Rap is an acquired taste. There was a time in my life where I despised rap music. I thought that it was just an ugly thing to hear, people in bling rapping about riches and bitches. It lasted from when I found out about it at grade 3 all the way up to the summer past, when I decided to listen to Team Teamwork's Ocarina of Rhyme, a mash-up of Ocarina of Time songs and various Rap/Hip-Hop songs by the likes of Busta Rhymes, Dr. Dre, and Common. I then realized that rap isn't about the fame, at least it wasn't back in “the good ol' days” of Public Enemy and the like. Around the time that Likety's Gangsta Collab was released, I decided get into the classics of rap, by listening to such albums as N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre's The Chronic, and eventually, the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. The latter, however, meant a little more to me than the former, mainly due to the theme and style that the group put forth. To paraphrase the interview segment of "7th Chamber, Part II", “...you hear it in [their] voice when [they're] sayin' the rhymes.”
"Answer: Fuck ya ass up."
The Wu-Tang Clan, comprised of clan members RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon the Chef, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, are a group that speaks the words that they seem to live by when they say “Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin ta fuck wit”; U-God was imprisoned, Ghostface Killah supposedly was wanted by the police, and Ol' Dirty Bastard was just beginning his slow, yet infamous descent of crime that would eventually lead to his death. RZA provides the groups stylistic piano-based beats, while Ol' Dirty Bastard's vocally dynamic, absurd flow, to the GZA's methodical and depressing story-telling. Lyrically, every member is given their chance to shine through their various prisms. Throughout the twelve tracks of metaphor slinging, life-spilling stories on 36 Chambers, the nine members of the Clan prove their claim, that they are truly a force not to be crossed.
"How do I say good-bye? It's always the good ones that have to die."
Rap is surely known for it’s over-indulgent “quality” when it comes to samples, joke tracks, and filler (not unlike The Chronic), but Wu-Tang falls victim to none of these errors on 36 Chambers. The sections that differentiate from the musical tracks latch on to the actual songs and either illustrate what the songs are going to be about or touch on some aspect of the Clan that a first time listener may be curious about. Clocking in at nearly an hour, 36 Chambers is through-and-through, pure rap. From “Shame On a Nigga” (a boisterous, ego-boosting, and threatening track about what happens when the listener gets in the Clan's way; “Do ya wanna getcha teeth knocked the fuck out? Wanna get on it like that, well then shout!”), to Method Man (a song that begins with a graphic conversation of torture amongst the members), to “Tearz” (the story of RZA's little brother getting shot, and of someone contracting HIV after having unprotected sex), 36 Chambers has it all.
"I love the RZA. He's so bad."
The dramatic and violent tales of street survival truly makes the listener sympathize with the artists, such as with "C.R.E.A.M.", a tale of struggles with poverty and the desire to earn money by any means. I could take any one line from that song, and it would sum up the theme of their (in this case, Raekwon and the Inspectah) troubles in the ghetto. “...But as the world turns I learned life is Hell/Living in the world, no different from a cell/Everyday I escape from Jake's givin' chase, sellin' base/Smokin' bones in the staircase”. Also, the samurai voodoo of the group helps arouse the almost ridiculous life style the members seem to be exemplifying. The constant dropping of lines like "I come sharp as a blade and I cut you slow" further promote the samurai mindset the group lives by and samples (from the 1981 film Shaolin and Wu Tang).
Personally, my favorite track is "Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta Fuck Wit". As formerly mentioned, this is the song that truly shows off the Wu-Tang mantra of feudal gang violence, along with their pop culture referenced lyrics. RZA's line "I'm causin' more family feuds than Richard Dawson/And the survey says, "Ya dead!" along with Method Man's "Niggaz is like 'Oh, my God, not you!' Yes, I, come to get a slice of the punk and the pie, rather do than die." line pretty much sum up the theme of the majority of this album.
I have listened to this album 93 times from mid-December to the time of writing, according to foobar2000, and even while writing this, I've listened to it twice for reference. The hardcore lyrics stand the test of time and replay, to the extent that I utter them while walking down the hallway. 36 Chambers, although it may not be for everybody, is truly a feat in the rap community, and after nearly 20 years, the Wu-Tang style still stands strong as a classic.
"It's our secret, never teach the Wu-Tang!"