Before I begin to talk about an album that celebrates its 20th anniversary today, we have to go back a year before August 1, 1995.
In July 1994, The RZA showed he was much more than just being Prince Rakeem when he presented himself as The Rzarecta as a member of the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul, Frukwan, and Too Poetic. They released their debut album called 6 Feet Deep (countries outside of the U.S. called it Niggamortis) and some thought it was interesting The RZA was able to get himself on two albums, sounding distinctively different within both groups. The album was released early in some parts of the U.S., I found my copy at Tower Records in Portland, Oregon on 82nd, apparently a week or two before the rest of the country. We didn’t quite know what was to come but then the news surfaced.
As fans were beginning to absorb Gravediggaz’s album, LOUD/RCA Records released the soundtrack to Fresh, which featured solo songs from The Genius, Raekwon, and a remix of “Can It Be All So Simple”. The idea that The Genius had his own song seemed amazing, but then to hear Raekwon & Ghostface with their own track too? What was going on? On top of that, Raekwon and Ghost doubled up with a new version of what was one of the biggest hits of 1994, which got its share of airplay and mixtape circulation. I remember thinking “if The Genius has this song, his first new song since his failed debut, is there going to be more?” Also, how about Raekwon, will be be coming out with something?
When word came out that Method Man was signed to Def Jam to release his debut album, that’s when the first plans for the group were made known. In 1995, there would be three solo albums from the group, and each of them would be signed to their own label. Wu-Tang Clan were signed to LOUD/RCA. In rock circles, when a group splintered into making their own solo albums, they generally stayed within the same label: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash all stayed on Atlantic (for the time being) while Neil Young was already signed to Reprise. When Kiss dropped their solo albums on the same day in 1978, it was on Casablanca Records. Three different labels? No one in hip-hop had ever done that successfully but the Wu-Tang were make it out that every album would be a banger, every release would be a hit. X-Clan had Isis (Linque) and Professor X release albums on 4th & B’Way, while Digital Underground had Raw Fusion on HollywoodBASIC, Gold Money on Tommy Boy, and 2Pac on Interscope. Back then, 2Pac was just that guy who rapped in “Same Song” but by 1993, he already had a massive hit with “I Get Around”. 2Pac was not just that dancer from Digital Underground, he was 2Pac.
Did the Wu-Tang really know all of their solo albums would become a success? With the success of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), it proved to them that fans would be willing to buy their music separately from the group, for if they were willing to buy one, maybe they were willing to get another, if not all. We would find out in 1995.
In March 1995, Elektra Records released Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers, which came out with the incredible “Brooklyn Zoo” a month before. “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” seemed to have more appeal with the single version and later in the year, “Rawhide” was released as a single. As we moved closer to the summer, word had it that Raekwon’s solo album would be out soon, and he stayed home and was signed to LOUD/RCA as a solo artist. On June 27th, the label released “Criminology”/”Glaciers Of Ice” as a single, with the latter getting a video with massive airplay on BET. The song seemed quite complex and noisy, showing a style of production from The RZA that was more active than anything he had done in the past. It wasn’t as noisy as the words of The Bomb Squad but it was full and lush, if that’s a good way to describe it.
Soon after, a video for “Criminology” was released, showing Raekwon, Ghostface, The RZA, and U-God up by a waterfall and in kung fu gear, showing them incognito in a way they had never been seen before. For me, “Criminology” was the preferred song, incredibly funky and full of those string samples that were becoming very RZA at the time (a sound that Mobb Deep were also using with the orchestral samples). Around this time, LOUD/RCA released promotional commercials for Raekwon’s album showing segments of his videos and a man who did a voice-over that said “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”. The world would have to prepare for what was to come, whether they liked it or not.
The actual title for the album is Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggaz but it was shortened to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, with the “…” to let people know something else was supposed to follow. At the time, I found myself wanting more CD’s than cassettes but for this album, I first heard it on cassette, the purple tape. What made this album distinctive was while Ghostface was already making himself (and his face) known in music videos, he was still hidden on the cover of this record, and he was “guest starring” so in many ways, it was a Raekwon and Ghostface album. However, upon first listens, it seemed like with various members heard throughout, it came off more like a group album than just a solo album and it was. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was originally planned as the follow-up to Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) but during the recording sessions, when it was realized it would be more feasible to exploit the solo route, it became Raekwon’s debut.
One thing about the album should be known from the start. While it remains one of the best hip-hop albums of 1995, if not the entire decade of the 1990’s, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is not a concept album, far from it. There are loose streams of continuity here and there but it holds up primarily because it is a solid collection of incredible songs, and even those that are “weak links” still hold up. If there’s continuity throughout, one of the solid links is the production style and samples. You listen to Ol’ Dirty’s Return To The 36 Chambers and it sounds like a basement album. You listen to Method Man’s album and it sounds like a different type of basement album, one that allows itself to open the bedroom window for a breath of fresh air. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… sounds like an album of not only fresh air, but an imagination into another world, if not a dream state of what one could obtain and achieve. The idea of someone boiling up drugs on the oven to become a neighborhood chef could be considered but for me, that string of continuity came from the dialogue between songs and not the songs themselves.
If there’s a moment in the album where I felt things were about to pick up and stay there (or go higher), it would be when “Criminology” comes on. Or if that’s the point where the album moved into second gear, then I heard it, they were ready to go faster.
“Incarcerated Scarfaces” was a great song too, and it was released as a double A-sided single along with “Ice Cream” so if “Ice Cream” seemd too much (or perhaps too vulgar in tone) to some, they could tone down with the vibe of this one.
I was blown away by the vibe of “Rainy Dayz” and I am sure that a big part of it had to do with the vocals of Blue Raspberry. With her singing on Method Man’s debut, it seemed fitting that she would bless the tracks on Raekwon’s albums as well. Could she have been on Ol’ Dirty’s album? Sure, but I think ODB would’ve preferred his mom on the album. (He originally said he hoped to produce a single for his mom but that never materialized.) The funky, slightly sloppy drum samples, the strings in the background, and Ghostface talking about the cheese line while one of his lines seems removed from the song.
The album moves up with “Guillotine (Swordz)”, which sounded like something straight off of Method Man’s debut album due to the use of the same string sample. What I loved about this song is the movie sample, taken from Shaolin Vs. Lama, and the fact that the team of Raekwon, Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, and The Genius was perfect. Throughout the album, there would be certain groups of Wu members where I wish they would’ve made their own albums. That was fairly common throughout 1993-1997 so if we heard “Meth Vs. Chef”, we all wanted a full album of Meth and Raekwon battles. I wanted “Guillotine (Swordz)” forever.
The remix of “Can It Be All So Simple” originally released on the Fresh soundtrack found its way onto the album, but what made the album go to the next level was “Shark Niggas (Biters)”, which felt like the Sunz Of Man appearance that didn’t happen, or a song that could’ve found its way onto a Sunz Of Man album in between “Soldies Of Darkness” and “No Love Without Hate”. “Ice Water” was moving but while “Glaciers of Ice” was not as good to me as “Criminology” was as a single, it definitely fits in perfectly within the album.
Same for “Verbal Intercourse”. While a lot of fans often talk about Nas’ spot on the album was the best part of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, I was never huge on Nas’ royalty status but I always liked what he did, for he was the only outsider on the album.
Also, the best part of the song was not Nas’ verse but The Emotions’ sample of “If You Think It (You May As Well Do It)”. It seems like an awkward sample at first, because the vocal in the song is heard during the verses but that interruption in the song would become one of Ghostface’s production trademarks, where he would just rap over something else because he knew you were there to listen to him, not the damn sample. The RZA would often explore the Stax/Volt catalog throughout his career and what I liked too was that while the pop world would generally know The Emotions as a one hit wonder (“Best Of My Love”), he and others knew the group as having two solid albums before they made it bigger. It is those two albums that have become the source of a number of samples in hip-hop over the years. This song was just part of the contination of Emotions appreciation.
If the other songs earlier on the album didn’t prove it, “Wisdom Body” definitely made it clear that Ghostface was more than ready to not only release his own album but to have his own career. Not bad for someone who covered himself up in videos for “Method Man and “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”, to be on that “now you see me, now you don’t” before evolving into something you could always recognize. The song would become an underground down tempo groove that made you want to turn up, nod your head and just go “damn”.
“Spot Rusherz” was another great song because it’s one of the few spots where the group offered a way to hear the group’s St. Ides’ radio spot/commercial. I know I was someone who wished that St. Ides track was two to three minutes longer, but what makes “Spot Rusherz” works was how everything just sounds off, from the warped piano/keyboard sample to drums that are unsure of where it needs to place itself. If anything, the group showed they could be self-promotional, not only delivering verses that also worked as resume tapes but hey, we want you to drink a malt liquor, go grab a 40 ounce if you can and have a good night.
One of the best songs on the album found itself way on the 4th quarter, the almighty “Ice Cream”. When I first heard it, I loved it immediately for I used to think that addictive and repetitive piano sample was beautiful. I couldn’t figure it out and nor did most of the people who heard the song. Not only was that sample Wu-Tang’s equivalent of “Mass Appeal” but it too became the holy grail of samples, leading many into countless dead ends. 17 after its release, someone revealed the source as being a light jazz instrumental, slowed down and I discovered that what I was hearing was not a piano but an acoustic guitar. We may have hated Earl Klugh’s music but we all know someone’s parents or uncle and auntie who had one of his records.
It easily became one of The RZA’s finest moments, especially with his use of Blue Raspberry’s vocals also being chopped. For me, I also feel her vocals were one of the saddest, most sorrowful moments in the Wu-Tang’s entire discography. While the group was celebrating the wonders of women in a flavorful manner, Blue Raspberry was showing that not everything in life is whipped cream with a cherry on top or a banana split. There’s melancholy in her vocals and it was a way of saying, in some way, “things in life aren’t always what they seem or what you want them to be.”
The album formally ends with “Wu-Gambinos”, which was not only the beginning of the next phase of the Wu-Tang, but it also helped spark a wave in hip-hop where it seemed everyone wanted to validate themselves by being a gambino, everyone wanted to have two or three pseudonyms. The song also brought in Ghostface, The RZA, Method Man, and the one and only Noodles, a/k/a Masta Killa. One thing I considered while listening to this song was something Method Man said in Ol’ Dirty’s “Rawhide”. His first line was “Coming soon to a theater near you, it be the Wu”, and I was hoping that there would be a Wu-Tang Clan movie that summer, if not the end of the year. This album sounded like it could be the theme song to an incredible film, regardless if it was a concern film or them portraying themselves in gambino form. Not only that, but The RZA’s verse was arguably the best thing he had ever done, far better than what he dropped as a Gravedigga and people would instantly hope that he too would drop his own solo album soon. That would come in time.
While I feel “Wu-Gambinos” ends the album in a nice way. the actual album has one or two more songs, depending what format you purchased. I never felt “Heaven & Hell” was a good way to end an album but for many who bought the cassette, it was the conclusion to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. On top of that, Blue Raspberry’s sung “RZA and Raekwon and Ghost” came off a bit self-promotional and corny, even though what she sings is one of the best moments on the album too. If you purchased the CD, you got to hear a song that could be considered a fitting conclusion called “North Star (Jewels)”, featuring Poppa (Popa) Wu talking to the group with a bit of wisdom, to let them know about what they (and the listeners) experienced and what to prepare for in their next adventure, as well as life.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… did sell 130,000 during its first week according to Wikipedia and was eventually certified gold (500,000). While Wikipedia states Soundscan claims the album eventually sold over a million, he did not receive a platinum award for it (Method Man’s Tical did receive a platinum award from Def Jam.) Raekwon’s album holds up solidly and remains an album that every hip-hop artist would have to refer to and use an example of how to create a solid album from start to finish. It remains not only one of the best hip-hop albums of 1995, but one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums. It remains the Wu-Tang solo album that could’ve (and arguably should’ve) been Wu-Tang Clan’s second group album. Because of that, it is one of the best hip-hop albums of the entire decade. You know what hip-hop was like before Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… but you couldn’t hide from its influence after August 1, 1995.
is Adrian Younge’s new compilation album released today, and you can stream it in full right now. The album features a lot of guests including Souls Of Mischiecf, Laetitia Saddler, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, The RZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and more. You may order a copy below via Amazon.
Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah collaborated on a new album due out in July called 12 Reasons to Die II, the follow up to their first gathering and now you’re able to hear one of the songs they put together. It’s called “Return Of The Savage” and it features Raekwon and The RZA.
If you read the title and know what Pepperland refers to, then you know it most likely has to do with The Beatles, and it does. Now you look at the graphic and are saying “but wait, I see Ol’ Dirty Bastard here. What’s going on?” In this case, it’s a remix project where Beatles samples were used to create new instrumentals for hip-hop songs. Look at all of the people who are on it, it’s insane. Here’s the track listing: Part 1
Hello Hello – Edan
Mr Mustard – Big Daddy Kane
Second To None – Rakim
Taxman – The Notorius B.I.G.
Gentle Thief – Nas
Where I’m From – Large Professor
Country Grammar – Talib Kweli & Bun B
Parlay – J-Live
Twist – Salt-N-Pepper
Birthday Dedication – Busta Rhymes
Open Mic Session pt. 1 – Masta Ace, Percee P, Lord Finesse, Frankie Cutlass, Easy Mo Bee & KRS-One
Number Nine – YZ
Self Titled – Heltah Skeltah
Bang Bang – MOP
Pepper – Kool G Rap
Bring Your Friends – Public Enemy
Interlude / Bridge – MC Shan
Last Forever – Artifacts
For The Children – Freddie Foxxx
Ringo’s Big Beat Theme – Spoonie Gee
Hold Poppa’s Large Hand – Ultramagnetic MC’s
Open Mic Session pt. 2 – Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane & Rakim
The End – Run DMC & Afrika Bambaataa
Circles – Wu-Tang Clan
Brooklyn Walrus – Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Buckshot , Masta Ace & Special Ed Part 2
Secrets – Slick Rick
Beneath The Diamond Sky – The Genius/GZA
Within Tomorrow – Busta Rhymes
The Beginning – Sunz Of Man
Gentle Drama – The RZA & Rugged Monk
Becausizm – KRS-One & Channel Live
Mary Jane – Tha Alkaholiks
Bong Water – Viktor Vaughn
Love In Summertime – Ghostface Killah & Beyonce
And I Lover Her Crazy – Jay-Z & Beyonce
Ruffneck Soldier – MC Lyte
Hey! – Beastie Boys
Get Back To The City – Large Professor
Hard To Leave Home – Nas
The Flyest – AZ
And Who? – Heiroglyphics
Lonely Thoughts – The Notorious B.I.G.
Can You Dig It? – Gravediggaz
How To Smile – 2Pac & Scarface
A Day In New York – AZ, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah
Stream it in full above or if you just want to download it and carry it with you on your travels, head to MonkeyBoxing.com.
Wonder Twin powers, activate. Form of some fly shit!
Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric have been creating great hip-hop music for decades and for the first time, they are bringing
their talents togeter as one force. Their unit name is Czarface, and their debut album as a group is easily one of the hot gems of the moment. Personally, Inspectah Deck is up there for me with Method Man, Ghostface, and The Genius as monarchs of the Wu-Tang Clan, and while his solo work was released on a major label, I feel it was released a bit too late in the game. However, that mess-up allowed him to be admired by underground hip-hop heads. 7L & Esoteric are some of Boston’s best, and who thought Esoteric would be doing a full album with the INS? Who dreamed 7L would be on the boards to produce a full album with him? The equation leads to the solution, and what a solution it is.
Musically, this is an incredibly funky album, utilizing the best in jazz, soul, funk, and rock to create a vibe that almost sounds claustrophobic but within that is the sound of freedom. With the comic book-style album cover, one can listen to it as if one is going through the pages of their favorite story, waiting for their heroes to save the way. If you wish to turn these heroes into the saviors of hip-hop, feel free. Inspectah’s rhymes still have the kind of flow and charm that makes him great, and then to have Esoteric as his right hand man just shows that with patience, you can find a way to save the world through words and music. As for that music, it definitely has a 90’s feel to it, back when musical cues offered a chance to not only cite influences, but help become part of the story within the song. You get a chance that everything fits for a reason, and like a family reunion, you’ll find a reason (for things) to belong. You’ll hear samples that may be familiar but haven’t been overused, or samples that will make you go “there’s no MP3 for that on any blog.” Good.
Add to that the special guests: Oh No, Action Bronson, Vinnie Paz, the amazing Roc Marciano, the superfresh Cappadonna and the doper-than-dope Ghostface, and it will make older listeners feel like the era between 1993-1997 kept on going. In truth, it never died, it just went into hiding. Now it’s time for it to rise once more to attack the naysayers.
With Method Man releasing a brand new track for the soundtrack to The RZA’s movie The Man With The Iron Fists, the music and film is not only attracting attention for fans of the Wu-Tang Clan, but also action films, kung fu flick fanatics, along with Quentin Tarantino enthusiasts, as he is the one presenting The RZA’s film to a much broader audience than it would be if he did it on his own. Now more news about the forthcoming soundtrack. The movie will be released in theaters on November 2nd, while the soundtrack, still being assembled and finalized, will hit stores about 10 days before the film on October 23rd. A close-to-final track listing for the album has been released. My guess would be that most of these (if not all) will be on there, but I would not be surprised if there’s a bonus track or two, maybe iTunes-only, maybe a “track 0” on the CD, it is unknown. What is known? These tracks. As you can see, it’s not only new material from The RZA and Wu-Fam, but also some of his hip-hop friends along with a few songs tracks he has sampled in the last 20 years: 1. The Black Keys / RZA “The Baddest Man Alive”
2. Ghostface Killah / M.O.P / Pharoahe Monch “Black Out”
3. Kanye West “White Dress”
4. The Revelations feat. Tre Williams “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”
5. Talib Kweli / RES “Get Your Way (Sex as a Weapon)”
6. Raekwon / Ghostface Killah / Kool G. Rap “Rivers of Blood”
7. Method Man / Freddie Gibbs / StreetLife “Built for This”
8. 24 Carat Black “Poverty’s Paradise”
9. Killa Sin “The Archer”
10. RZA / Flatbush Zombies “Just Blowin’ In The Wind”
12. Corrine Bailey Rae “Chains”
13. Pusha T / Raekwon “Tick Tock”
14. Frances Yip “Green is the Mountain”
15. The Wu-Tang Clan “Six Directions of Boxing”
16. Mabel John “Your Good Thing Is About To End”
It has been said that these older soul tracks are “re-constructions” of the originals. It doesn’t say if The RZA had access to the Stax Records’ multi-tracks or if he obtained them directly from the masters, but it means you may be hearing them cut up a bit (i.e. remixed) with the Rzarector style.
16 years ago, hip-hop music was in a good place. Method Man had become THE man of the Wu-Tang Clan, who were becoming the hottest group in the land. Yes, it was still “the land”, Wu-ness was appreciated overseas but hadn’t become a worldwide movement just yet. In the summer of 1994, as “C.R.E.A.M.” was still getting airplay, the Gravediggaz made itself known in August. A few months later, Method Man released Tical (Def Jam). News surfaced that everyone in the Wu-Tang would release their own solo album, signed to whatever label wanted to snap them up. That had been the plan, a plan that was unheard of in any genre. The Beatles all went solo but they had Apple Records, which was their own label. Crosby, Stills & Nash expanded to include Neil Young, who had been signed on his own as a solo artist after leaving Buffalo Springfield. Then when CSNY splintered off, that allowed Young to explore his solo muse while CSN all released albums on Atlantic. Then when Stills wanted to form another group, and Crosby & Nash wanted to become a duo, it too went through Atlantic. That would change years later when Stills found himself on Columbia, and Crosby & Nash made ABC Records their home. The members of Kiss wanted to release four solo albums on the same day, and with much hype and a lot of money put into the campaign, they did. In hip-hop, groups like Digital Underground and the X-Clan all had intentions of being a group while having members in the collective going solo. It worked for a few of them, but it did not equal the fanaticism that would become one of Wu-Tang Clan’s trademarks.
16 years ago, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was obviously the crazy guy in the group. In the spring of 1994, MTV had begun airing a half-hour interview with the group that was edited with live performances of the group. It was then that Wu fans discovered that for Russell Jones, he liked to keep it old school, he loved keeping it dirty, and since he was raised without a father, he decided to take that identity as one of monikers, claiming that there was no father to his style. In that interview, he said he was Ol’, he was Dirty, and by default he was a Bastard. It was self-deprecation at its best, but there was humor mixed in with the bravado. He may have seemed reserved in that interview, but once you turned on the microphone, the man was ruthless. Up until that point, rap music was still about walking back and forth on a stage and you were either “cool, calm, and collected”, wanting to “fuck bitches”, or were ready to “bust a cap on your ass”. It may have come as a surprise that when Ol’ Dirty said “first things first, man, you’re fucking with the worst, I’ll be stickin’ pins in your head like a fucking nurse” with the kind of uncontrolled pandemonium similar to a water hose moving uncontrollably, it was as if he was ready to confront anyone that came in eye contact with him. He may have sounded and appeared to be controlled, and maybe later in life he was. But in those early years of the Wu-Tang Revolution, he was the young kid who was motivated to do better because he had no father. If there was no father to his style, who would dare tell him what to do? If he was to play the role of an only child, then he was going to be an unwatched kid ready to pull out some surprises.
Looking back, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (Elektra) seemed like any other hip-hop solo album, at least from the outside. It was a simple photo of Ol’ Dirty’s food stamp identification, but once you opened it up, you were in his Disneyworld. The intro consisted of him saying he would take things back to the days of Clarence Reid, a singer/songwriter known in some circles as Blowfly. Instead of singing Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, ODB decided to take it to bed and sing it as “The First Time Ever You Sucked My Dick”. When he began to sing, obviously showing that he wasn’t a professional singer, and had the vibrato during the word “balls”, I am certain some people must’ve said “this guy cannot be serious”. I laughed my ass off, and he did too by stopping the singing and telling everyone that what you will hear will be bangin’. With a click to a sample from the English dub of Master Killer, The RZA started to plot out the continuity that would become a major part of their music for years. Throughout sound and metaphor, the listener discovered that at the Shaolin temple, there were only 35 chambers. There was not a 36th, and in kung fu movies this was absolute. In Wu-Tang’s world, their home of Staten Island, New York was nicknamed Shaolin. The voice continues, and he said that he knew this, but with bravado, he said “but I want to create a new chamber.” The abbot asks “oh, and what would that be?” Then we explore for the first time what that 36th chamber is/sounds like. It is a Return To The 36 Chambers, or in this case, we’re going back to what made ODB who he is, his origins.
No one realized on March 28, 1995 how much of an influence the sample from Richard Pryor in the intro to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” would be. The sample was Pryor talking about how someone told him “what the fuck, you can’t even sing”. Yet in entertainment, if you’re going to make an impact on anyone, sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Even if you can’t sing, you do your best to sing anyway. A sell-out move? Perhaps, but as Pryor clearly says, sometimes you have to sing to get not only attention, but “the pussy”. Then ODB commits to getting some pussy by strutting his vocal style and singing “oh baby, I like it raw/yeah baby, I like it raw”. What the hell is this rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan doing, singing on his own album? Being a rapper and singing on it was still something that didn’t happen as frequently as it does now, it’s almost expected these days. But in 1995, you were a rapper and you still rapped, that was your bread and butter. Here he was singing, and from Malcolm McLaren‘s 1982 album Duck Rock you hear a woman on a phone saying “I like the way you talk”. In the context of this album, it seems the lady likes the fact ODB is singing. ODB is making an impression on the ladies, and it seems, metaphorically, he is about to get the pussy. At this point, he metaphorically goes in and then proceeds to go deeper. He’s immersed, and he’s not coming out until he pulls himself out. He’s Dirty, and he was setting up what would become the mystique of his music and his persona for the remainder of his life.
I will not analyze each song, but here are a few things to consider. It had been later established that each Wu-Tang member would release an album not in the style of another rapper or album, but carrying the same kind of vibe that equaled some of their personal favorites. Some would say “oh, this album has a Strictly Business feel” or “this definitely has the same power as It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” or “it is like an updated Long Live The Kane. On the album, Ol’ Dirty would refer to “bring it on back”, including in “Brooklyn Zoo” (“you want to react, bring it on back”) and “Dirty Dancin'”, and it seemed that if there was a switch in emphasis on what made good hip-hop great, the guys in the Wu-Tang were saying “let’s take it back”. Whether they were commenting on the shift from the East to the West, or wanting things to stop being glossy and shiny and remain gritty and street, it didn’t matter. The Wu-Tang were hungry and ready to be heard, and if that meant taking it back a few years to allow fans to remember where hip-hop came from, they were going to do it and they did. If N.W.A‘s Straight Outta Compton, originally titled From Compton With Love, was the group’s abusive love letter to Los Angeles, then Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (LOUD/RCA) could not be a greater soundtrack for New York City. With Return To The 36 Chambers, ODB was a building inspector and allowing everyone to come along for the ride.
“Brooklyn Zoo” is still a nice swift kick in the face, and is very much like Eric B. & Rakim‘s “Paid In Full” in that it has a lot of content and power for a song that consists of one single verse. “Hippa To Da Hoppa” sounds like a mutated old school track from the mid to late 80’s while “Rawhide” was of the future with its slightly off-center production. “Damage” was a great example of how The RZA produced his tracks and how he would end up making what he did. Apparently the song was not made specifically for ODB, but for anyone who wanted to have the song. It was intended to be a track for The Genius so he did his track normally. Somewhere down the line, The RZA felt that perhaps ODB should do the song, using the exact same lyrics. The final mix heard on the album is not a proper duet, but rather The RZA popping buttons off and on, alternating between ODB’s and Genius’ vocal tracks. This is why some of them are cut-off during mid-stream of a word or sentence, it’s not seamless by any means but this goes back to when The RZA was all about analog production and wanting to “keep it warm”. Sometimes his productions sounded like very rough demos, but the kind of demos you’d love to hear over and over again. To my knowledge, The RZA has not released full versions of “Damage” with complete verses from ODB and The Genius, nor do I know if they have been bootlegged or circulated in MP3/FLAC form. Did other Wu members do their own vocal tracks as well for the song? There are a lot of variables and possibilities, but so far what lurks on any existing multi-tracks is unknown outside of their immediate circle.
Before the first half of the album ends, ODB decides to do a song based on an old track he had done for years where he talks about about going to school and loving the classmates that’s turning him on. Killah Priest shares his views on what he likes too, and then ODB reveals that he’s down with dirty ladies. All of a sudden, his deepest fantasy comes true when his teacher wants to teach him a course in oral sex. ODB is like “what the fuck?” but does he stop? No.
The first half is over, and while he says that Part II is coming up, most people did not hear the proper introduction to “The Stomp”, due to the songs played in the background. In the intro, ODB is now spending some intimate time with a lady, and isn’t afraid to tell her that she is now his bitch.
Throughout the album, ODB is basically unleashing what was said to be a number of his classic routines, along with old school and comedy flashbacks. It wasn’t just taking it back to old school hip-hop, but schoolyard games when things were more innocent. If anything, Return To The Chambers was meant to be comedy relief in a genre that perhaps began started to take itself too seriously. It was still a young music, but it was finding itself in suits, it was not just a mere million dollar industry, various people had grander visions of the music and the community willing to spend their money on anything and everything that had to do with the boom bap. In fact, maybe when KRS-One spoke about the Return Of The Boom Bap, maybe he too wanted to “bring it on back”.
Yet despite the humor, sex rhymes, and word play that ranged from the infantile to dropping serious knowledge, there is a moment in “Going Down” that I always felt was the center point of the album. In the song he has a woman yelling at him at a rapid pace. As a means of finding some sense of personal and inner space, he sings to himself Judy Garland‘s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. It showed, for a few seconds, that this man who had no father to raise him was very much a young kid at heart, was still loving music and life as if he was a young kid with friends who would have his back, no matter what. It was a brief crack into who Russell Jones was as a person. At the start of the album, the Pryor sample said that sometimes you have to sing to get the pussy and here he is on the album singing as if he’s wanting something better in his life, and hopes that by going over that metaphorical rainbow in the promised land, he’ll find it. You can cue up Raekwon‘s “Rainy Dayz” if you wish to continue with a bit of Wu-Tang continuity.
The vinyl and cassette version of Return To The 36 Chambers ended formally with “Cuttin’ Headz”, and a lot of times finding bonus tracks on another format are placed there to just fill up space. While “Dirty Dancin'”, originally released on The Jerky Boys soundtrack as a Wu-Tang track, is one of the bonus tracks on the CD version, it almost seems out of place. Perhaps it could have been released by “Give It To Ya Raw”, the B-side to “Brooklyn Zoo”. If there is a proper way to end Ol’ Dirty’s first album, then that honor belongs to the second bonus track, the incredible “Harlem World”. To this day, I still feel it is one of the best tracks Ol’ Dirty ever released. Yes, he obviously brings him elements from various well known songs but by using Kool & The Gang‘s “Hollywood Swingin'”, he creates a timeline that the listener must follow. He sings that he remembers something, so again we “go back” to the 1970’s. Eventually we hit the reference to a 20th century modern day C.H.U.D., or “cannibal humanoid underground dweller”, which takes us to 1984. Eventually, we realize that Ol’ Dirty has ended his adventures and we get to hear someone beating his ass as he cries out to his mom. That’s it.
It seems very random and scatterbrain, and yet within the madness was someone who was not afraid to be a man while revealing a softer side, as if he was Sears. He remained old school throughout the album with reflections of some of his musical influences, and as for being dirty, he didn’t care who he offended because he knew someone else might get off at it too. As for being a bastard, there was no one up until that point who had the guts to do what he was doing, in the way he did it. He had a level of confidence in his style that was incredible in the first four years of the Wu-Tang post-36 Chambers, but then things started to fall apart at an eerily slow pace. Maybe he felt that people were getting into the humor and prankster ways of his persona, and that’s what he ended up doing until his death. There was very much a serious side to Mr. Jones but he also knew that it was best to overshadow things with humor and twisted sexual tales. Fast forward to the song “Diesel”, originally released as a non-LP track, where he opens up the song by saying “I need help, i need help, the government is after me, I need help, someone help me please, someone help me, they already did 2Pac in, Biggie Smalls, someone help me, someone help me please”. It had been said that it sounded like he was paranoid and under the influence of something. If it was a substance of some sort, Ol’ Dirty was no longer the guy who was “trying to get up and be somebody”, he was becoming someone who wanted to hide over, beyond, and under rainbows if he could find that promised land. He sounded uglier and more disgusted. By saying the line “insecure about my ding dong, married to Babylon”, perhaps he was doing nothing more than reflecting a mirror on the community he came from and the people who may have felt the same way. Either that, or he knew that whatever drugs he was doing was consuming him, and this was nothing more than an audio diary towards his uncertain future.
Did he need to do songs with En Vogue, Mya, and Macy Gray? If anything, he stayed true to his passion for music, and if he had to sing in order to get what he felt was rightfully his, he did. He became everyone he established. He became Big Baby Jesus, he was Dirty McGirt, he was Ol’ Dirt Schultz, but he was always Unique Ason, the original U-God. Yet behind the layers of comic book stories, fantasies, and verbal attacks to the mind, body and soul, he always remained Russell Jones. Yet by being branded Russell Jones, he knew that no government name was going to hold him back from whatever he wanted to do, in music and in life. No father to his style, no true name to the shell that tried to contain him, and yet in life he was beyond life, always searching. Maybe he wasn’t searching for something more, I think he was comfortable with what he had. The ego of more was in his music, but there was some sense in the mind of his. I think he always knew that wherever he laid his hat would be home, be it mental or physical, and throughout his life he tried to find a sense of home that he could never find in the first half of his life. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was someone who had the balls to say he was willing to take a chance to create a chamber, a 36th chamber in a place where only 35 had existed. It was a bold way to say that the Wu-Tang Clan was ready to put their foot in the door to continue the traditions of what came before, but showing that the future can be incredible if you allow it to be. It’s sadly fitting that ODB died at the age of 35, two days before his 36th birthday. He did all that he could to reach the unobtainable 36th chamber, and yet perhaps in life he knew he could never get their alive. It was too big of a goal, his heart got in the way and unfortunately it was his heart that gave out on him.
He was tragedy and comedy all wrapped up into a witty lyricist who was not perfect, yet never lived as if perfection was something worth striving for. Within his flaws was an uncontrolled child who played beyond his curfew, and a man who refused to be played, although his personal demons did end up playing him for the fool he truly was not.
Here’s a description of the latest edition of Unfold:
Unfold is the Tru Thoughts radio show, hosted by Robert Luis every Sunday 10pm-12am on JUICE 107.2.
New forthcoming music from Belleruche remixed by Kidkanevil, Cinematic Orchestra covering Jeff Buckley, some Fast Rap from Ghostface, KOs and Forbidden Dialect, reggae influenced sounds from The Nextmen, Shy FX and Pupa Jim plus a classic from Ultra Nate produced by 4 Hero.
15 years ago, on November 7, 1995, an album ended what is arguably one of the best year’s in hip-hop’s recorded history. The Wu-Tang Clan had released an album two years previous, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and in interviews they were dropping hints about world dominance. Despite what has been said and what people think they know, Wu appreciation was not immediate, they were not overnight sensations. The Genius had failed at first for being a hip-hop new jack Bobby Brown, and many laughed at Prince Rakeem. Then as the story goes, they formed like Voltron. Since Prince Rakeem, a/k/a The RZA, was a Tommy Boy artist, he wanted to bring his new group to the label. Tommy Boy went as so far as to print the name of the group on display ads in The Source in the summer of 1992. The group was called simply Wutang Clan, with no apostrophe. Seems as if the label didn’t think it would work, a rough 1992 demo of “Method Man”, complete with appropriate Humpty Hump reference (Digital Underground were Tommy Boy artists), failed to impress.
They put their resources together and recorded a song that was originally called “Blowin’ Up The Spot”, where everyone dropped a verse. Some of those verses were edited for the final version we now know as “Protect Ya Neck”. Constant driving and networking up and down the East Coast lead labels to the group, leading them to being signed by LOUD Records, then a subsidiary of RCA. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was born. Uncertain that this project would work, The RZA also hooked up with fellow Tommy Boy drop-outs Prince Paul, Fruitkwan, and Too Poetic to form Gravediggaz. Initially, Gravediggaz were dropped too, no one was quite ready to hear death and horror movie metaphors in rap music, even though the industry were cashing in on the shoot-’em-up stories of the West Coast.
In time, it was decided that for maximum coverage of a brand name, each member of the Wu-Tang would somehow obtain their own recording contracts. To make it more interesting, they were able to sign under any label they pleased, individually they were not exclusive to LOUD or RCA. In the press, people were falling in love with the different voices and flows, not sure who was who at the time. When Spring 1994 came around, LOUD/RCA released “C.R.E.A.M.” as a single, and that finally crossed them over into the mainstream spotlight. People discovered who each member was, and matched up the voices with the faces. People started to take to each member to create a fanbase and individual buzz. When this started happening, labels wised up to what Gravediggaz were about. For The RZA, that would mean double duty. A month after the release of Niggamortis/6 Feet Deep, the seeds of what was to bloom the following year were thrown in the form of the Fresh soundtrack. The soundtrack featured older hip-hop classics, but were highlighted by three Wu-Tang related songs, “I Gotcha Back” by The Genius, “Heaven & Hell” by Raekwon & Ghostface Killer, and a remix of “Can it Be All So Simple”.
Three months later, Def Jam released Method ManTical. Something was up, and it became known that there would be at least two solo albums by Wu members, with a possible three. Initially it was just Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon, who were signed to Elektra and LOUD/RCA respectively and released albums in March and August. For a short time, fans wondered who would do the third album. When it was announced that The Genius was signed to Geffen, it was immediately promoted as the greater of the three, even if the album wasn’t completed. Very few Wu fans knew The Genius had released an album on Cold Chillin’ in 1991 called Words From The Genius, and with it being out of print (but not for long), it was out of sight, out of mind. The Genius, for the most part, was Wu-Tang’s Voltron “head”, and people were deciphering his lyrics inside and out, truly showing support for their appreciated Genius.
In the 1995 equivalent of a “leak”, The Genius pressed up a 12″ single of “Labels”, a song which expressed his issues with a music industry that once signed and dropped him in an instant, telling people how you have to be careful in your path as an artist. He did this by using the name of record companies as metaphors for the hazards of his chosen field. This was more than enough for fans who were loving what Ol’ Dirty Bastard was doing, celebrating the Meth remix of “All I Need” with Mary J. Blige, and being blown away by the skills of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which was said to have been put together as Wu-Tang’s proper second album. As the group wanted to expand their dominance, it became not only a vehicle for Raekwon, but also allowed Ghostface to explore his persona too.
When the video for the title track to Liquid Swords was released, it seemed underwhelming after ten months of intense Wu-ness. It seemed somewhat light in its approach, but it was the lyrics that proved that this Genius was not someone light on his feet. The visuals, directed by The Genius himself, showed him in a basement destroying records with specific “labels”. At the time, fans were also noticing a unique approach to their music videos. There was a sense of continuity with the group walking around their neighborhood, showing their love for the 160 building they spoke of in songs, so they were either in the basement of the building, the hallway of the building, rollerblading outside of the building, popping a wheelie outside the building, digging their nose and wiping it on the wall of the building, and in Meth’s and Mary’s case, they were on the roof and buying feminine products for an apartment in said building. The Genius was in the basement, showing perhaps that he had a grittier vibe to him.
No one could expect the full greatness of what was Liquid Swords. Its release on November 7, 1995 was celebrated on the internet, at a time when people were flocking to the Usenet and having deep discussions on mix tapes and mixers. Fans were already picking sides as to which was the best Wu-related album of the year. Many found it hard to choose between The Genius and Raekwon, although some were blunt and said they were all about ODB. In two years the Wu-Tang Empire released six albums, while various members were spotted on other people’s albums or on different soundtracks. For the next two years, it was the Wu era, and no one would ever mess with that legacy. 15 years later, people to this day still debate on which album is more important: Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Link…, or Return To The 36 Chambers. Then when fans waited another year for Ghostface to drop Ironman, everyone wanted to embrace him.
It was a great time to be a hip-hop fan. For years, I bought their music excessively and not just what was at stores, but radio promos and whatever “white label” bootlegs were surfacing. The Wu-Tang Clan were one of the first groups to find success at the dawn of hip-hop’s initial populations on the internet. Back then no one was called a “hater” as many are today, but the equivalent of that = “Wu dick rider #1”, especially if your username was KZA, FZA, CHZA, MZA, QZA, and Ol’ Dirty Musberger, or if you magically developed your own gambino persona. Yet all of the Wu dick riders showed support for their favorite group by buying the music, and also demanding merchandise that did not exist for a long time.
Looking back, it doesn’t seem like the efforts of the Wu will ever be equaled again in hip-hop, or in any music genre. Liquid Swords has become an album that defines a generation of fans, and an era of hip-hop that is now locked in time, waiting for fans both old and new to explore and re-explore many times over.
It’s not the first time someone has mixed up The Beatles with sounds from various other artists, and it’s not the first time someone has messed with The Beatles and hip-hop. In this case, it’s Beatles cover versions layered with some Wu-Tang acapellas, and this is the end result, a great project put together by Tom Caruana called Enter The Magical Mystery Chambers.
The entire 27-track album is available as a free download, either as HQ MP3’s or FLAC lossless, by heading over to the page at Bandcamp.com.