When Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album in 1993, the hip hop world was not expecting a masterpiece that would change the future of the genre itself. After West Coast hip hop’s musical domination with classic albums such as NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and Dr Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ achieving critical and commercial success, the East Coast scene needed a breakthrough to re-establish itself, and arguably one album kick-started the East Coast Renaissance.
Mainstream hip-hop at this point in the early 90’s was either largely jazz influenced (A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul), Afrocentrically motivated (Public Enemy) or simply gangsta rap (NWA, Ice-T), yet Wu-Tang Clan offered something new. Their music shifted hip-hop’s emphasis away from melodic, synth-driven beats and valued the use of obscure, esoteric samples and punchy drums. RZA’s stripped down beats were unique and generally unheard of due to g-funk’s prominence, and his poor production equipment created a dirty album, offering a group with personality.
And Wu-Tang Clan have personality in heaps. Each member has talent, charisma and an individual style, from Ghostface Killah’s high-register battle-raps to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s slurring, off-key singing, each member had not only established the group as an aggressively fun outfit but had created careers for themselves too. 36 Chambers may have been the landmark album for hip-hop as whole but it also led to other brilliant albums from internal members, such as Ghostface Killah’s ‘Supreme Clientele’, GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’ and Raekwon’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’.
The albums lyrics are generally gritty, involving urbanity, martial arts films, swordplay, comic books, and the ever-popular marijuana with RZA’s gritty vocal production reflecting the lyrical content itself. At face value the humorous cartoon violence, cultural references, non-sequiturs and insults and brags may seem outlandish or extreme, but are in fact witty and clever, requiring concentration to fully understand (or Rap Genius for the lazy). Energy is exuded from each member and their desire for success manifests itself within the music – Wu-Tang Clan believe their own myths.
But the songs aren’t all jokes and brags. The song ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ – an acronym for Cash Rules Everything Around Me – may at first sound like a traditional hip-hop track about money’s role in life, but in reality it considers why many turn to crime as a quick and easy way to gain riches. Furthermore, the song ‘Tearz’ discusses death as a result of poor decisions such as refusing to hand over money during a mugging or having unprotected sex and contracting AIDS. Although these deep lyrical ideas went against the conventions of the contemporary braggadocio-dominated gangsta rap scene, Wu-Tang inspired further excellent hip-hop artists including Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Kanye West and producers like The Alchemist and Just Blaze.
Wu-Tang crafted an album with personality that they believed in and its effect on music can still be seen today. Deep, comical and individual lyrics changed the hip-hop scene and created the careers of the nine members on the album. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is still an exciting album to this day and forever will be. In the words of the RZA: “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuttin’ Ta Fuck Wit”.