|© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2004-03-31
The ancient scrolls of a devout sect of Shaolin Buddhist monks spoke of the coming of nine henchmen from the north. These clansmen would rise up and dominate the simple-minded locals with an esoteric brand of mathematics based on infinite angular permutations of the god number, "36". They would be led by two brilliant military strategists: The Abbot and The Genius.
Enter the Wutang Clan. Each clansman possessed unique skills: Dirty was expert at drunken kung-fu; Deck was a master archer; Masta Killa could meditate to the point of levitation; U-God possessed amazing physical strength; Raekwon, although portly, demonstrated lightning-quick agility; Ghost was an illusionist and could also read minds; Method Man's specialty was shooting poison-tipped darts at moving targets. Individually each clan member was lethal. As one cohesive unit, they were invincible.
Okay enough with the martial arts symbolism - let's talk some real hip-hop. When the Wu dropped into the game in '93, heads couldn't have known about the dynasty the clan from Staten was about to establish. The concept alone of nine diverse and talented emcees putting their egos away and striking together in one concerted blow was itself an impressive feat. Then there was their lyrical supremacy, Rza's mind-bending beats, the creative kung-fu imagery, and the over-the-board antics of O.D.B and Meth. To cap it off, they kicked an ill philosophy that merged the tenants of freedom, justice and equality with the cut-throat laws of the grimy street life. There was no denying it - the Wu were just fresh to death.
The official jump-off single to 36 Chambers, "Method Man" was raw hip-hop. Rza baked a staccato, syncopated rhythm that seeped into your blood stream and forced your head to nod. Meth killed the track with an uncut verbal blitzkrieg that he would only match in intensity with the lead single ["Bring the Pain"] from his solo debut album.
Then of course, there was the street anthem, "C.R.E.A.M.", on which Rae and Deck represented nicely. Deck's sword was especially sharp on this one - every line in his verse was basically a rhyme quotable.
If those gems didn't do it for you, there was still the nostalgic "Can It Be All So Simple." The Wu's flyest tag-team, Rae and Ghostdini, took turns on this one and completely ripped apart Rza's syrupy-thick track.
The most deadly dose of Wu-medicine was served up on track #10, "Protect Ya Neck." Gza's closing verse on this joint should be required reading for any aspiring hip-hop lyricist.
The downfall of a dynasty is seldom brought about by the infiltration by outside forces. It's the fissures and cracks emanating from within that cause the most damage. With the Wu brethren, it seems the uneven recognition garnered by some members at the expense of others brought about a disconnect that slowed the roll of the once unstoppable Wu juggernaut. Add to that the introduction of several Wu offshoot groups that for the most part tarnished the "W" emblem, and you begin to have the ingredients in place for a steady demise.
But even with that said, the Wu have already carved a place for themselves in hip-hop history forever. And who knows, with rumors of a reunion album being planned for a 2005 release, the "Iron Flag" may once again be raised to full mast. Till then, the legions of loyal Wu-fans the world over will be patiently waiting.
Respect to the 36 chambers of Shaolin. Salute
Written by George Hagan for SOHH