Wu Tang Clan - Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)

by paul_guyet Rating:10 Release Date:1993-11-09

On July 29th, 1997, my father took me to see the Wu Tang Clan at the Tampa Bay Sun Dome. They were an hour late to the stage, ODB stopped the show to inform us the government had given him chest pains, and it was one of the most spectacular evenings of my life.

I was 12 years old and attending private school in New York City when my friends and I were first exposed to Wu Tang’s debut album, Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers). I’d never heard anything like it…the grime ground into every beat, the random bits of dialogue from kung fu movies, and nine distinct characters…those last two elements coming together in my adolescent geek mind to add to the mythology of the Wu Tang Clan; they weren't just rappers, they were martial artists, warriors, super heroes... At the time, there was no internet, I couldn’t just type “wu tang clan” into Wikipedia and have everything explained to me, all my friends and I had was the album, its liner notes, and the handful of videos we’d catch on The Box*. We viewed them as the X-Men of rap, each member with their own style and background and abilities. I learned things from the Wu Tang Clan…they taught me that cash ruled everything around me, they taught me that Ol’ Dirty Bastard had gotten burnt once (but that it was only gonorrhea), they taught me that a game of chess is like a sword fight, but most importantly, they taught me that the Wu Tang Clan ain't nuthing ta f’ wit.

So many moments here…that opening dialogue, letting us know "the Shaolin and the Wu Tang…could be dangerous”, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s introduction to the world on “Shame on a Nigga”, the first minute of “Clan in da Front”, which has RZA just listing names of those affiliated with the Wu Tang, making them seem like a veritable army, that disjointed piano sample from Monk’s "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are”, the skit before “7th Chamber”, which has Method Man trying to pin the theft of Raekwon’s tape on some rivals who’d just killed one of their friends, the dark, sinister thrum of “Chessboxin’”, every fucking thing about “Method Man”, and “ Protect Ya Neck”, which features almost every member of the clan, perfectly exemplifying and quantifying each one.

Because of the Wu Tang Clan (and later, my friend Sunir), I became a great fan of rap. 36 Chambers led me to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic (which led to g-funk and west coast rap; NWA, Snoop, Dogg Pound, Ice Cube, Westside Connection, and, later, Eminem), TuPac and Biggie, Leaders of the New School (which led to Busta Rhymes, Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, and De La Soul), and on and on and on…this genre, this world of music is a massive tree with so many tangled roots. These days, I’ll occasionally check in to see what’s happening in rap, but for me, rap died when Russell Jones died.

On November 10th of last year, almost 20 years after that astonishing and awkward evening in Tampa, I attended “Live From the 36th Chamber”, an event which featured RZA performing a “live score” accompanying the Shaw Brothers’ The 36 Chambers Of Shaolin, one of the staples of the Wu Tang’s mythos. Afterward, RZA took part in a brief Q&A with Sway, the host and moderator. I recall sitting about ten feet from him...Bobby Digital, the Rzarector, the Abbot, Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah…and I realized that he was just a man. A man who had drawn together one of the most singular and important groups in rap, but still, just a man.

Looking back at almost a quarter century of Wu Tang, at the epic Wu Tang Forever, all of the member’s solo works**, RZA’s scoring, Method Man’s acting, and the literal galaxy of collaborations, I still view this, their first effort, as the pinnacle of what the Wu Tang Clan is and will always be. There’s nothing like it.

*The Box was a channel where one could call in and, for a small fee, request a music video. You’d enter the video’s number and then it would be added to a queue. Some time soon after, your video would be played. There were no ads, no hosts, just music videos. A standard afternoon would consist of at least six Wu Tang videos per hour, usually “Method Man”, “Protect Ya Neck”, and “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”.

** In case you’re interested in expanding your Wu Tang vocabulary…I highly recommend Tical and Judgement Day by Method Man, Fishscale by Ghostface Killah, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon, Liquid Swords by GZA and, if you want to get weird, literally anything by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, although "Last Call and "Pop Shit" (the latter which features Pharrell Williams) are two of his best non-album tracks.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars