Friday, May 13, 2011

Pocket Guide to the Wu Tang Clan

(this post was prompted by a dear friend who's unfamiliar with The Wu and will be seeing them in concert soon...)

For me, the Wu Tang Era began in 1992... I was a DJ at my College radio station ( The NU Music, WNUR 89.3 baby! ) ... The custom at the station was that the program director would preview the new records and make comments on the record sleeve.

One day, A new 12" Single from a then-unknown group called "The Wu Tang Clan" was in the new-release stack. With one word written on the sleeve:


The single was Protect Ya Neck. It's hard to overstate how much we loved this tune. Wu Tang Clan had 9 members... every member rapped on the track. And while "posse cuts" were nothing new in hip-hop. What *was* new was that EVERY one of those 8-9 group members delivered an EXCELLENT verse. Each individual voice and approach was distinctive, but the whole thing was just *so* damn unified & coherent and, well, dope. (to borrow our PD's description)

Turns out WNUR was not alone in loving the first single, it was a HUGE college radio hit all over the country. And then? Nothing. We were expecting a followup single, but a good 6 months passed without anything new from the Wu Tang. Oh well, one-hit wonders were (and are) quite common.

Then one day our station manager returned from the CMJ conference in New York with a rumor that a Wu Tang Clan album was coming out... no release date, but he'd heard from someone who'd heard from someone that an album was coming. Not to date myself, but this was in the early days of the internet... there was no real Web yet and email was far from common (hard to believe now, I know) so 3rd hand conversations from music conferences was how us hipsters got our information... positively quaint these days... But, was the rumor true? All of us music junkies at the station were intrigued to say the least.

For about two months straight, I asked my local record store every week:

"Y'all got that Wu Tang album yet?"

And finally in 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was released. These dudes were no one hit wonders. For my money, this album is the most awesome debut in the history of hip-hop.

Musically, they are unique in that they are truly a supergroup... releasing classic music together and, in equal measure if not greater, releasing classic music as individual artists.

The Wu are fascinating from the perspective of Hip-Hop as business, but if I get into that, this wouldn't be a pocket guide. Although Dan Charnas tells this angle of the story quite well in his book The Big Payback

The Wu Tang Pocket Playlist (roughly chronological... my super-favorites are in bold):

Wu Tang Clan - Protect Ya Neck (From: Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) - 1993
members in order of appearance: Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, RZA, GZA

Wu Tang Clan - Wu Tang Clan ain't Nothing to Fuck with (From: Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) - 1993
members in order of appearance: RZA, Inspectah Deck, Method Man

Raekwon - Ice Cream (From: Only Build 4 Cuban Linx) - 1995
members in order of appearance: Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Cappadonna

GZA - Shadow Boxin - (From: Liquid Swords) - 1995
members in order of appearance: Method Man, GZA

Ol' Dirty Bastard - Shimmy Shimmy Ya (From: Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version) - 1995

Wu Tang Clan - Triumph (From: Wu Tang Forever ) - 1997
members in order of appearance: Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Cappadonna, Ol' Dirty Bastard, U-God, RZA, GZA, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon

Wu Tang Clan - Black Shampoo (From: Wu Tang Forever ) - 1997
members in order of appearance: U-God, Method Man

RZA - Samurai Showdown (From: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Soundtrack) - 1999

Raekwon - We Will Robb You (From: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. 2) - 2009
feat. Slick Rick - members in order of appearance: Raekwon, GZA, Masta Killa

(there is an audio companion to this post, just reach out to me if you'd like to listen to it)