Review Summary: Wu-Tang Clan's debut is a nearly flawless rap classic.
Very few artists have the egos of rap stars. Even before they become successful, hopeful rappers are bragging about how great their flow is, how fresh their beats are, how much tail they get, and etc. This is why it is not surprising to find one of the most highly prolific and highly respected rap groups of all time uttering the words "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta *** Wit " on the groups magnum opus. Throughout the twelve tracks of metaphor slinging, life-spilling stories on "Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers" the nine members of the Clan prove their claim. Even if you examine the time at which this record was released, the words this band says seem to be the same they live by. For example, clan member U-God was imprisoned, Ghostface Killah supposedly was wanted by the police, and Ol' Dirty Bastard was just beginning his slow descent that would eventually lead to his death. All of this goes without mention of the groups ridiculously intense live shows which had much more in common with the riot aspect of punk shows than the typical party environment of rap concerts. While "Enter the Wu-Tang" isn't a perfect album, there is no denying it is an essential and classic hip-hop album that, thanks to its originality and sheer talent, will go down in history as one of the key albums of the 1990s
While some rap groups are just put together because some childhood friends are trying to make it big, The Wu-Tang Clan is obviously a group of extremely well balanced MCs. RZA provides the groups trademark mostly piano-based beats and above it everything from Ol' Dirty Bastard's vocally ever-changing nonsensical flow to the GZA's methodical gruff story telling. Lyrically every member is given their chance to shine through their various prisms. The depressing nature of RZA's backing which almost evokes the trip-hop scene will certainly give any listener a down feeling, but overtly ridiculous choruses like "Bring da mother ***in' ruckus" show the excellent amount of playfulness in Wu-Tang's music. The ability for the Clan to evoke such opposite ends of the emotional spectrum is one of the most everlasting qualities of "Enter the Wu-Tang", although the groups members are evoking their woes and realizing that "Brothers, passin away / I gotta make wakes " the group is able to take a step into a personal realm of fantasy and fictionalize their realties.
Rap is certainly known for it’s over-indulgent nature when it comes to samples, joke tracks, and filler, but Wu-Tang falls prey to none of these faults on "36 Chambers.” The album clocks in at about an hour with only twelve tracks and the skits that are included are latched on to the actual songs and either illustrate what the songs are going to be about or touch on some aspect of the Clan that a first time listener may be curious about. The skits do not distract at all from the album because, unlike most rap albums, they actually help move the record forward. Also the samurai fetish of the group helps provoke the almost ludicrous life style the members seem to be illustrating. The constant dropping of lines like "I come sharp as a blade and I cut you slow" further perpetuate the samurai mindset the group abides by. Wu-Tang is clearly centered on being spiritually and mentally aware in their chosen battle, which in this case seems to be their rapping skills.
To touch on the actual tracks of the album, there are numerous highlights ranging from the lament of poverty "C.R.E.A.M." with its unforgettable chorus to the nostalgic "Can't It All Be So Simple" featuring Ghostface and Raekwon and some excellent soul sampling by the RZA. "Shame On A Nigga" follows the burst of energy of intro "Bring Da Ruckus" with it's excellent build up to Ol' Dirty Bastard's insane outbursts of "Burn me, I get into ***/ I let it out like diarrhea." "Method Man" features the excellent bridge of "I got myself a forty/ I got myself a shorty" and also further shows the versatility of two of the most praised Clan MCs GZA and Method Man. Essentially every track on this is a classic, but the dynamic build up into one of the best beats I've have ever heard clearly puts "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing Ta F'Wit " above the rest. Not to mention the excellent performance put in by producer RZA who lets out such lines as "I'm causin more Family Feud's than Richard Dawson/ and the survey said -- ya dead ."
Listeners could obviously find problems with the amount of excess the Wu-Tang Clan deals with. Tracks like "Tearz," primarily focusing on the violent and sexual aspects of city life, certainly make the group seem like a one trick pony to those less-inclined listeners. Also, RZA's production techniques, while highly influential and highly original at their time, do seem kind of monotone after nearly an hour of them. But most complaints I seem to have with this record are immediately put away once I start listening to the album. The absurd and realistic aspects of the album combine to make a truly one-of-a-kind experience, and while it certainly has it's flaws, I can hardly find fault with it whenever I'm actually listening to it.
"36 Chambers" is the finest example of a group demonstration of the Wu-Tang Clan. While records like "Tical," "Liquid Swords,” and "Fishscale" may all be more enjoyable listens, this is the group’s first and most honest statement. Before the members had been effected by the ridiculous amount of success this record brought them, they were simply just a group of nine unknown MCs reflecting the words that "Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuttin ta *** wit/all over the whole ***in globe."