There was a day when “The Chronic” reigned supreme. Dr. Dre brought the synthesizer to hip-hop and no Los Angeles club would be the same for years to come.
In the 80’s, socially conscious hip-hop, like De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory,” dominated the rap landscape. Groups like N.W.A rose to prominence with “Straight Outta Compton” and two members from that group, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, would find fame with critically and commercially acclaimed solo releases.
Stirring up the calm seas of hip-hop was the cyclone called “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” The album will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Nov. 9 and still today it stands as one of the best hip-hop LP’s of all time. In the face of the status quo, the Wu-Tang Clan marched like a fiery rebellion to hip-hop’s storefronts and the music industry would never be the same.
The Wu-Tang Clan is a New York based hardcore rap outfit known for their absurdly violent lyrics and haunting beats. Sporting a wildly diverse array of emcees, from the raconteur sensibility of Ghostface Killah to the unpredictable mania of Old Dirty Bastard, Wu-Tang Clan was one of the best rap groups in all of music.
“36 Chambers” is one of the fiercest albums in all of hip-hop. The energy is infectious. The record has seemingly infinite momentum. The opening track “Bring Da Ruckus” is the Clan’s mission statement. GZA sums it up best in the fourth verse, “You wanna bring it, so [expletive] it/Come on and bring the ruckus/And I provoke [expletive] to kick buckets.”
Each emcee bursts off the record with the unhinged intensity of a runaway train. On “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ to [expletive] With” lyrical technician Inspectah Deck raps, “My style carries like a pickup truck/Across the clear blue yonder/Seek the China Sea/I slam tracks like quarterbacks sacks from L.T. ”
But book ending the chest-pounding anthems are true-to-life coming of age tales like “C.R.E.A.M,” “Tearz” and “Can it be All So Simple.” On “So Simple,” Ghostface Killah raps about wanting to get ahead, but he concedes on the second verse, “But for now, it just a big dream/Cause I find myself in the place where I’m last seen.”
Not only did “36 Chambers” redefine lyricism in hip-hop, it ushered in a new era of production. It was here that the de facto leader of Wu-Tang, RZA, displayed his knack for idiosyncratic sampling and love for the Kung-Fu pulp of old.
It sounds like RZA made a point of using samples that no one else would ever think to use. The piano and drum breaks are sour and heavy hitting. One of the two feature tracks, “Method Man” comes in hard with a near dissonant piano sample and thick drum breaks. Method Man’s party time vocals add some needed levity to the otherwise aggressive atmosphere.
Choosing a single standout track is impossible. Every song stands on its own whether it features one emcee or the lot of them. Unlike some outfits of today, every emcee brings their own flavor to the album. Still, after dozens of listens, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” sounds like a raised fist in the in a landscape of clasped hands, a statement impossible to ignore.
Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Release Date: November 9, 1993