Revisiting the Best Wu-Tang Tracks of The Mid-Nineties
Revisiting the Best Wu-Tang Tracks of The Mid-Nineties
Revisiting the Best Wu-Tang Tracks of The Mid-Nineties
When Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was released in 1993, the genesis of rap’s “Voltron,” the Wu burst onto the scene with raw lyricism that exposed the world to “slums of Shaolin.” Running nine-deep with hard-hitters, the Wu never became stagnate in their albums, whether it be as a group or as individuals, in the mid-nineties. “The RZA, The GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and the Method Man;” nine members that equate to an all-star batting order. Each rapper came with a different skill and flow, but the entire group was cohesive enough to produce the gritty, iconic sound that has cemented the group, and each individual as a viable option for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (eligible 2018). With a timeless sound and the emblematic Wu “W” stamped on most, if not all Wu projects, it would be controversial to neglect the collective’s legacy.
The Killa Beez had an eventful summer’s end, and are set to have another eventful fall. The Clan resurfaced in mid-August in an interview on Open Late With Peter Rosenberg, gang members of YBN joined Rosenberg to speak about their music, and influences along the way. In conversation, The Wu-Tang Clan was questioned as a potential influence by Rosenberg, and Almighty Jay answered with “no disrespect, I don’t know who that is.” To someone who is a Wu-Tang fanatic, Jay’s statement is like nails on a chalkboard. However, in his defense, his influences “never went that far back.” Rappers, Logic and 2Chainz, and fashion label, Supreme, have been in collaborative efforts to resurrect the collective, as Logic and 2Chainz have both released an album and mixtape, respectively, and Supreme has teased a Liquid Swords inspired t-shirt.
So, let the list begin.
10. Brooklyn Zoo by Ol’ Dirty Bastard (1995)
In his Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version “Ason Unique” viciously, and verbally desecrates an anonymous foe with detailed and deafening threats as he passionately yells each bar into the mic.” Ol’ Dirt McGirt;” the Ol’ Dirty Bastard released this diatribe in 1995, a year that featured multiple Wu-Tang associated projects. The allure to this single, and the reasons why it stands at number TEN:
Why it made the list: “There ain’t no father to his style, that’s why he’s the Ol’ Dirty Bastard,” is a quote from fellow Wu member, Method Man at the end of “Can It Be All So Simple/Intermission.” That quote holds weight to this day, even after O.D.B’s passing in 2004. The unorthodox style of aggressive rap that O.D.B weld like a deranged samurai, slicing and stabbing with saliva-spewing flow, creates the genius that was his being, which will live on through this song.
Why it is number 10: Although it made the list, “Brooklyn Zoo” is such an aggressive song that it could be off-putting to those seeking something with soothing flow, and not as threatening as this single. Ol’ Dirt is a required taste. The nature of his music can either create a rabid fan, or deter the listener from other works. First listen is always the best with this song, but once repeated, the tirade can become a fan-favorite.
9. Guillotine (Swordz) by Raekwon [feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & GZA] (1995)
Included in the previously mentioned historic Wu-filled year of 1995, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon produced multiple hits that flaunted the husky rapper’s buttery flow, and gravelly voice. Raekwon welcomed three of the heaviest hitters in the Wu entourage on “Guillotine (Swordz)” as oft-collaborated with Ghostface Killah is featured, along with Inspectah Deck and GZA.
Why It made the list: The production of this track by polynymous mastermind producer, RZA. Sampling from the movie Shaolin vs Lama is a Wu-Tang staple, especially one utilized by RZA. The first sample “allow me to demonstrate the skill of Shaolin; the special technique of shadowboxing” is a preface for the entire song. As he famously does, the “verbal assaulter,” Inspectah Deck, leads the charge. Bars from Deck, Ghost and GZA murder this track with vivid animosity.
“Poisonous paragraphs smash ya phonograph in half. It be Inspectah Deck on the warpath.” -Inspectah Deck
“Whatever hot hardheads get shattered like mirrors. Beretta shots splatter your goose, scatter your feathers.” -Ghostface Killah
“I got mad styles of my own. And it’s shown when my hands grip the chrome microphone. Verbally, I catch bodies with cordless shotties. Intriguing MCs, I keep ‘em trained like potties.” -GZA
8. Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ by The Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
The Wu-Tang Clan is known for cypher-like raps, ones that feature most members with quick verses that allows each rapper to demonstrate their God-given skillset. Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ happens to be the first cypher-like rap to grace this list. The dusty production from RZA is easy on the ears, compared to the violent style that is showcased by each member.
Why it made the list: You could argue the attack that U-God catapults onto this track is the reason this song made the list. However, the chants and choruses make the track not only appealing, but unforgettable.
“My peoples, are you with me, where you at? In the front, in the back, Killa Bees on attack,” and the entire group chanting “Wu-Tang” four times over, pleading for the listener to join them, makes the track an easy rap-along for small groups to sizable concerts.
7. I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By by Method Man [feat. Mary J. Blige] (1995)
Enter, the Wu-Tang love song.
Method Man’s ode to his girl, supported by Mary J. Blige’s backup vocals and Biggie’s “Me and My Bitch” hook, displays a change of face from the Staten Island rapper. Although the track is a love song, Method Man’s gangster disposition isn’t hindered by that fact. In marrying the two MCs, Meth and Mary successfully explored an avenue that has since become the staple for R&B throughout the past two decades.
Why it made the list: Not to neglect the talent-laden song’s success or addictive melody, this track provides a passage into the soft side of Wu-Tang. Method Man went on a limb to create this masterpiece, and the ROI benefitted him greatly in the long run. The thug-love motif, along with the chorus, and heartfelt lyrics make this track truly timeless.
6. Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber by The Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
This track grants us the rare opportunity of peering behind the curtain of the group. The banter of Raekwon and Method Man arguing over Rae’s missing Killer Tape shows us how tight-knit the group actually is. Upon “Shameek from 212” getting capped, all of the Wu heavyweights sample the listener with quick, machine gun-like verses.
Why it made the list: Wu-Tang is generally unrelenting with their group raps. “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” is precisely that, but RZA offers mercy with a crisp, chilling beat that releases the tension of each member, resulting in an equilibrium. The passion of each rapper, and the production by RZA is transparent on this track. It’s a no-frills, lyrical massacre, deservent of middle ground (rank), due to the balance of the previously stated characteristics.
5. Shadowboxin’ by GZA [feat. Method Man] (1995)
Cold. killers. Anyone can argue that “Liquid Swords,” “Duel of the Iron Mic,” or “4th Chamber” should come before this track. However, “Shadowboxin’” is straightforward, and no bullshit. The aforementioned tracks have drawn out sampled intros that could dilute the hype of the song, depending on the listening occasion.
Why it made the list: Method Man and GZA create an eerie, midnight drive rap. The killer instinct of each MC on “Shadowboxin’” is chill-inducing. The flow that GZA and Method Man implement on this track make it the best song on the album, and a highly-touted Wu-Tang project. The repetitive beat very rarely has any alterations throughout, but the innovation of the beat will leave all listeners bobbin’ their heads. GZA’s verse on “Shadowboxin’” is the verbal equivalent of a slicing katana; slashing at all comers and the music industry suits.
“Yo, I slayed MC’s in the rec room era. My style broke motherfucking backs like Ken Patera. Most rap n****s came loud, but unheard. Once I pulled out, round ‘em off to the nearest third.”
“Protect ya neck, my sword still remains imperial. Before I blast the mic, RZA scratch off the serial.”
4. Ice Cream by Raekwon [feat. Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Cappadonna] (1995)
If Method Man’s “I’ll Be There For You” is Wu-Tang’s love song, “Ice Cream” is Wu-Tang’s LOVE SONG. This one’s for all the chocolate deluxes, butter-pecan ricans, caramel sundaes [with the cherries on top], and the french vanillas. “Wu tears it up” in this direct, hardcore rap laden with sexual innuendos, as each MC describes their type of girl.
Why is made the list: Wu-Tang ain’t for the children here. Shaolin’s finest typically spit R-rated rhymes, but the cleverness in their cat-call approach to each line is X-rated. Rae and company rap like they’re trying to catch a case:
“God damn, backyard's bangin' like a Benzi. If I was jiggy, you'd be spotted like Spuds McKenzie.”
- Ghostface Killah
“Ghettos, them is your hometown, we can go the whole round. After that, I'm shootin' downtown”
How many rap songs are inspired, or derivatives of comedic [stand up] acts? Not many, as the two arts are not quite similar in any facet. However, the intelligence shown by Wu-Tang, to involve Eddie Murphy’s Ice Cream Man skit is pure genius, as it unveils the satirical motive to this track. Oh, and Nick Morgenstern, famous ice cream connoisseur, constructed a sundae dedicated to Raekwon’s song.
3. Protect Ya Neck by The Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
Straight out of Staten Island, New York finally formulated a response to G-funk and the dominating West Coast rap. The rough-and-tumble style presented in this track was a warning shot to all other acts across the country with each “watch ya step, kid.” “Protect Ya Neck” is the rap equivalent of first day classroom introductions. Nobody knew The Wu-Tang Clan before “Protect Ya Neck” but the industry was forced to take notice to the raucous boys “representing Brooklyn-Queens, Long Island, Manhattan-Bronx, and the Rugged Lands of shaolin.”
Why it made the list: Wu came for that ass in their initial track. Although ostentatious and cautionary, Wu-Tang created a masterpiece of legendary flow, and lyricism, all of which forged a repeatable song. “Protect Ya Neck” isn’t considered a diss track due to its shotgun-like spread, but the recitability a listener has is far greater than notorious disses like Nas’s “Ether” and others that put their crosshairs on opposing rappers/groups. Wu-Tang targeted the entire game, A&Rs, and record labels. Aside from GZA, the mastermind, RZA, creatively allowed a gritty, roughneck song to be played on all media platforms and locations by editing record scratches over curse words, stated by Method Man in an interview with Complex. For a subtle edit that could fly significantly under the radar, RZA pioneered a new method of censorship without compromising the integrity of the track’s fundamental production and delivery.
2. Triumph by The Wu-Tang Clan (1997)
“Triumph” not only is one of the greatest Wu-Tang songs to be produced, but it quite literally possesses a top-5 rap verse of all time. Lyrically, this is, subjectively, the greatest Wu-Tang song to be created. The cerebral lyricism, production, diverse flow, and lack of chorus/hooks, nominates “Triumph” as a Wu-Tang greatest hit. The whole collective, including Cappadonna, appears on the track, Each member steps in the studio, as if they’re in single file, and utterly murder their verse.
Why is made the list: The Rebel I.N.S.; Inspectah Deck.
It could be left at that. Inspectah Deck’s introductory verse on “Triumph” could perhaps be the greatest of all time:
The complex rhyme scheme, delivery, and references see Wu-Tang and Inspectah Deck at their apexes. Deck’s verse is an art of yesteryear; lost and irreplaceable. The timelessness of this iconic verse will never be replicated, as the downward trend of lyricism in rap is becoming ever more relevant. Wordplay is a lackluster art nowadays, as hooks and choruses have taken the forefront in many popular songs, which indicates the Wu-Tang style won’t be revisited by the new school rappers.
Aside from Inspectah Deck’s verse, Wu-Gambinos, Ghostface and Masta Killa, provide braggadocious verses to organize the constant onslaught launched by the clan.
1. C.R.E.A.M. by The Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
“Cash rules everything around me.” Not only is “C.R.E.A.M.” the greatest Wu-Tang song of all time, it is one of the best rap songs of all time. Often brandishing bravado, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck strip down and expose the derelict lifestyles, in hopes to steer the “young black youth” to a better alternative. Rae and Deck both deceptively insert street economics of growing up with a single mother, acquiring illegal drug money, and ducking stray shots to survive in the streets of Staten Island.
Why it’s number one: Backed by gritty, analog beats, which were the turning point in beatmaking for rap music, the authenticity in the MCs’ voices and lyrics speak to all demographics, as if to be a lecture comprised of ghetto strife. “C.R.E.A.M.” is now the acronym for a household motto “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” followed by the often-cliche, “dolla’ dolla’ bill y’all.”
“C.R.E.A.M.” is the epitome of nineties rap, especially in the New York scene, one that succeeded A Tribe Called Quest, and preceded and briefly competed with Notorious B.I.G/Bad Boy Records. With past, and yet-to-be proclaimed hip-hop heavyweights on either side of the song’s release, RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan flourished with their second single. RZA’s production deserves all the recognition that has been stated earlier in this review, but to spare us both time, the lyricists will be acknowledged for their performances. Method Man’s choral work is stuff of legend. It provides the perfect buffer between Deck and Rae’s verses. Shouting the “C.R.E.A.M.” motto with potent, easily-recitable flow and simple lyrics is the watermark for the track.
Raekwon has the passionate delivery that produces a saliva-spewing rap style. The ruggish tone, and quick-hitting ebonics cause the hefty MC to do just that, with lines like:
“I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side. Staying alive was no jive.
Had second hands, moms bounced on old man. So then we moved to Shaolin land.”
Like RZA, Inspectah Deck received his recognition as well, but the following lines from him are the reason Wu-Tang can (and should) celebrate their early successes.
“The court played me short, now I face incarceration. Pacin' going upstate's my destination Handcuffed in back of a bus, forty of us. Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough But as the world turns I learned life is hell. Living in the world no different from a cell Everyday I escape from ‘Jakes’ givin' chase, sellin' base. Smokin' bones in the staircase”