There is a lot to be thankful for in the Wu-Tang camp this holiday season. Gerald K. Barclay’s documentary, Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan, premiered on BET before hitting stores last week. Last year’s vastly underrated 8 Diagrams is finally getting a proper tour. Ghostface is releasing a compilation of hits and rarities next month. And word has it, Raekwon’s long-awaited Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 will drop early next year, presumably before Dre’s Detox.
I was thinking of reviewing the documentary…but I’m not going to. It’s all right. Worth watching, but if you have followed Wu-Tang’s career it’s probably not going to shed much light on things you didn’t already know. The biggest thing I took away from it is a strong desire to interview Poppa Wu.
So instead we celebrate this Wu-Tangsgiving by giving thanks for the following ten works of art, which I consider the collective’s ten best albums. I’m sure all you overzealous Wu fans have different opinions. Please share your comments at the bottom.
10) Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
Ol’ Dirty Bastard
When I think of the great Wu-Tang solo releases, I tend to leave this one out. Often, people chalk this up to ODB being an acquired taste. He probably is, but that isn’t really it for me. Dirty brought something completely fresh to hip hop. He lights up every Wu-Tang track he appears on, starting the party with a flow unlike anything that came before or after. Most of all, he had flavor, proving that in hip hop, more so than any other genre, personality can take you a long way. But I’ve always felt that ODB’s shine came when he was showcased on someone else’s track. A full-length Dirty recording can be a bit overbearing. Still, it would be a disrespect to the icon and the talent he was to leave him off this list.
9) The W
It’s easy for this gem to get lost in the Wu-Tang discography. They don’t come flying out of the box as they did on their debut or during the finer moments of Forever. It’s a subtle, but rewarding, listen. “Gravel Pit” is always fun and “I Just Can’t Go To Sleep” is always emotional.
8) Supreme Clientele
I’m not going to lie. I could have found a way to include four Ghost albums on this list. But I’m not going to let my bias for one of my all-time favorite MC’s effect the list quite that much. Ghost is an expert storyteller and a fire-spitter on the mic and this one is considered by many to be his best work and despite some long, boring skits it is pretty damn close. Plus, he dissed 50 Cent before anyone cared.
7) 8 Diagrams
It’s known for being the Wu-Tang Clan album that the Clan themselves didn’t even like. Sorry guys, you are great MC’s but you are wrong about this one. RZA came back with some of his most inventive production yet, serving up an album’s worth of what Raekwon termed “hippie shit.” Whatever it was, it was unpredictable and enjoyable, particularly the Badu-backed, drugged out Beatles cover “The Heart Gently Weeps.”
Method Man was the first Clan member to release a solo LP after Wu-Tang’s debut and with_Tical_ he proved that the group was a force to be reckoned with, both collectively and individually. Unlike acclaimed albums by other Wu-Tang affiliates, this is a true solo album as Meth is far less reliant on guest artists. Instead we get a tight forty minutes of hard-hitting, raspy stoner rap from an artist in his prime, proving he can hold down an album by himself just as well as he can a stage.
Double LP’s are almost always a bad idea. I wish I could say that the Wu-Tang Clan are the exception to the rule, but that wouldn’t be honest. Forever is bloated and far too long. At the same time, it includes some of the Wu’s finest songs, from the head-banging “For Heaven’s Sake” to the heart-wrenching “A Better Tomorrow.” And of course there is “Triumph,” the six-minute, hookless epic that sums the group up better than any other song. Had they tightened this album up (let’s say reduced it to disc one with the addition of “Triumph,” “Impossible,” and maybe one or two others) it could have possibly been their best work.
I already mentioned my Ghostface bias so here he is again. Unlike other Wu-Tang members, Ghost’s work has stayed relevant (and in my opinion improved) over the course of this decade. On Fishscale he is in top form, from the minute he picks up the mic on the frantic stream-of-consciousness that is “Shakey Dog” to the moment he bows out on the emotional “Momma.” He can sound commercial (“Back Like That”), inspiring (“Big Girl”), and introspective (“Underwater.”) Plus, he continues to get excellent production, with beats by J Dilla, MF Doom, Pete Rock and others.
3) Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
It doesn’t get much more intense than OB4CL, an album that many consider the best the 90s had to offer. Essentially a Wu-Tang album, Rae delivers a cinematic masterpiece, transforming the crew into the Wu-Gambinos. This album helped revolutionize the mid-90s gangsta rap scene. Artists such as N.W.A. had been painting a bleak picture of inner-city gang life for some time now. But on Cuban Linx, Raekwon and his Gambinos shatter the common image of the gang as a bunch of stick-up hoodlums looking to make a buck and redefines it for what it is: a highly organized structure that should be feared and respected as much as the mafia.
2) Liquid Swords
Liquid Swords has the most awesomely creepy intro of any album I own and it never looks back from this point. GZA perhaps came as close as humanly possible to creating a perfect rap album. There are no weak moments and it ends just in time, avoiding the excessive album length that is the downfall of so many great rap albums. RZA is at his best here, and since he handles all production duties it works better as a cohesive unit than any other Wu release (or for that matter, maybe any other rap album period.) It’s a dark, murky, horrifying work of art that showcases the Clan’s best lyricist and it deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it over the past thirteen years.
1) Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
What else? This was the album that got it all started. The basis for everything that was to come. It was the album that changed rap forever, influencing everything from production styles to lyrical themes to the way rappers marketed themselves. And aside from all the obvious cultural significance, it’s just a damn good record. Every single track is strong. The energy never wavers, even on slower songs like “Can It Be All So Simple.” Not much more to say that hasn’t been said a million times about one of the greatest rap albums of all time.
There you have it. That’s my ten. How about yours?
Posted by Mike Denslow at Nov 27, 2008 02:24 PM