In honor of Wu-Tang’s return to form with the release of Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Links 2, we take a look back and high and low points in the history of the Clan.
THE 10 BEST WU-TANG ALBUMS THUS FAR
1. Raekwon – “Only Built For Cuban Links” (1995)
While Enter The 36 Chambers is the where most people were introduced to the Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon’s cinematic Only Built For Cuban Links really defined the Wu-Tang sound, even taking it a step further with a loose-knit rags-to-riches narrative. With wall-to-wall RZA production, Rae’s magnum opus thrust his partner in criminology, Ghostface Killah into the spotlight, and produced a number of classic singles. Also popularizing the Wu-Gambino name, (which was bitten by everyone at the time – here’s looking at you, Erick Onasis) the “purple tape” is revered by many as the best Wu-Tang LP’s ever released.
2. Wu-Tang Clan – “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” (1994)
The LP that started it all, found failed rappers Prince Rakeem (RZA) and The Genius (GZA) introducing the rest of their Staten Island crew, reinventing themselves as raw New York emcees with a taste for beats and rhymes as raw as the Kung Fu flicks they grew up on. Introducing an all star line-up of Raekwon, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killah, this was one rare occasion that a group this large held this much talent. Later endlessly copied by just about every other rapper with friends/cousins, Wu-Tang laid the blueprint for the “crew album”, which also set in place previously unheard of business deals, allowing each member to pursue solo contracts with other record labels. Loaded with timeless classics including “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man”, “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ To Fuck Wit”, “Protect Ya Neck”, “Shame On A N****a” and more.
3. GZA/Genius – “Liquid Swords” (1995)
A worthy follow-up to Only Built For Cuban Links, GZA’s debut found RZA in the same state of mind as on Raekwon’s LP, subtly branching out into keyboard sounds, as well. With one of the most brilliant singles ever released, “Labels”, GZA carved his own niche for brilliant wordplay which would extend into several similar singles from the man later down the line. Laced together with the Wu’s now trademark kung fu samples, at only the fifth Wu-Tang related LP to be released, one sample was scarily prophetic. On “Duel Of The Iron Mic”, the film sample rings true of what eventually would happen to the Clan: “At the height of their fame and glory, they turned on one another, each struggling in vain for ultimate supremacy. In the passion and depth of their struggle, the very art that had raised them to such Olympian heights was lost, their techniques, vanished….”. Genius, indeed.
4. Ghostface Killah – “Supreme Clientele” (2000)
By the year 2000, after numerous disappointing releases from various members of the Wu-Tang Clan, many had given up on the hopes of there ever being another classic – or even close-to – classic album from Shaolin. Ghostface Killah refused to let his reputation falter, despite the group’s waning popularity at the time. Once again though, Ghostface shattered all expectations delivering both a hit single (“Cherchez La Ghost”) and an incredible album, which would cement him as the Clan’s most consistent member – something nobody ever saw coming when Enter The Wu-Tang dropped. RZA only produced four tracks, allowing Ghostface to shape his own sound, which complimented that of the Wu-Tang, rather than being a complete departure from it. This LP would lay the blueprint for each of Ghost’s following albums, following closer to this style than that found on his debut, Ironman.
5. Raekwon – “Only Built For Cuban Links Pt. 2″ (2009)
In an era where most rap sequels are destined to suck, (and most albums suck period), we always approach things with “Part 2″ next to them with caution. In this case, considering Rae’s last two solo efforts were disappointments, would this really be a return to form? After all, how could Raekwon top the best Wu-Tang album ever made, not to mention one of the best hip-hop albums period? Simply by sticking to the idea of if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Rather than count on RZA to try to tap into his old self, instead they enlisted a team of producers who obviously hold the original album in high regard. No slouches in the beat department, each RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Marley Marl, J. Dilla, and others round out a production dream team, whom together uncannily produce and album sounding like the work of one producer. Knitted together with the classic interludes and cinematic quality of the first volume, Rae and company surprised everyone with this album, delivering a sequel arguable as good as the original, with no attempt at a “single”. This album may have single handedly reinvented the Wu-Tang Clan and carved out a potential series of future classics to come.
6. Ghostface Killah – “Ironman” (1996)
Ghostface’s Ironman was probably the last solid solo album from the first generation of Wu-Tang projects, before things eventually started to go awry. Again going completely against the grain, the album’s lead single (“Daytona 500″) featured – get this – a dirty ass, simple four-bar Bob James loop, coupled with a video “sampling” vintage Speed Racer cartoon characters rapping at each other. Followed with “Camay”, Ghost went for an unofficial sequel to Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” with the only real “commercial” aspect of this song being that it was about fucking. That’s it. Instead, he saw his hit single come in the form of something not very “marketable” at all – poverty – with “All That I Got Is You”. This Mary J. Blige led (and Mighty Mi remix single of) struck a chord with many, proving Wu-Tang didn’t have to conform to popular radio styles of Bad Boy and Death Row to get airplay. The rest of the album continued the trend of exclusive RZA production, and was the last to do so for a while. Coincidentally, losing this element on future releases broke the Clan’s stride, and eventually led to their downfall in popularity.
7. Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang Forever” (1997)
Many complain that Wu-Tang Forever could have been stronger as a single disc campaign, looking back the pair of CD’s was remarkably consistent, especially paired up next to later bulky offerings from Nas (“I Am” / “Nastradamus”), Jay-Z (“The Blueprint 2″) and the Wu-Tang Clan themselves (“The W” / “The Iron Flag”). This captured the Wu and the apex of their popularity, and pretty much everyone was in prime form here. Again, no attempt was made to water-down their sound, as the album’s lead single “Triumph” didn’t bother with pesky, formulaic things like a hook or time limit (six minutes, Wu-Tang you’re on). Plenty of stand out moments on this LP, too numerous to mention, once again the classic sound is attributed to RZA’s meticulous production and the involvement of everyone in the Clan. This truly was “as high as Wu-Tang get”.
8. Method Man – “Tical” (1995)
This oft-overlooked gem finds the Wu-Tang Clan, and more importantly, Mr. Mef, making exactly the kind of music they originally set out to. The first offshoot after Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was a bit of a fluke, because nobody knew that Method Man was going to be a “star” when the album was recorded. After the success of “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man”, Def Jam found themselves back-peddling trying to market an album of the dirtiest RZA beats available, crafted in the same fashion as Enter The Wu-Tang, yet darker. They opted to have Puff Daddy remix “All I Need To Get By” (with Mary J. Blige), producing a monster hit single. Problem was, that audience was looking for another Biggie album, not the uncompromising Staten Island rawness offered on Tical. As a result, many confused critics didn’t “get” Tical, and slept on this dusty, filthy Wu-Tang classic. Trivia: Just how raw was this album? “Meth Vs. Chef” was a contest to see who could rip the beat better. The winner would get to use the track for his album. Notice Raekwon accidently starts his second verse too soon; RZA in trademark grimy style, left it as is.
9. Ghostface Killah – “Fishscale” (2006)
Ghostface continued his trend of solid albums with Fishscale, his fifth solo album, and first free of any RZA production. Instead, Ghost opted for beats from J. Dilla, M.F. Doom, Just Blaze, and Pete Rock, of which you’ll find no argument from any hip-hop heads out there. While easily one of the best LP’s to come out from the Clan, it does have a few minor issues. Super rap nerds (like us) always were bugged by the familiarity of some of the Dilla and Doom beats that had been previously released on the respective artist’s instrumental compilations. Furthermore, much more time was given to Ghost’s crew, The Theodore Unit, who unfortunately – like most Wu-offshoots – are not a second coming of the Wu-Tang Clan. Despite these minor gripes, still an incredibly solid LP, and held in high regard by many fans.
10. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version” (1995)
They kinda knew going in that selling the musings of a drunken man on welfare wasn’t going to be easy, so going with a title that alludes back the Clan’s classic debut was a cheap way of getting everyone’s attention. Thankfully, it worked. Again backed exclusively by RZA production, even the most uncontrollable, in-cohesive member of the Wu-Tang Clan could carve out a near classic of unprecedented rawness, that in theory would seem unlistenable. Held together by numerous members of the clan, it maintained the close-knit family feel that all of the first-gen Wu albums had, and spawned the classic singles “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brooklyn Zoo”.
THE 5 MOST DISAPPOINTING WU-TANG ALBUMS EVER.
1. RZA – “As Bobby Digital In Stereo” (1999)
Perhaps the most anticipated release in Wu-Tang history – that being RZA’s solo album debut. The one where he would don a mask and dub himself, Bobby Digital. The one where he would commission an incredible, painted (!) Blaxploitation themed album cover. The one that he would let down legions of Wu-Tang fans and disrupt the incredible continuity established on the group’s first five solo releases. What went wrong with this release? Lots. First, RZA’s Bobby Digital alter-ego was a direct contradiction to the 5% teachings that had been infused in his rhymes up until this point, with songs like “Domestic Violence” ending in profane, all-too-real marital disputes that we can get at home. This might have been excusable had the beats been hot, but this album was an “experiment” where RZA decided to move to an all digital sound, losing the depth found on the first seven, sample-based Wu-Tang albums. With heavy guest contributions from Killarmy and other second stringers, not to mention RZA’s frustrating “doo-doo-doo-doo” Buck Rogers sound, this LP marked the beginning of the downfall in Wu LP quality.
2. Method Man – “Tical 2000: Judgement Day” (1997)
Tical 2000 was not horrible – it’s certainly one of the “better” Method Man albums, we guess, but you can tell from the way Def Jam marketed this thing that they thought this was going to thrust Meth into super-stardom. Guest appearances from D’Angelo, Left-Eye, Chris Rock, Janet Jackson, and Donald Trump all wondering where Meth’s album is (as if Tical didn’t exist) tried to illuminate this thing as if it was already classic. While it was received well commercially (double-platinum!!), in the end it was critically panned leaving most of the audience with a collective “ho-hum”.
3. Raekwon – “Immobilarity” (1999)
Don’t get us started on this one. How does Rae follow-up the best Wu-Tang Clan solo album ever? By trading RZA beats for… DJ Devastator, and…Triflyn, (who?). No RZA beats, no Ghostface appearances, just a lot of synthy keyboard drug-rap and guest raps from The American Cream Team. This LP did have a few far and far-in-between fleeting moments, that being Pete Rock’s lone contribution “Sneakers”, where Rae pens a love letter to his shoe collection – perhaps the most genuine thing on the album. And that means no, “All That I Got Is You Pt. 2″, featuring the silky sounds of Big Bub, did not achieve the desired effect. Seriously, the only people who liked this album worked for Loud Records (we see you, 007!).
4. ODB – “Nigga Please” (1999)
Yes, a brilliant album cover, no, not a brilliant album. Not that we really expected for ODB to strike lightning twice or anything, but again, the label got caught up in the marketability of Dirty as a “funny, crazy guy!”, rather than the music itself. This led to a complete change in sound, spearheaded by the lead single “Got Your Money”, which introduced the world to The Neptunes and Kelis. That’s great and all, but with the then amateur Neptunes (who would eventually come into their own, but not here) producing most of the album, with help from Irv Gotti, the end result was a forgotten, despite Gold selling LP. It’s enough to make a “nuh” go craaaaazy.
5. GZA – “Pro Tools” (2009)
You know it’s not a good thing when the artist says this about their new album: “I saw an ad out there where it’s promoted as a GZA album. I’ll probably be on most of the tracks, but its supposed to be a compilation album, there’s various artists on the album.” Ahhhh, that explains it. We didn’t get the memo – and apparently either did GZA. Because every other GZA/Genius album has been good. Unlike this.
Dishonorable Mention: Let’s face it, despite good moments on both LP’s, The Iron Flag and The W could have been consolidated into one strong album, not two mediocre LP’s.
THE 10 BEST WU-AFFILIATE ALBUMS EVER
1. Gravediggaz – “6 Feet Deep/ Niggamortis”
2. El Michels Affair “Enter The 37 Chamber”
3. La The Darkman – “Heist Of The Century”
4. Theodore Unit – “718″
5. Killah Priest – “Heavy Mental”
6. Shyhiem – “Aka The Rugged Child”
7. Mathematics – “Love Hell Or Right”
8. Killarmy – “Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars”
9. Dreddy Kruger – “Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture”
10. Cilvaringz – “I”
THE 5 STRANGEST WU-TANG AFFILIATES
According to Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) liner notes, there are over 300 members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Perhaps the other 290 are the reason the Wu fell on hard times midway through their career. Here, we take a look at some of the oddest additions to the Clan.
1. Remedy: This guy’s claim to fame was that he was the first Jewish member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Wow, really? Hey, we’re all for racial diversity, but doesn’t this kind of contradict the beliefs of the 5 percent nation? Oy vey.
2. GP Wu: Made up of guys like Ghostface’s cousin Pop Da Brown Hornet, Rubbabandz, and others, there was definitely some talent in this crew, who apparently adopted the “Wu” name without permission, figuring the blood relation and Staten Island origins were good enough. The group later dropped “Wu” from their name, and recorded dis tracks at the actual Wu-Tang Clan. Imagine that.
3. U-Godzilla Presents The Hillside Scramblers: Sorry, but if we aren’t really checking for a U-God album in the first place, why would we want to hear an album from his less-famous friends. Pass.
4. Ice Water / American Cream Team: When Raekwon started hanging with these cats over his original 10 man team, the quality of his music suffered as well. Furthermore, how can an album called “Polluted Water” be any good?
5. Deadly Venoms: Ah yes, the female wing of the Wu-Tang Clan. A loose-knit collective of lady emcees with the alluring, feminine qualities of the WNBA. We’re not asking for Foxy Brown, but at least give us MC Lyte.
30 BEST SINGLES (NOT SONGS) FROM THE WU-TANG CLAN:
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Wu-Tang Clan dominated east-coast mixshows and weekly afternoon rap video lineups. While this list does not encompass every single released by the Clan (and it was almost impossible to narrow it down to just 30 singles), it does represent the most influential, memorable, and break-out moments for the almighty WTC. You all can bicker amongst yourselves about the order – this isn’t based on sales figures or chart positions, but more on the impact each song had on hip-hop as a whole.
1. “C.R.E.A.M.” – Wu-Tang Clan
2. “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” – Wu-Tang Clan
3. “You’re All I Need To Get By” – Method Man (feat. Mary J. Blige)
4. “Ice Cream” – Raekwon feat. Method Man, Cappadonna, Ghostface Killah
5. “Protect Ya Neck” – Wu-Tang Clan
6. “Chez Chez La Ghost” – Ghostface Killah
7. “Can It Be All So Simple” – Wu-Tang Clan
8. “Bring The Pain” – Method Man
9. “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
10. “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ To Fuck With” – Wu-Tang Clan
11. “Labels” – GZA/Genius
12. “Daytona 500″ – Ghostface Killah feat. Raekwon, Cappadonna, Force M.D.’s
13. “Criminology” – Raekwon (feat. Ghostface Killah)
14. “All That I Got Is You” – Ghostface Killah (feat. Mary J. Blige)
15. “4th Chamber’” – GZA/Genius (feat. Ghostface Killah, RZA, Killah Priest)
16. “Glaciers Of Ice” – Raekwon (feat. Ghostface Killah)
17. “Triumph” – Wu-Tang Clan
18. “Heaven & Hell” – Raekwon (feat. Ghostface Killah)
19. “Liquid Swords” – GZA/Genius
20. “Incarcerated Scarfaces” – Raekwon
21. “Winter Warz” – Ghostface Killah (feat. Cappadonna, Masta Killah, U-God)
22. “Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance” (feat. RZA, Method Man, Cappadonna)
23. “Protect Ya Neck II (The Jump Off)” – Wu-Tang Clan
24. “97 Mentality” – Cappadonna (feat. Ghostface Killah)
25. “Shadowboxin’” – GZA/Genius (feat. Method Man)
26. “Uzi (Pinky Ring)” – Wu-Tang Clan
27. “Brooklyn Zoo” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
28. “Got Your Money” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard (feat. Kelis)
29. “Camay” – Ghostface Killah (feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna)
30. “Apollo Kids” – Ghostface Killah
5 BEST WU-COLLABORATIONS OF THE 90′S:
1. Method Man with Redman – “How High” (“The Show” Soundtrack)
2. Method Man on Notorious B.I.G.’s “The What” (“Ready To Die” LP)
3. Raekwon with Nas on Mobb Deep’s “Eye For An Eye” (“The Infamous” LP)
4. Raekwon, Ghostface, with Prodigy of Mobb Deep on Pete Rock’s “Tha Game” (“Soul Survivor” LP)
5. Raekwon with Nas, Big Pun, Jadakiss, on Fat Joe’s “John Blaze” (“Don Cartegena” LP)
Not Quite “Triumphs”:
The Most Embarrassing Moments For Fans Of The Wu-Tang Clan
1. Ol’ Dirty Bastard Crashes The Grammys: OK, we can also argue that this is the best moment in Wu-Tang history. But still, look what it’s inspired. (Ahem, Kanye).
2. Fox’s “Red & Meth” TV Show: Redman and Method Man are rappers, not actors. This television show is proof that not every rapper can transcend from one entertainment genre to the other. You can almost hear the crickets chirping in the background after the “funny parts”.
3. Redman and Method Man in How High: The Movie: Not to be confused with “How High”, the song, which is good. This blows.
4. The “Gravel Pit” Video: What’s going on here?
5. RZA Holds Paper Of Lyric Sheet At America Is Dying Slowly Jam: Nothing says concern for a global epidemic like not bothering to learn your lyrics for an AIDS benefit. Instead, just bring a torn piece of loose-leaf paper with you. He can do that though. He’s got 18 points on his next joint.
AND FINALLY, A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF HOW I SAVED THE WU-TANG CLAN SHOW. OR AT LEAST THAT’S HOW I LIKE TO REMEMBER IT.
It was 1997 at The Drink nightclub in Las Vegas, NV, during the Magic clothing / fashion expo. HHS co-founder Warren Peace was spinning the party, in which the Wu-Tang Clan would perform. This was during HipHopSite’s first year, with the Wu’s popularity at an all-time high, and I was the biggest Wu-Tang fan ever. Now this was pre-Serato era, back when DJ’s would actually bring thier records to gigs. That being said, you had to be selective with how much shit you could bring with you at a time because of space issues, etc. Warren would usually travel with about 4-6 crates. So Warren figures that he’s not going to bring any Wu-Tang records with him, because’s he’s not going to play any of them, since they are going to perform the songs live later that evening, obviously.
So the show promoter comes up to Warren while he is spinning, and says “okay, what Wu-Tang records do you have with you, we need to organize a set.” Warren is standing there dumb-founded, shocked that nobody bothered to bring a set list, DAT, or ANYTHING for the Wu to perform over, figuring the DJ would have it with him. So Warren looks at me and says, “Pizzo, go home and get all of your Wu-Tang records”. I lived 10 minutes away, so I sped home and got everything.
So I arrive back to the club with just about every Wu-Tang record ever released, including a white label of “Box In Hand (Demo)”, figuring “fuck it”. The promoter tells this 21 year old kid, “go upstairs to VIP and talk to RZA.” I go upstairs and the VIP room is filled with the almost entire Wu-Tang Clan, plus two hot models for each one. RZAs in the center, almost sitting there like royalty, looking like the “Long Live The Kane” album cover. I’m in complete fanboy shell-shock. I walk up to RZA, he shakes my hand with his pointy-ass rings, and the proceeds to dig through my records, selecting each song for the performance. Meanwhile, I’m looking around, and pretty much everyone is there, except for Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Ghostface. After I gave RZA the records, I proceeded to interview/bother each member. This, my friends, is what it is like for a white rap nerd to die and go to heaven, and to walk among the gods and earths.
After that, everything went fine, and they performed without missing a beat. The recording of this performance is circulating the net, titled “Wu-Tang Live In Vegas”, recorded by yours truly. – DJ Pizzo
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