Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993. This album presented the world with perhaps the most absurdly brilliant hip-hop group of all time. With Wu-Tang Clan bringing their 36 Chambers-heavy set list to Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest this weekend, now is the time to take a look back at the twisted glory of the seminal album.
The album offered a new sound that challenged the traditional hip-hop with samples from obscure films, catchy soul-inspired beats, hilariously graphic rhymes and nine neurotic MCs who were far too talented to be sharing the stage with one another.
On 36 Chambers, the Wu-Tang members weren’t just rapping about guns, street life and weed — they were dropping bars about chess, comic books and even snacks. In “Method Man,” rapper Method Man chronicles various silly torture methods before name-checking three brands of peanut butter. In “Clan in Da Front,” rapper GZA advises his adversary to come “strapped with a Pamper” instead of a gun the next time they meet. There was no perception of being lectured in this album, just pure fun.
Despite the many lighthearted aspects of 36 Chambers, the album was not completely without a sense of pensiveness. In “Can It All Be So Simple,” the dynamic duo of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah rap about life growing up in Staten Island, also known as Shaolin, and the struggles of reaching fame and leaving people behind in the process. In the always recognizable “C.R.E.A.M.,” rappers Raekwon and Inspectah Deck rap honestly about money’s importance in living a good life, especially to people who grew up with nothing.
The Wu-Tang rappers crafted their stories and anecdotes with a language of their own. They fearlessly used slang words and phrases that were unrecognizable to the average listener. MC and producer RZA have even had to include a glossary in his book “The Wu-Tang Manual” to help fans comprehend some of their bars. But that is the beauty of Wu-Tang’s music. They don't care whether everyone can relate to, or even understand, everything they’re saying. They are unapologetically themselves and likable nonetheless.
While Wu-Tang’s unfiltered lyrical content was undoubtedly a highlight of 36 Chambers, RZA’s groundbreaking production on the album cannot be ignored. RZA used chopped up audio from martial arts films, obscure soul samples and his self-written piano parts to bring a new production style to hip-hop. At some points it was gritty and haphazard. At others it was elegantly multilayered. But from start to finish the beats were nothing short of brilliant. 36 Chambers was a breath of filthy, unstable air in the environment of predictably polished rap in 1993.
36 Chambers had many tangible influences on the hip-hop world. For one, it brought rap back to the East Coast, where beloved rappers such as Biggie, Nas and Jay-Z emerged. Rappers Redman, Mobb Deep, Eminem and even newcomers such as Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar have modeled their flows after Wu-Tang’s aggressively unapologetic album. The masterfully composed beats and soul sampling laid the foundation for artists such as Just Blaze, No I.D. and Kanye West to build their respective production styles on.
36 Chambers transcends the generations of hip-hop. It was cutting-edge in 1992, and it still has the relevance in 2015 to be able to go head-to-head with any other modern day release. If the continuing relevance of the album among hip-hop fans can prove anything, it is that Wu-Tang Clan is forever, and it will never be anything to mess with.