Okay. I’m gonna start by saying this: I know this post will produce a flood of hate-mail and negative comments because I didn’t get such-and-such facts precisely right, or I didn’t focus on person-X-whose-your-favorite-Clanner. Lemme say up front, I know I don’t know much, and I will not be posting every Wu-Tang Clan song ever laid to wax. Get over it.
Wu-Tang Clan started with three cousins: the Genius (GZA), Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Prince Rakeem (The RZA), known underground as the Force Of The Imperial Master and the All In Together Now crew. GZA got signed to Cold Chillin’ Records and The RZA was signed to then-relatively-small-time Tommy Boy Records, but neither of them broke.
In the early ‘90s, The RZA hooked up with the rest of the gang to form the Clan, which included, in order of importance to the rap game:
– Ghostface (a.k.a. Tony Starks, Ironman GFK, The Talk Of New York, Theodore Deini, Monster Don (from Fishscale), Tonetana, Clark Kent, Starsky, and many other names), who began his career much like MF DOOM, wearing a mask to hide his secret identity (he was born Denis Coles). For his discussion of his period of his life, check out his duet with MF DOOM, titled “The Mask.” GFK was the opener on the opening track off 36 Chambers, “Bring da Ruckus.”
– Raekwon (a.k.a. The Chef, Lex Diamond).
– Ol’ Dirty Bastard (a.k.a. Big Baby Jesus, Dirk McGirk, Dirt Dog, Russell Jones).
– GZA (a.k.a. The Genius, Allah Justice, Maximillion).
– Method Man
– Masta Killa. He’s not on 36 Chambers much ‘cause he was in prison while most of it was cut, but his solo release, “No Said Date” is fantastic.
– Inspectah Deck, who never lived up to the promise he showed in 36 Chambers, but did become a talented producer of projects by guys like Ghostface Killah and Big Pun.
– U-God (a.k.a. Golden Arms)
They called themselves the Wu-Tang Clan, and patterned a unique, grimey style and taking on their own legend – from the hills of Shaolin. (The name was taken from a Saturday Afternoon Drive-In Karate movie, although there have been claims that it was an acronym for “Wisdom, Universe, Truth, Allah, Nation, and God”.) Far as I know, they were the first to do this: Create a group with a history, philosophy, and style that was mostly factually fictional, but within which each member’s personality found character.
Taking a page from our nation’s Greatest President (George Washington), their leader, The RZA, took an oath to step down in 5 years—at which time he predicted they’d all be stars. He was wrong. It only took one year.
After releasing Protect Ya Neck independently, the group signed to Loud/RCA with a contract clause allowing each member to record solo albums with other labels. In ’93, the group released its manifesto and its greatest album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The most revolutionary aspect of 36 Chambers was the production, which, like the content, was mythic. Other than Public Enemy’s Terminator X and their wall of sound, no rap group or artist had ever created a sound that was so distinctive. There’ve been lots of imitators since then, but nobody has been able to come close to duplicating the albums layers of grit, and the ease with which each unique member was able to pass the mic to the next, seamlessly transitioning between philosophical ramblings and hardcore tales of gangsta street life.
There’s not a weak track here. You get ODB’s Shame On A Nigga; Inspectah Deck’s Clan In Da Front; Method Man’s eponymous track; the classic chipmunk soul of, Can It Be All So Simple; and the single greatest bling track ever: C.R.E.A. M. (The only bad thing to come of it is Limp Bizkit’s album, “Dolla Bill Y’all.”) 36 is one of the best rap albums in history, right up there with Nation Of Millions, Ready to Die, Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, and St8 Outta Compton.
Bring Da Ruckus-Wu Tang (demo version)
Enter the Wu Tang.
Go here to see Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ To Fuck Wit-The Video.
Soon, we saw solo outings. First, The RZA formed the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul and others, rising from the semi-successful Stetsasonic. I used to have an old scratched up remix of “Speaking of a Girl Named Suzie” but I can’t find it. Sorry.
I’ve never been as big a fan of most of the members’ side projects, and I admit that the smokin’ and tokin’ content of Method Man’s work leaves me cold. Still, Tical is his best independent work, and it was also released during the 1993-1994 spate of solo projects made possible by 36 Chambers. (Probably because Tical was produced by The RZA and basically sounds like more cuts from 36 Chambers.)
Ol’ Dirty Bastard truly piggy-backed on his band’s hype, releasing Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version in 1995. He proved himself to be the band’s Flavor Flav—somewhat of a lesser rapper in terms of wordsmithing and variety, but large on charisma and clowning.
Don’t Go Breaking My Hearth-Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Macy Gray (Elton John and Kiki Dee cover).
But the true hot release, and one of the greatest solo Wu albums ever, was Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Basically, the album was 36 Chambers minus the depth. A straight street-hustler movie of sound, again produced by The RZA, with a more accessible sound but still distinctively Wu. Where 36 Chambers introduced some of the rules the Clan lived by, Linx made it all seem real. De La Soul had had its flowery lingo and 3d Bass featured rudimentary beginnings of a lexicon, but on Linx, Raekwon (and his collaborator, Ghostface Killah—the albums true star in my view) featured an entire new slang, complete with idioms and vocabulary, that rolled off his tongue like he’d been born speaking it.
Go here to read The Unofficial Guide to Wu Tang Slang.
Linx included beef tracks against Notorious B.I.G., who GFK and The Chef accused of stealing the idea for his debut album cover from NaS. Later, on NaS’ “Last Real Nigga Alive,” the true King of New York defends the two, chosing sides and spitting: “Ghostface said it on ‘The Purple Tape: “Bad Boy biting Nas’ album cover, wait.”.
Ghostface also beefed with 50 Cent, who had begun the feud with a verse on “How to Rob” calling out Wu-Tang. In 2000, 50 Cent laid down a mixtape freestyle again dissing Wu Tang Clan. But the whole thing kinda faded away.
50 Cent Freestyle dissing Ghostface.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx also marked the beginning of Mafia raps was the first album I know of to name-check Cristal. Other than the full group’s debut, Linx is the most influential of all the Wu/Wu related records.
GZA’s Liquid Swords was also released during the Wu Golden Age. It was another street-life epic, but it lacked the humor of Linx. I’d have to say it’s not quite as good, but it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
Capping off what I call the Golden Age of the Wu, in 1996 Ghostface Killah came out with Ironman: One of the best Wu-Tang solo albums ever, by the best Wu-Tang solo artist.
Wu-Tang returned in 1997 with Wu-Tang Forever. It was number one with a bullet, moving more in its first week than most artists move in their lifetimes. Again, the band broke boundaries by releasing a double album and picking the 5-minute, all verse and no chorus, Triumph as the first single. I’m not as big a fan of this record, but it certainly has many hot moments. What made Wu Tang Forever special was that each member had had so much time to find their own unique voice. Where it’s often hard to tell them apart on 36 Chambers, here they all add something unique to the mix.
But the Clan was beginning to show signs of bloat, adding side members like Cappadonna, and including production by folks who weren’t The RZA (like True Master and 4th Disciple). True to his word, The RZA quit as Wu-Tang’s leader in 1997, right after the release of Wu-Tang Forever—five years after 36 Chambers first appeared. This marked a low period in terms of quality, but the high mark in terms of Wu productivity. Without RZA’s protection, the band became highly commercialized—with Wu-Wear, an outtakes
release (“Wu-Tang Killa Bees: The Swarm), and tons of side-and-solo projects by both members, hangers-on, and loose affiliates. We saw weak records by Cappadonna, Sunz Of Man, Popa Wu, Shyheim, Killarmy and Killah Priest.
Hell Razah Mixtape (download)
The Offering-Killah Priest
Streetlife-Lay Down (w/killa sin).
The core-members solo work also suffered during this time. (See the Gravediggaz’s second release, e.g., which was basically violent porn; The RZA’s Bobby Digital In Stereo; ODB’s Nigga Please; etc.) Even my favorite members’ project–The RZA & Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele simply didn’t reach the heights of their earlier work. (I know this is a controversial statement, and lots of folks love it, but to me it’s no Ironman. It’s not even as good as Bulletproof Wallets.) One lesser-known gem from this
period, though, is The RZA’s soundtrack to the fantastic film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. If you see this at your local haunt, it’s definitely worth picking up.
Also during this low point, ODB was thrown in jail for a probation violation, from which he escaped and lammed it until he was captured while signing autographs at Mickey D’s. He also stormed the Grammy stage in ’98 shoving Shawn Colvin aside to make the point that “Wu-Tang is for the children.”
2001 brought us Iron Flag. Other than a few tracks like Uzi (Pinky Ring) (off Iron Flag) and Gravel Pit (off The W), neither album was particularly memorable, but it did go double-plat. The band splintered more than it united, with 2004 marking U-God’s angry departure and ODB’s death.
The first artist who has broken out of the doldrums is Ghostface Killah, who, by my reckoning, is better now than he ever was. His commercial releases are all solid, but its on mixtapes that he truly shines.
Masta Killa is a close second, based on the indie release of No Said Date. Ironically, Big Baby Jesus arose from the dead to release another of the strongest recent Wu releases, Osirus: The Official Mixtape. GZA has rebounded with force, notably on his two collaborations with DJ Muggs—GrandMasters and the GrandMasters Remix albums. Incidentally, during the Grandmasters session with Mobb Deep, masked gunmen stormed the studio and robbed Mobb Deep, but left GZA and DJ Muggs alone. Some folks think Mobb Deep were victims of a sting, particularly because they’re allied with G-Unit, who had a long-running feud with GFK and Raekwon.
Method Man’s newest album is much more a return to form for him—maybe he’s finally over trying to be a sit-com star. (I’m not dissing his acting, though—He’s great on The Wire.) And he’s funny, too.
Video: Method Man dissing Wendy Williams.
Raekwon’s 2006 mixtape, Heroin Only, is also powerful. And RZA’s doing great soundtrack work. Here NPR interviews RZA about his work on soundtracks.
So it seems most of the Clanners are getting their grooves back.
The group reunited (all original members, including the dead ODB), on “9 Milli Bros” (on the Ghost solo album, FishScale), but other recent rumors to reunite haven’t ended well.
Village Voice article about their recent comeback.
So for now, that’s it. Here they are, A to Z:
A is for Applejax-Raekwon.
A is also for: All In Together Now-GZA and DJ Muggs. From The Grandmasters album.
B is for Black Rob! True Master-Wu Tang, ft. Black Rob, Louis Farrakhan. Black Rob is a grossly underrated rapper, cut down in his prime by health problems.
C is for Criminology-Raekwon. From Cuban Linx.
D is for The Drummer-Ghost, Method Man, Streetlife, Trife.
E is for Elton John! Don’t Go Breaking My Hearth-Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Macy Gray (Elton John and Kiki Dee cover).
F is for Fiddy! 50 Cent Freestyle dissing Ghostface.
G is for guests! Supernatural opened for Wu Tang when he performed this famous 20-minute freestyle. He’s known for this kind of extended rhyming–an incredible feat.
G is also for: Be Easy-Ghostface
H is for Heart of Stone-U-God.
H is also for: Hell Razah Mixtape (download)
I is for I Will Not Lose-Method Man and Redman.
J is for John 3:16-Method Man
J is also for Jadakiss! Run-Jada and Ghostface. One of my favorite GFK solo tunes.
K is for Killa Sin! Killa Sin and Streetlife-Lay Down.
L is for the mixtape version of Love-Musiq and Ghostface.
L is also for Luda!!!! Coochie Bangin’ (featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard)-Ludacris
M is for The Mask-DangerDOOM
M is also for Mash Up! Blade’s Wu Tang Chili-Wu Tang Clan vs. The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
N is for Northstar, in the GZA-produced When the Guns Come Out-Northstar w/WC and E40.
N is also for: New York-Az with Ghostface and Raekwon.
O is for The Offering-Killah Priest.
O is also for: Skrillz-ODB; and Old Man (clean version)-Masta Killa and ODB. From No Said Date.
Oh. And this little rarity: ODB auditions for Mr. Ed.
P is for posthumous! Back in the Air-Ghost and Ol’ Dirty, off of A Son Unique, a posthumous release.
Q is for: Quickly! Keep reading before you notice there’s no Q!
R is for Da Ruckus! Bring Da Ruckus-Wu Tang (demo version).
R is also for Rock Steady-Wu Tang Clan.
And R is for RZA’s Theme-RZA From Ghost Dog Soundtrack.
S is for Sumertime-Beyonce (Ghostface remix).
T is for one of the best appearances by Trife. Oooh Wee-Ghostface, Trife, Saigon, and Nate Dogg.
U is for U God-Bump Mob
V is for video: Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ To Fuck Wit-The Video.
V is also for last year’s famous Vatican Mixtape. Diesel-Raekwon (w/Wu Tang Clan).
W is for The Wu Is Coming Thru-Wu Tang Clan.
X marks a spot near the end of this list.
Y is for Y M I doing this? I don’t get paid.
Z is not for Zip file. You gotta go through this list track-by-track to score the goodies.
The Top 10 Wu and Wu related albums (recommended purchase list):
(In order of your need to buy them.)
1. Enter the 36 Chambers-Wu Tang Clan.
2. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx-Raekwon.
4. No Said Date-Masta Killa.
5. Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele.
6. Grandmasters-GZA vs. DJ Muggs
7. Wu Tang Forever.
8. Liquid Swords-GZA
9. RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo
10. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
And if you’ve already got some of them, fill in the holes with any of these:
The Ghostface Hidden Darts mixtapes.
Pretty Toney Album-Ghostface.
Or, you could cop this: Raekwon and Ghostface Killa: Only Built for Cuban Link 2 & Fishscale Mixtape Prequel. A few cuts from both albums. Highly recommended!