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Wu Tang Clan

A Bunch Of Staten Island Rappers Who Smoke A Lot Of Weed and Think They're Karate Masters Sounds Like A Winning Formula? Riiiiiight...

Introduction

Enter The Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers)

Wu Tang Forever

The W

Iron Flag


Hailing from the mean streets of Staten Island, New York ('the borough where nobody lives'), best known for housing one of the largest trash dumps on the Eastern Seaboard, The Wu Tang Clan burst forth in the early 1990's to the surprise and shock of anyone connected with rap music. If you will, please think back to the halcyon days of 1993, when the easy-going laid-back P-Funkt gin and juicin' of Dr. Dre, Warren G, and most especially Snoop Doggy Dogg (back when he had both of his last names and a residue of talent). West Coast was, indeed, truly gangsta rap, mostly interesting itself with stories of selling drugs, bagging chicks, and hangin' with the buds (and, well, bud). Musically it was often bright and cheery, glammed up with Moog melodies and sing-songy choruses. Soon, however, as a form of rejection of the West Coast mentality, The Wu and East Coast rap in general was about to break wide open. If West Coast rap gave one visions of low-riders in the sunset, East Coast conjured apparitions of bleak post-apocalyptic evil, complete with leather-jacketed demons and bombed out prisons. The sound of the Wu Tang Clan's production (courtesy of conceptual guru RZA), stripped down to a generic-but-strong beat, horror-movie piano tinkles, and sound bites ripped from old kung fu movies, was a simple revelation in the age of no more samples. And weren't we all just a bit tired of James Brown and George Clinton anyway? Well anyhow, East Coast stayed much closer to the simple rappers-with-a-drum-machine style of the ol' boys Run-DMC and Grandmaster Flash, and as a result drew a voracious audience overnight.

About the actual rapping...Wu Tang Clan and its side projects are a 'rapper's collective' which often numbers upwards of 30 members. And that's just in the basic Clan, not even considering their million-and-a-half spinoff groups both directly and tenuously connected with the group. A typical Wu Tang Clan song passes the mic to 3 or 4 different MC's, and...yeah...only a few of them are really distinguishable from the masses. Lyrically, of course violence and power reign supreme, but we also have strange inroads from spirituality and life philosophy that certainly aren't typical. And they love their word puzzles...studying and attempting to make sense of a Wu Tang Clan lyric sheet can be a pretty interesting pastime. But some of them are, and that's where the gravy lies. Fans have their favorites, beit the laid-back smoothness of Meth, the hyped up delivery of Deck and Raekwon, or the sheer lunacy of ODB. And each of the 9 or so 'core' members (RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Chef Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killer, U-God, and Cappadonna) have a multitude of solo albums I'll get to some time. And a bunch of Wu-Wear clothing I'll never buy.

Digi Stance     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: The guy who wrote the "review" for these albums is a fucking prick.  This is not a review of any kind.  This is his stuck-up ass giving his bullshit opinion.  I'll bet this asshole listened to each album once tops.  Complete bullshit.  He fails to notice the incredible artistic creativity that lies within each album.  The reviewer was obviously looking for a pop sing-along album, which you can see when he says that Forever is "too hookless." Just because there are many hooks does not mean that the value of the work of art goes down.  And the cynical comment glaring right at the top of the "review" is just nonsense.  How does this prick know these guys smoke "too much weed." Seriously, who is he to say?  And they do not think they are karate masters, which he would have realised if he listened to the albums more than once.  And the "riiiiiight" at the end of the statement is the kicker.  This ladies and gentlemen, is not a review at all.  This is a fuckin!g rant.  The person who wrote this piece of shit should be taken back and shot.  Thank you.

 


Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) - RCA 1993.

Now, I like rap music or some really base reasons. For one, I get a kick out of music based on nothing more than a beat that never changes. It's sort of the anti-prog. It doesn't even have the slightly psychedelic charm of decent electronic music. It just goes 'oompa boomp oompa boomp' all day long, and don't let it ever be claimed I don't like a good beat. I also like picking out lines like 'I was the thrilla in the alley Frasier/Manilla'...I think that's stuff is fucking amazing when done right. But, then again, if I'm doing nothing but getting on down with the rap music...you know...actually concentrating on the stuff, about 20 minutes is all I need before I start getting pretty fed up with 'niggas' and fucking high hats. Don't think that criticism is too harsh, because I can't stand any more Chuck Berry than about 30 minutes, or early Beatles than about 35, and I can't even tolerate most of my favorite groups for much longer than 60 without a break. I guess its just my Nintendo generation attention-span retardation showing. 36 Chambers isn't any different for zero-to-boredom times, but what is different is that I can start this thing at any point and still get off. Try that with most rap albums (the Motown of the 90's...a few ringer hits and Santa-bagfuls of filler).

Easily the best of the Wu Tang Clan's group albums, 36 Chambers still sounds mighty snazzy even after all these years and all these solo albums. When that introductory sample 'I'll let you try my Wu Tang style' leads into the ultra stripped 'Bring Da Ruckus', all basic slightly-dirted up drum machine and boasts of violent prowess, it's obvious these guys are into something a bit more interesting than the usual bud-and-nines bullshit. It's not that these guys are all amazing rappers, but they spit out their venom with such conviction that its difficult not to be carried along in their sway. But the boys know how to get funky as well, as the horn-hooked 'Shame On Tha Nigga' introduces probably the two most distinctive members of the group, Method Man and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Meth is all smooth, stoned and intimidating, and ODB is just a cross between a subway wino and a street preacher, the band's Flava Flav but without as much silliness. If you get confused with the rest of the group identities, the interview portion of 'Can It Be All So Simple' won't help much, but you can simply turn off your mind and enjoy the chickly sample cocaine hook. If you like your rap chant-y, take 'Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Fuck With', if you like laid back and swing-y soul backing tracks, 'C.R.E.A.M' is your Chupa Chup, and for the best lyrical acrobatics of the entire joint, dig 'Method Man', the theme song for the glamour boy of the group, and the best rapper of all of 'em.

Of course, this being a rap album, and rap albums only being allowed to have one or two innovations at a time, we've also got in-between song 'skits' based around who got shot, who got laid, and all the other fun stuff that goes on in the neighborhoods you like to drive through fast after dark. Interestingly, they talk more like Scorseseized Italians than city black folks, and like to have a chuckle at the prospect of a new dead nigger, also much like in your favorite Scorsese movie. I guess its an evil world in which we live in. Or so Paul McCartney would have had us to be believing on. And 'Protect Ya Neck' is funny, head noddin', and impressive all at the same time. Plus it gives a really interesting history of the band. Some kind of pit barbecue shit that is.

Capn's Final Word: You'll listen and say, hey, it's a rap album. But the thing is, these tracks would all be featured singles on lesser group's albums. Here, they're just 'album tracks'. That's pretty impressive.

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MK  odcdclown@aol.com  Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: well written article.....i felt most of what you commented on was the truth....

sam     Your Rating:      A+
Any Short Comments?:     I you dont have this album tou are not a true rap fan

Big Ole Dun Dun     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Yo, one thing you should be aware of: it's "the Ali/Frazier Manilla" - as in Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, not alley as in thin street. Or whatever. Anyways, I found your site because I'm just getting into a bit of Nirvana now, 10 years later, and I was reading the reviews and they're really good. Funny how my Dad has most of the older records on this site, so I can relate to almost every review you've done.

I grew up on nothing but hip-hop, but I think in the same way you can't relate to the angst-Nirvana stuf anymore, I'm just looking for some good music nowadays and I haven't seriously listened to hip-hop for a couple of years, so when
I hear a decent new track it's like a nice surprise, like Kanye West or whoever. Peace.

 


Wu Tang Forever - RCA 1997

After listening to the Wu's follow-up two disc monolith, if I never hear another repetitive piano sample it'll be too soon for me to jump to my death from the side of the Empire State Building with all the street traffic. I mean, by the time Forever came out in '97, the industry had already taken 36 Chambers, disassembled it to its core components, distilled it to a transparent liquid, packaged it in jelly jars with pry-off lids, and sold it to every white kid with a compact pickup and a desire to lay a black woman. But the problem was, since we'd kept up with the continuing adventures of Meth, ODB, Inspectah Deck, GZA, and Raekwon thanks to their '94-'96 solo albums, expectations were running a bit high. They got a bigger budget, made some neato videos, and planned to tour with Rage Against The Machine...oh, and Ol' Dirty Bastard renamed himself Big Baby Jesus. Fittingly, Forever fails. It fails to meet almost any of its expectations over its decade-and-a-half running time, leaving us with a lot of rapping and a desperate lack of ideas.

We also have a creeping sensation that Wu Tang is losing its sincerity. Back in the day, Public Enemy used to put ads for t-shirts and hats and shit in its CD booklets but it felt like you were contributing to some sort of a guerilla terrorist band when you sent your check for $34.99. Like they needed the money if they were ever going to get around to killing the president and declaring it a Black Planet (sounds like a fun idea to me, actually...but then again I'm in a really superficial mood). Wu Tang does the same thing here but it smacks more of crassly separating kids from their money than anything else. And the extreme length of the album is due to what? The huge egos of its members! Each one needs his solo spot, doesn't he? And since the lineup is now bloated by folks with little to redeem them other than being 'down wit da Clan', it's now harder than ever to tell who's doing what (even after those solo albums which, if nothing else, helped acquaint us with whose voice was whose). And adding stuff like enhanced CD videos and shit doesn't help much...it merely points out how desparately they wanted to cover up their lack of musical ideas.

Not saying this album is absolutely without merit. On some tracks the backing music is especially cool. Check out the massed violin soloing on 'Reunited'...that's right. Massed violin soloing. That's balls, ladies and friends. And the rapping is some of the best on the album. And track 3 'For Heaven's Sake' is nearly as good...here, RZA goes for a wall-of-sound mess and hits it to the upper deck. It really sounds like you're descending into the world of Escape From New York. But the vibe doesn't last. Oftentimes it sounds like our boys have so many lines of rhyme they can't wait to spit them all out on the floor of the studio. Hold off for a second, cowboy,  and let your words sink in! It just turns into a fuckload of blah blah if you don't. Take the first section 'Vizionz' as an example of doing it right. Now that's delivery, Method Man. The next guy just goes blabber bubble bubble and the track falls to piano-tinkling pieces. And I can't say that the record ever picks itself up and dusts itself off ever again. From this point onward the backing tracks get more and more rote, the voices less and less distinguishable, and the themes fuzzier and fuzzier. Say goodbye to the humor. Say goodbye to interesting instrument samples. I mean, it's not like RZA was ever all that keen on changing things up...Paul's Boutique-era Dust Brothers he's not, but he almost seems to be rationing out his ideas: no more than one per track and sometimes less than that. (And, yes, I know that some other producers are brought in are some selected tracks, but they all sound the same) It degrades to its worst point at the end of CD1 where, from about 30 minutes of music, the kung fu movie sample 'It's just that you should be punished...I'm going to chop off your arms' is the most memorable piece of sound. Not even 'Triumph', the big blow-out-the-lineup-wad MTV hit that leads off CD2, is able to generate much in the excitement department. It's just more Wu Tang doing what Wu Tang does, rap well over over-simplified and under-inventive backgrounds. We may still be in the Wu Tang's fantasy world of ninja gangstas and threatening silences, but by now its not scary or threatening any more...it's merely boring and the lights don't work. That's why the romantic change-of-pace 'Black Shampoo' is such a nice breath of fresh weed smoke. Like Robert Redford said in The Natural, 'The only thing I know about the dark is I can't see in it.'

Capn's Final Word: I said that on 36 Chambers, it didn't matter where you dropped the needle because it was all top-notch. On Forever, it doesn't matter where you drop the needle (after the first 3 or 4 tracks of CD1, that is), because it all sounds so damn much alike. Wu Tang's Tales From Topographic Oceans, except without the cool castrato.

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GMH3POINT

I feel you have underestimated Wu Tang Clan's hit Triumph, not only was it a mainstream smash, but it was a song that endures through the ages. I listen to it like at least twice a day, mostly more. People look at it and say the lyrics dont make sense or the beat is too simple or its just more of the same, but I feel differently. First off the song has the best rhyming in I have ever witnessed in my life. I feel many people underestimate how hard it is to formulate rhymes like these guys do. The first line of the song, "I bomb atomically, Socrates' philosopies and hypotheses" sets the rhyming tone for the rest of the song. You cant find any better rhyming anywhere than Triumph. I wont get into boring stuff like meter and assonance and conssonce, but they use it masterfully to go along with the beat in a smooth fashion. Raps more complicated than people think, its damn near poetry. I feel that this song is their best ever, but as for the rest of the CD, meh. The lyrics of the song, well... with lines like "My beats travel like a vortex, through your spine to the top of your cerebral cortex" may not make sense, but they sure as hell sound good. Might I add that the song is successful with minimal cussing. So please give credit where it is due, afterall I dont know about you but I sure can jump like Rod Strickland, ha.

ddickson@rice.edu

Hey now.  Most of the songs on this album WERE featured singles.  On New York airwaves, at least.  I hated it the first time--I was a little hungover on Public Enemy.  Now I've learned to appreciate the empty space between the beats--it accentuates the goodness of the rappage, as well as the experimentality of the producemanship.  And Rizza's my favorite MC on here, insanely enough.  Spare, neo-old school hip-hop at its finest.
 


The W - Sony 2000

Obviously, the Poon Tang Clan went into The W thinking that they wanted to forget the bloat of Forever, pare down to the essentials, and release a record that hit just as hard as their first one. A concise, laser-guided rap album that would place the Crown Of Rap Stardom squarely back on the heads of the Clan. Well they're gonna have to try to try a little harder than starting an album as slowly as The W does. Where the fuck are the beats on the first songs on this album? I mean, 'Chamber Music' and 'Careful (Click Click)' are interesting, in that they're doing far from typical rap stuff, but that doesn't mean they're doing anything else particularly well. It's like RZA went in to the studio and asked himself, 'wouldn't a quarter-ounce spliff and a 13 year old gymnast be nice right now?'

Wait just a second? Why would he say that? He said 'I wish I had a Big Mac in one hand and Barbara Walter's right boob in the other'

No, actually he just said 'I can't figure out this new Yamaha RectaCopulator 2002 to save my aging nigga ass. Fuck this drum machine bullshit...I'm gonna produce a rap album with nary a drum on it!' Actually he didn't. Making a rap album without drums is like having sex without falling asleep too soon afterwards. But making a rap album that isn't very funky is only as far away as your nearest 3rd Bass CD section. And on here RZA drops the ball faster than a soccer player who the referee isn't looking at.

What...you're telling me that wasn't funny? But it was accurate...and isn't that all the more important for a metaphor? Must I always be as funny as a young child who just had his bladder fail him in a publicly viewed situation?

Anyway...The W only picks up as of Meth's best moments on 'Do You Really (Thang Thang)' and the single 'Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)' which is based on a sample that sounds like Godzilla eating a Tokyo taxi diver.

What...should my metaphors always have the spelling your conveniently closed mind expects? Maybe I was describing someone who dived into the ocean looking for lost taxis. Or not.

Anyway...what the hell am I supposed to say about a shitty rap album? The rapping is generally phoned-in (though the closing 'Jah World' is at least inspired), Ol' Dirty Bastard is gone and Method Man and RZA are only sporadically involved because they're such big stars now. Ghostface Killah is only okay on here (and is also only a star in rap circles), and...oh fuck the ass outta that excrement, I still can't tell any of the others apart no matter how much I pressure Olympic figure skater judges. There's no beats on here! And stuff like the disco girl-pleasing shiffle on 'Gravel Pit' are about as good as a Sister Sledge album for gangstas ta rap ta. Score: My head hasn't nodded once, even though I spiked a few grains of the Azerbaijani shit just over a half hour ago. Or not. The Isaac Hayes feature on 'I Can't Go To Sleep' is really quite gimmicky and is a poor replacement for the lost ODB spots on Forever and 36 Chambers, which tapped my turtle anyhow. Listen, I can't stand a Tangy Woo album if RZA's snot at his creepiest and the beats aren't at their hardest. And the words...ech...they obviously keep the best stuff for their solo albums.

Capn's Final Word: Is it just me or are these guys really starting to get old? Does not have the parts of a rap album that make me want to listen to a rap album.

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 Iron Flag - Sony 2001

Amazing how quick the times change. See, when I first sat down to listen to my brand new copy of Iron Flag I was expecting a bunch of one-noted, no-beated W outtakes, because no two Wu Tang albums ever came out in consecutive years, unless you count some cash in hits package or something. So it just had to be that these were just tossed off faster than a 13 year old boy watching his sister have sex. But, hey! No way! These songs are, like, developed and shit, as much as rap songs ever are if your name isn't De La Soul, and boy-eee are they funky fresh. Or at least not so stale as Forever and W were, at any rate. It's the best Wu Tang Clan album since their debut, and I got no qualms about saying that. What do I like here? I like the way RZA's attacking the mic again, I like the way the beats are heavy but bright and crackling and always have something a little extra tacked on there to assure you the THC is still a-flowin like it should be. I like the different atmospheres they get on songs like 'Chrome' or 'Babies'. Plus, maaaaaaan, Flava Flav guests on the very Bomb Squad 'Soul Power', and I don't see the guy's lost anything off his old game. Even the more standard (but excellent) tracks like the opening 'In The Hood' have the intelligence to include little details like some soul horns goin' on down in there. 

This album is the Wu Tang's most soulful and most old school East Coast Paul's Boutique-esque record ever (there's got to be a shitload of samples on here...but then again maybe they actually created all this shit. Now that would be impressive.), and I gotta say I almost like it better than 36 Chambers. And yeah, I do like the rapping better...But then again, 36 Chambers sounded original, groundbreaking, and revolutionary...all that jazz you don't come across on rap albums too often. I have heard rap albums sound like Iron Flag before, but they were all made way back 10 years ago or more. This one is just plenty bags of fun stuff, and I don't find anything wrong wit dat. All the rappers shine on here, and the lyrics are top notch on stuff like 'Uzi' or They simply don't make rap albums like this any more.

So why not a higher grade than this? Ehh...they can't help but fade towards the end. The warning signs first appear on 'Y'all Be Warned', which sounds like business as Wu-sual (tho Meth sounds really good...) and 'Back In The Game' is a little too jerky for it's own good. And next to uncut pure death-ray stuff like 'Chrome' or 'Soul Power', the main part to the dark lowdown 'Triumph'-esque mic-passer title track pales, even though it's still equal to most of the stuff on Forever. And since it's two-part (?) you also get a really ugly second part that's more distortion than funk, and I'm lost.

Capn's Final Word: But sheeeeeeit. This is the most fun I've had with a new rap album in years. All the scratcing is nice, too. Cough up the dough for this one.

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