We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back through to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Greatest Time in Hip Hop history. Back in November 1993, three iconic albums were released within a span of fourteen days that forever changed the landscape of hip hop music. A Tribe Called Quest’s 3rd album, Midnight Marauders & Wu-Tang Clan’s debut release Enter Da Wu Tang (36 Chambers) were both released on Nov 9th to massive fanfare & acclaim. Two weeks later, they were both bested sales-wise by the release of Doggystyle, Snoop Dogg’s debut album off of Death Row Records that turned Snoop into a full-fledged mega superstar. Today on The Baseline Blog, I’ve recruited Jay F. from out of his Touched by Music Studio Lab/Cave & break down the legendary Wu-Tang debut. Get your W’s up….
If you missed Tribe’s Midnight Marauders album post, click here.
PROTECT YA NECK
“The Wu is too slammin’ for these Cold Killin’ labels/Some ain’t had hits since I seen Aunt Mabel/Be doing artists in like Cain did Abel/Now they money’s getting stuck to the gum under the table” – GZA
ME: This song was the 1st official single from this groundbreaking hip hop group. Let’s just think about this for a minute. This song, this aggressive, frenetic, psychotic, record, was their 1st released single??? Are you kidding me?!?! Now before this record, we’ve heard collaboration/posse-type records before & have been wowed by the results. From Tribe’s “Scenario“, to the Self Destruction track from KRS-One, to the Juice Crew’s “The Symphony“, we’ve experienced the highs of when a collaborative effort works wonders. However, this wasn’t a one-time only posse cut, but this was a group, & it had eight different rappers each with different styles going HARD. It almost didn’t make sense at the time, hearing this type of record. Each year, hip hop continued evolving & elevating from the “Sugar Hill/Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five” beginnings, & it kept getting edgier & more creative. Even with that said, we simply had never seen anything before that could even prepare us for what Wu-Tang was offering. It’s almost like going from a rotary phone to a cordless with call display & 3-way dialing all overnight. It would take you a few minutes just to calibrate what was actually happening.
All the lyrical gems dropped in the song in itself were ridiculous, but the way RZA handled the production was like an elite-level cook. Its part Bomb Squad (Public Enemy’s production team), part martial arts, part piano loops & all chaos….with about 2 cups of street ruggedness thrown in. The beat Superman elbows you in the face John Jones style. It’s one of their best records they ever made, plain & simple.
JAY: Revolutionary is what I think of when I look back on the Wu era. A group of lyricists each with their own style and finesse that remarkably was able to complement each other without drowning each other out. For sure not an easy task, but The Wu was able to get it done for several years.
And they were smart, either smart or caught up in the rise of martial arts movie movement that practically played on every hip hop head’s televisions at one point during those times. It was wicked, the fighting, sword slashing sound effects heard throughout their songs is one of the many reason why The Wu Tang Clan was so embraced. Of course, all thanks to RZA’s production who brought all of these qualities to life.
With all that being said, looking back on their first album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”, they almost had no choice but to make “Protect Ya Neck”, their 1st official single. That song to me was the only one that could convey the seriousness of this group’s intentions in entering the hip hop world. It cunningly gives you a healthy dose of what each member is capable of doing and that RZA was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the beat making world. They each represented themselves enough that you couldn’t wait to hear more of their styles as you progressed though the album.
CAN IT BE ALL SO SIMPLE
“Started off on the island, AKA Shaolin/Ni**as wilin’, gun shots thrown, the phone dialin’/Back in the days of 8 now, making a tape now/Rae gotta get a plate now” – Raekwon
“Kicking the fly clichés/Doing duets with Rae & A/Happens to make my day”
“Sunshine plays a major part in the daytime…” – Ghostface Killah
ME: I’m going to piggyback off on your revolutionary views on the Wu for a second Jay. Outside of the many ways this group affected the culture of our generation, an underrated fact that they did with this song: they helped usher Hype Williams into the game. Shooting his first major video, Williams’ vignettes matched the essence of the lyrics from Ghost & Raekwon. We have seen lots of videos shot in the hood from our respective rappers, but until then, we never seen it shot so cleanly. It almost looked like a mini movie, with all the slo-mo shots of the Clan shooting dice, hanging out, their crews posting up on Lexus’, Acura’s, & MPV’s, the cinematic look helped to make this song feel even bigger than it already was. After that, the who’s who of the Hip Hop & R&B industry clamoured to get that same special touch from Williams that he helped give to Wu. You don’t think this video was a factor in sculpting the way videos were shot? Look at this video & compare it to all the other videos that came from this album. All of them were cool but, Can it Be looks like it was shot by Scorcese compared to the others. Admit it Jay, you weren’t expecting me to go into that direction were you? Also, the rumors that I wrote this paragraph in a smoker’s robe while sitting in front of the fireplace with a glass of Brandy like those Turner Classic Movie intros…. are mostly false.
JAY: Check point for you Cal. I had no idea Hype did this video, or that you sip brandy naked sitting in front of a fireplace (I assume wearing the robe was the “mostly false” part…you friggin weirdo). I can see why other artists lined up for him to shoot their video. It’s amazing how a video can play an important role in capturing the essence of a song. Wu chilling in the streets, black hoodies, talking, cracking jokes. We’ve all done it at some point, hanging out later at night with your peeps, those were at times the best moments, when you can laugh and be real. Then the video cuts to day time shots, simple and focused on the two lyricists doing their thing.
A few things that become apparent while listening to this song (or watching this video) is the connection that Raekwon & Ghostface Killah had. There’s always inner bonds in a clique where individuals see eye to eye more than others (not in a bad way at all), But if you think about it in regards to this song, which other Wu members could have pulled it off as smooth as those guys? Once again RZA’s production was tight and works really well with Hype’s vision of the video. Not to mention Wu Tang was brave to make a song of this tempo on this album, especially when you listen to their other songs, but they were able to pull it off. They showed people that “Yes, we can get you all riled up with songs like Protect Ya Neck, but we can also cool it down, still stay tight lyrically, & keep it laid back enough for slow head bob”. Funny how the Range Rover even back then was the bomb SUV…
ME: Nah man, you got that wrong. You can never do that in front of a fireplace. One of the flames flickers & sparks out of the pit towards you….yeah, you really can’t come back from that. To jump back on the video for a second, can you imagine in 2013 if a group were to come out in a video posing in front of Acuras TLs & Mazda 3s? You’d know for sure their budget is extremely tight right off the bat, and most likely it would be 3-4 of their friends shooting the video off their iPhones & Galaxys from various angles. What would happen faster: Us changing the channel or the strippers video chicks walking off the set? Crazy. Funny how much things have changed since then.
“The courts played me short, now I face incarceration/Pacin’, going upstate’s my destination/Handcuffed in back of the bus, forty of us/Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough.” – Inspectah Deck
ME: Let’s just get this out of the way right now, this is easily one of the greatest songs, not hip hop songs, but songs that’s ever been made. Put this in the same category with any song the Beatles, Elvis, Elton John & any other legendary artists or group did that affected the society that they lived in. I’m not saying this with hyperbole here. Think for a second of the cultural impact this song still has. That term C.R.E.A.M. is probably the most used word that affected pop culture in the last 25+ years. Cash Rules Everything Around Me. It fits in every structure of life, from the most determined stockbroker on Wall Street, to the shadiest drug dealer, & everyone in between & to the side. It’s how our society is built. We do everything that we can to stack that paper, whether it’s to be responsible for the future or to floss & pop bottles at the club today, we may not admit it, but it is our life’s mantra. We all want to touch the good life in some way, so this was part of the genius of this song that they touched on this topic. A slang acronym made by them that’s timeless today as it was back in 1993. It’s an incredibly creative move that makes them relevant being that you always think about them when this word is mentioned, or when you grinding hard to make that money.
We haven’t even gotten to the lyrics dropped by Raekwon & Inspectah Deck, touching on their hard lives growing up & the decisions that they’ve made to make a better one. It’s done in a gritty way, but it’s actually a positive song when you break it down. Two things I’ll mention here: 1) Deck’s verse in this song is very underrated. Rae’s verse is sweet, but why I say this is that from looking through the DJ/Producer glasses here, the amount of songs that sampled Deck’s lines in this song is ridiculous. 2) No one in this group could have pulled off the hook better than Method Man. This dude was a true superstar back then & his flow, his voice (sounding different than anything we heard before or since he entered the game), & the way he carried himself on any song he did, I mean, he stands out. He could be rapping out the words to the Marine Land song & you’re already nodding your head. His voice is magnetizing & you can’t help but listen to what he’s saying at all times. While I won’t say the song wouldn’t be as popular if someone else did the chorus, Meth on the hook just brings the record up to a higher level. I just can’t imagine anyone else in the group drawing you in like that.
JAY: Well said Cal! “C.R.E.A.M.” was indeed one of Wu’s tightest tracks of all time. Method Man kills on this track “Cream get tha money, dollar dollar bills ya’ll“. Every so often you’d like to be a fly on the wall when certain tracks are materialized, like what came first? Would it be the chorus, the lyrics, or the beat? RZA’s production on the track is tight; he can really do no wrong when it comes to his beat making technique, the art of sampling at its very best. Even though this song isn’t as hard hitting as others on the album, you can’t help but wild out when you hear the beat drop in the first few bars. Then off the bat Method Man comes in with the legendary chorus for a quick hit, followed by Rae and Deck.
Both Rae and Deck come off great in this song. However to me, with how the track is laid out, Rae gets the most props off the track while Deck bringing up the rear kind of gets left behind. No disrespect to Deck because his lyrics are tight as well. But Rae coming in after the chorus as the primary beat drops makes his verse even better. True story telling indeed, we get a little glimpse in to the beginnings of two of Wu’s best lyricists. I like how they both come off on this track, it’s simple, and for the lack of better words “not noisy”….you get the story straight up with no chaser. The beat is clean, not distracting and the lyrics are crisp, and you right Cal, another collabo where only those two guys can bring life to this track. They both have a kind off lazy lyrical style which plays to the laid back flow of this track even though the message is no joke. C.R.E.A.M. is definitely one of the classic Wu tracks, which even though it might not be played as often as it should be nowadays, it still feels good to hear. I think I still got some Wu Wear jeans in my closet, gotta represent at the next old skool jam.
SHAME ON A N****
“Shame on a Nuh! Who tried to run game on a Nuh!”
“Yo hut one hut two hut three hut!/Ol’ Dirty Bastard live & uncut”
– Do I really have to tell you here?
ME: We can’t get away with talking about this album without mentioning Dirty. Has there ever been a character like this in hip hop before? He was like the crazy drunk uncle out of the group, always sounded like he was 3 drinks over his personal limit. As wild as he was, he still put it together in a creative manner that somehow made sense at the end. He was the other side of the spectrum to Method Man just in the sense that what Meth brought to the table in terms of his smooth flow & husky voice, Dirty brought the crazy, almost nonsensical style that had no origin to it whatsoever. To flip it in martial arts terms, he really was the verbal drunken master if there ever was one. I always loved him the most on his song, it’s like RZA decided that this beat was too smooth for his liking & just threw him in there to see what would happen next.
Also, he had the most creative radio edit for the N-word. Usually any curse word either gets blanked out, has a ding or some crazy sound effect, or it gets played in reverse so that it can be playable for radio mix shows. Usually that’s the responsibility of the producer or sound engineers to deal with that. I would love to know who decided for him to do that, be it him or RZA to come up with “Nuh!” to replace the N-word, but it added a funny element to any record he was on. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons why I love listening to the radio edited version over the original, just to hear “Nuh!” That, and my one quick childhood story regarding this record. One day I was listening to this song on the radio & the chorus was coming in as my Father walked into my room to hear what I was listening to. When he asked what that “Nuh” sound was, I explained to him what it meant, while nodding my head to the beat. He took one looong look at me….held that look for an extra second…..& then just walked out of the room. Just that priceless, “My son is a dumbass” look on his face alone will never make me forget this song, and it’s all due to ODB.
JAY: Ahhh Ol’ Dirty Bastard. I can’t even say he was revolutionary, because no one has ever been able to duplicate or even imitate his lyrical style. He was indeed a “one of a kind” rapper that will go down in history as the best there ever was (more like the best creativity-wise there ever was). “Got burnt once but that was only gonorrhea”, Oh Dirty, the ladies won’t care. They would still want a piece of you.
Cal you had right it, listening to the clean version is much more memorable that the original. Method Man’s verse is a prime example of how sick he was lyrically. His style was unmatched back then and I would still think this now. His flow was tight, quick witted and clever. Shoot, while writing this response to you, I’ve listened to Meth’s verse 10 times already, I can’t get enough of it. Ol’ Dirty’s verses are imaginable as ever, that 3 drinks over his personal limit might be an understatement. He might have also been under that “Oooh Weee” when dropping his verses. You almost don’t know what to expect when ODB touches a track, but you always know that it will be crazy, and like me, you’ll wait for someone to post the lyrics online so you can rap along. Oh yeah, Raekwon’s on this track as well. He actually didn’t really need to be, but who am I to tell them what to do??? Once again RZA does his magic on the beats, but honestly I don’t even really care about it as much as I would on other tracks, its ODB and Method Man’s verses that make this track great.
Shame on a “Nuh!” to anyone who didn’t like this track.
ME: A perfect example of the levels of crazy that ODB can reach? That Woo-Haa remix he did with Busta Rhymes. I know, I know, it has absolutely nothing to do with this album….I honestly just wanted an excuse to show this video.
“From the slums of Shaolin/Wu-Tang Clan strikes again/The RZA, the GZA, Ol Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghost Face Killer AND/M-E-T-H-O-D MAN!”
– GZA….then Method Man
JAY: Thank you sir, for giving me the pleasure to start this convo off talking about one of my favorite Wu Tang tracks ever “Method Man”. This track brings back great memories, but most notably though were the times when I would listen to this track on my way to school early morning before home period for basketball practice. There was an energy in this track that got me pumped before, after and throughout my day. Needless to say, this track was in heavy rotation on my Walkman (Sheesh! A Walkman, how far we have come).
There were several elements in this track that made it special for me. From the mentioning of the other group members in the intro, to when Meth first comes in with the chorus, to the RZA’s production. All of which made this track a highlight on the album. Once again, Meth shows you that his lyrical style is unmatched, and more so his capability of holding down a track with little help from the others. So it was no surprise when Wu started releasing solo artists, the debut started off with Method Man’s “Tical” album.
Method Man was clever in how he linked his versus together, catchy, and at times a little silly.
“Patty cake patty cake, hey! The Method Man/Don’t eat Skippy, Jif or Peter Pan/Peanut butter, Cause I’m not butter/In fact I snap back like a rubber/band, I be Sam, Sam I am/And I don’t eat green eggs and ham/Style will hit ya, wham!, then goddamn/You be like ‘oh shit that’s the jam’…”
But that’s what made it so great to listen and rap along too. There aren’t many tracks out there that I can really enjoy listening to, and I’m glad that this one is by far one of the best.
ME: Silly? A little silly?? Jay, this man in a song — representing one of the most rugged groups of all time – mentions in order:
- Patty Cake(s)
- Peter Pan
- Peanut Butter (what, no mention of jam??)
- Sam I am
- Green Eggs AND…… Ham.
Take a look at that list again. He actually spent time name-dropping different brands of Peanut Butter & Dr. Seuss in his rhymes. He then goes on to quote Tweety Bird & Fat Albert 25 seconds later. Can you imagine what was going on in the mind of the sound engineer when he was mixing down the record? The poor bastard probably picked up the phone multiple times to call RZA & Meth to ask if they’re absolutely sure they don’t want to redo the first half of the verse, thought better of it, hung up & then just continued on with the song with a perplexed look on his face. Considering how the rest of his career turned out though, I’m willing to let this slide. I almost feel like he knew he was so hot back then that he wanted to test the limits of how far he can push us by sliding that in his lyrics. As a teenager, I would play this song relentlessly but always pause slightly at the Green Eggs part like, “really?” I think though that in a funny way, it actually speaks to how great Meth was & is as a rapper & musician. I won’t even get into the fact that he’s by far the only rapper in this group that pulls it off (seriously, I’m not even touching that), by having an authentic voice & delivery, it can really take you far with your audience. I’m not just talking rappers, but singers too.
Whenever someone like Marvin Gaye or Al Green, or even a Ron Isley starts to sing a song, you don’t even need to hear what they’re actually even singing about, they’ve already roped you in with their voice and delivery. The charisma, smoothness, swagger, however you want to describe it, sounds so natural that it comes off as another instrument woven into the music. It’s an extremely powerful quality to have if you’re blessed to even have the quality. In hip hop, rappers like Method Man, Snoop Dogg, & Notorious B.I.G. are examples of this. As soon as they start rapping, you’re pulled in until they’re finish. Didn’t matter what they said, they had you. On top of that, they all had the lyrics & wordplay to match that natural gift they possessed & that’s what made them superstars. This is the greatest trick that Meth shows you in his song, he was magnetic & you couldn’t help but stop what you were doing to hear him speak…..even if he was jacking the words off of Dr. Seuss.
To take it a bit further, it’s that magnetizing spirit that Wu Tang had on our generation. Once they had us, we were taken in by everything they said & did. They changed the game in ways we didn’t even fathom. They affected everything & everyone, from the hood to the suburbs, the streets to the boardroom. They were the first group to sign a record deal that allowed ALL of the members to sign their own individual deals. They were one of the first set of artists to have their own clothing line, setting the path for guys like Diddy & Jay-Z to be wildly rich from this business. They affected our slang, our footwear, shiiit, we even watched more Kung-Fu flicks because of them. Most importantly, they released large amounts of classic material for almost 7 years straight right up until Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele album…..but 36 Chambers was the foundation where the house was built on. Twenty years after their legendary debut, their influence is still felt & for that we are all still very thankful.
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
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Very special thanks to Jay F. for his contributions to this article/blog posting. His radio show The Limelight airs every Saturday from 6 – 8PM on CJLO. You can catch the podcast versions of his show at http://www.podomatic.com/limelight