20 years ago, November 9th, nine New York super group rappers released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and the hip-hop world was forever changed. Their delivery was bulletproof. Their style was gritty. And the production on their album was unlike anything that came out in the 90s. RZA’s genius in mixing soul samples with raw underground sounds created a ruckus from Brooklyn to Compton. Who were they? They were Wu-Tang Clan and they were creating this record to inform you that they ain’t nothing to fuck with, indeed.
RZA’s narrates the creation of Wu-Tang Clan in the Wu-Tang Manual, saying that:
“After we recorded, “Protect Ya Neck,”…I knew we had to form one big crew officially… I told them about my vision. Five years. I told them that the next five years would be guided by the force of will and that for those five years I was the answer. There was a certainty that nothing could hold us back. I would tempt death because I knew I couldn’t die. I told them that if they’ put their solo careers on hold, we could work together for something much bigger. I told them, “If y’all give me five years of your life, I promise you in five years I’m gonna take us to the top.” And so we gave each other our word. The Wu-Tang Clan was born.”
RZA’s vision of course, came to life. But the story of the Wu-Tang was unfolding even years before the release of Enter the Chambers. Back in 1978, Gary Grice aka the Genius aka the GZA was a teen growing up in Brooklyn spending most of his times in school learning how to rhyme and tapping on lunch tables challenging his classmates to freestyle. GZA’s ability to beat and rhyme was something he passed along to his cousins, Robert Diggs and Russell Jones, aka RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, respectively. The trio would spend their Saturday mornings watching Kung-Fu specials on television, and these habits coupled with the landscape of the Brooklyn, New York crime side created the foundation of the raw and gritty soundscape that “Enter the Wu-Tang” would come to be praised for.
The secret to the success of Wu-Tang’s timeless style is their ability to create street poetry out of struggle. The ability to rise above hardships is a universal language that isn’t bond by generation, race, genre or gender. One of the reasons the Wu-Tang clique remains relevant is their remarkable gangster expression of celebrating the plight of their lives and pushing through the struggle, which resulted in the album in feeling like a cinematic experience. Though five members of the Wu would go on to have successful solo careers, the creative collaboration of each Wu-Tang member’s hunger to prove themselves as an emcee and rise above the projects, created an undeniable delivery throughout the album.
Let’s cheers to this classic by basking in Wu-Tang’s “Enter the 36 Chambers,” the foundation laid by hip-hop’s original dynasty and the template for all coming producers, rappers, and music professionals who chase that CREAM.
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Mary Elainne Dizon