dealing and poverty, adding unbelievable layers of emotion simply by looping a few keys on a piano.

One gets the feeling that while most other rappers embrace the ghetto gangster lifestyle, Wu Tang Clan is smart enough to see it as a vicious cycle that's killing their culture. The sorrow and regret that are an inevitable part of this lifestyle are expressed vividly on songs like C.R.E.A.M, Cash Still Rules, Tearz, and Can It Be. These songs are moving in their narrative and brutally honest in their depiction. While most other rappers boast about the people they killed, Ghostface Killer names names and talks about their family and friends, providing a human face to the tragedy of ghetto violence in his vivid descriptions. It's a bold stance to take and one which is respectable and well-excecuted. A Better Tommorow stands out as a cut above most other rap music by telling the youth that there's more to life than smoking blunts and drinking 40's all day. "You can't party your life away, cause your seeds grow up the same way". Most rappers wouldn't dare to fucking touch this material because it's easier to brag about you guns and bitches and cars than to actually say something. This group is a true acheivement for rap music in general. Wu Tang is set in place as the rap supergroup of the decade, as trendsetters not followers. Whatever Wu Tang chooses to do in the future, the world will be fucking listening. No frontin on the style yo, Word up: dis be some serious shit muthafucka. Keep it real bitches.

* * * * / * * * * *

Reviewed: March, 1998

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