When Method Man released his first solo album 20 years ago today, no one could comprehend what the group were about to do. Method Man’s Tical was a statement from the man who had his own song within the Wu-Tang Clan, so it seemed natural for him to drop a solo album. It was an album not released as a way to say he’s no longer in the Wu-Tang anymore, he was still part of the collective. However, the group had established earlier in the year that each member of the group will release their own solo albums. Groups like the X-Clan and Digital Underground came close to accomplishing this, and it was great to be able to buy music from Raw Fusion, Isis, Gold Money, or Queen Mother Rage, but this was planned on being bigger.
For me, it reminded me of what Kiss did in 1978, when I walked into DJ’s Sound City in Ala Moana Shopping Center and saw an album each from Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter staring at me, and me staring in awe. It reminded me of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. The Beatles had become very successful as solo artists. Now, it was being considered for a hip-hop group, but would it work? We would see.
If the idea of everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan releasing a solo album didn’t sound insane, hearing that they’d each have their own contract on different labels seemed insane, if not a logistical nightmare. The Wu-Tang Clan were signed to LOUD Records, distributed through RCA Records. Method Man was signed to Def Jam, one of the biggest and most influential hip-hop labels. A few months before, The RZA presented himself as a member of Gravediggaz, which featured Prince Paul, Fruitkwan of Stetsasonic, and Too Poetic. It was essentially the Tommy Boy Records All-Stars, or with the exception of Prince Paul, Tommy Boy Non-Stars. The idea of three rappers and a producer/DJ doing an album with horror-themed songs seemed a bit bizarre, but anyone who knew and loved hip-hop backed then knew that the best music was all about witty lyricism, and this one measured up. We now knew that if The RZA could present himself as a member of two groups, then Method Man’s solo album would be awesome.
Time has not treated this album nicely in the sense that when it comes to all of Wu-Tang’s solo albums, or at least one of the first batch of solo albums they released, it doesn’t get treated as well as Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, The Genius’ Liquid Sword (which was actually his second album, but the first post-Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), Ghostface Killah’s Ironman or even Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return To The 36 Chambers. In my opinion, it is one of the best solo albums the Wu ever released, and I consider it an important album because not only was it the first, but because the music sounds incredible. If the Wu-Tang Clan were known for their “Miracle On Dirty 4 Beats”, this one as dirty and dingy as a basement that hasn’t seen Pine Sol in ages.
Like Enter The Wu-Tang, Tical was not a conceptual album nor did it have a continuous theme, it just sounded like a bunch of random songs sequenced in a way that made each song stand out. We got to know some of Meth’s own steez from Wu’s album and now fans were going to enter his world, to discover what made him tick. The title track let us know what tical was about because he smoked it. A lot.
“Biscuits” showed his sense of humor with this song, or at least I felt with talking about putting down people who came off as fake. What I loved about the song was his he interpolated “Just An Echo In the Valley”, which I heard in an episode of The Little Rascals as a kid but I also knew it as being part of a Hawaiian song by the Ho’opi’i Brothers called “Ei Nei”. I thought “wait, he just sang a Hawaiian song?”
It then moves into Meth’s first solo hit, the awesome “Bring The Pain”, where we are allowed to go into his astroplane. It comes off briefly as a glossary entry of what Method Man is about before he tells us that he’s totally crossed out like Kris Kross.
Six months before it was released as the album’s third single, “All I Need” was already a personal favorite as it was arranged in a way that sounded differently. That was partially because there was a prepared chorus for it, although “Bring The Pain” also had a chorus of sorts too. On the album version, “All I Need” didn’t have a Motown song steering it nor did it have Mary J. Blige singing the chorus, but it still showed back then that Method Man was still live and direct from the 160, keeping things and himself and check before they decided to branch out.
“What The Blood Clot” begins with a sample The RZA used in the Gravediggaz “Diary Of A Madman”, and for me I thought perhaps that he would be using a bit of musical continuity from this point forward. He did not, but Meth spoke on how less impressive people would not matter to him because he’s about “36 chambers of headbanger, bitch.” At this point, it was obvious that this was very much about Method Man’s world, which was different when Raekwon released his album on July 31, 1995, which was said to have planned as Wu-Tang’s second album before it became a Raekwon and Ghostface effort.
While The RZA was heard in the song before, we formally hear Raekwon in the duet “battle”, “Meth vs. Chef”, and I know I wasn’t the only one who had hoped there would be future battles on later albums. At least Ol’ Dirty and The Genius did the song title to themselves in “Damage”, I was ready for Rebel INS vs. Masta Killa or something. Even though this was not a conceptual or album with a running theme, there was a unified vibe with this album, and that’s probably due to the energy created by The RZA’s productions and the lyrics that Meth wrote for his verses. As he said in the song before, “we can all get high if we unify”, so perhaps something was in mind when he wrote that.
With help from producer 4th Disciple, The RZA helped to organize the low-end “Sub-Crazy”, which sounded a bit off-kilter, or at least like a song Meth had vocalized in the studio when he and everyone else was super high. Method still retains mentioning more pop culture references, and what I also love about this song was that there are no hard drum samples. It still has a sense of a rhythm but the lack of solid drums makes it stick out beautifully. It was now time to flip the album over to Side 2.
Carlton Fisk was the first non-Wu-Tang Clan member to make his presence known on a Wu-fam project (outside of Miss Raspberry) so his presence on “P.L.O. Style” was not only valued but a proud moment, still showing what it was like to be “within the fam” but to see how Meth could work with others outside of the Clan proper. What I loved about this song is not only the slowed sample, but how the end of one of those samples stutters for a few more bars to make it sound like someone is popping a car horn. Also: the use of chimes that are common on read-along books in order to turn the page while listening, that was a perfect touch.
I loved “I Get My Thang in Action” because it starts with a kung fu dialogue sample but also because the song was influenced by an old Schoolhouse Rock song “Verb”. In this case, the song sounded funky and should have been released a single, perhaps one that could’ve worked better on fans than “Bring The Pain”.
The killer bees return to make their presence known in “Mr. Sandman”, a track featuring The RZA doodling almost in Rzarector mode and Raspberry caressing the tune with her harmonies. The man that makes this song his is Inspectah Deck with a verse that could’ve easily become its own song, although Meth’s Lovin’ Spoonful interpolation of “Summer In The City” is quite nice too. Second Wu-fam contribution comes from Streetlife.
The intro to “Stimulation” pretty much sounds like it’s preparing to land back home, with a drum sample that sounds reminiscent of “Method Man”. What truly takes this song home is the string sample. Due to how it was mixed, it sounds like something from the 1930’s or 40’s but it ended up being “Snowbound” by Sarah Vaughan, arranged and conducted by Don Costa, who may be known more today as being the father of singer Nikka Costa. What also works about the last third of “Stimulation” is that it sounds like everyone in the studio was extremely high and ready to wrap this project up, even though this may have been the first song recorded for it.
The man closes with what was originally released as a Wu-Tang Clan track as a B-side to “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”. It now becomes a Method Man song but still remains its “remix” status. He gets down with his southpaw, tells everyone that he took 1, added 7 more and then he 8 up. What makes this one work is that the piano sample heard in the original “Method Man” song sounds filtered in an effect that makes it come off like it was coming through underwater. Horn samples are chopped and almost made indecipherable, as if The RZA wanted to make sure to keep things gritty and everyone in check. It still sounds “under construction”, almost as raw as the first Wu-Tang Clan before he became too digital and started cleaning up his production techniques.
Tical works perfectly because the album is under 45 minutes. Not too short, not too long, no interludes, no B.S. While there are a small handful of appearances throughout the album, you get a sense that this is as Method Man project because Meth is the dominant voice, no one is barging in verses or ruining song with background yelling. This was not for the 85 who didn’t have a clue, it was very much for those who understood the music, the recipes, and the elements the Wu-Tang Clan wanted to spread around the world, merely by opening the chambers and showing what were once secrets. Looking back, maybe she should not have opened up the doors so wide. At this stage in their master plan, the Wu-Tang Clan were still together and thinking not only to show individual dominance but also brothers of hip-hop who were thinking of a master plan in order to be paid in full. At least in the process, they didn’t lose their sense of making music for the betterment of hip-hop. Four months later, Ol’ Dirty Bastard would release his solo album, the first of three solo joints from the group, and it made a lot of fans happy, excited, and anxious at the same time. No one, not including Meth, could have predicted how their lives were changing but twenty years ago, it was officially the start of their dreams becoming reality, but also the start of their grand empire slowly falling apart. For the time being, Wu-ness was good, with the album going to the top of the Billboard R&B Album chart and going as high as #4 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.