If you know of “The Mexican”, most of you may know of the version by Babe Ruth that has been samplled countless times in hip-hop in the last 35 years. In 2015, The Genius gets a chance to bring in Tom Morello to recreate the vibe in his own way with help from bassist Jose “Choco” Reynoso, keyboardists Isamu McGergor, and guitarists Hanni El Khatib, Dante Cimadamore, and Jerome Wilson Jordan to create something that is hot, funky, and dope all at once. This was recorded during the Dark Matter sessions that will lead towards GZA’s forthcoming album, so it may or may not appear on it. If it does, I’d like to think it’ll be there as a bonus track but you can have it here for free, while supplies last.
If you read the title and know what Pepperland refers to, then you know it most likely has to do with The Beatles, and it does. Now you look at the graphic and are saying “but wait, I see Ol’ Dirty Bastard here. What’s going on?” In this case, it’s a remix project where Beatles samples were used to create new instrumentals for hip-hop songs. Look at all of the people who are on it, it’s insane. Here’s the track listing:
Hello Hello – Edan
Mr Mustard – Big Daddy Kane
Second To None – Rakim
Taxman – The Notorius B.I.G.
Gentle Thief – Nas
Where I’m From – Large Professor
Country Grammar – Talib Kweli & Bun B
Parlay – J-Live
Twist – Salt-N-Pepper
Birthday Dedication – Busta Rhymes
Open Mic Session pt. 1 – Masta Ace, Percee P, Lord Finesse, Frankie Cutlass, Easy Mo Bee & KRS-One
Number Nine – YZ
Self Titled – Heltah Skeltah
Bang Bang – MOP
Pepper – Kool G Rap
Bring Your Friends – Public Enemy
Interlude / Bridge – MC Shan
Last Forever – Artifacts
For The Children – Freddie Foxxx
Ringo’s Big Beat Theme – Spoonie Gee
Hold Poppa’s Large Hand – Ultramagnetic MC’s
Open Mic Session pt. 2 – Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane & Rakim
The End – Run DMC & Afrika Bambaataa
Circles – Wu-Tang Clan
Brooklyn Walrus – Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Buckshot , Masta Ace & Special Ed
Secrets – Slick Rick
Beneath The Diamond Sky – The Genius/GZA
Within Tomorrow – Busta Rhymes
The Beginning – Sunz Of Man
Gentle Drama – The RZA & Rugged Monk
Becausizm – KRS-One & Channel Live
Mary Jane – Tha Alkaholiks
Bong Water – Viktor Vaughn
Love In Summertime – Ghostface Killah & Beyonce
And I Lover Her Crazy – Jay-Z & Beyonce
Ruffneck Soldier – MC Lyte
Hey! – Beastie Boys
Get Back To The City – Large Professor
Hard To Leave Home – Nas
The Flyest – AZ
And Who? – Heiroglyphics
Lonely Thoughts – The Notorious B.I.G.
Can You Dig It? – Gravediggaz
How To Smile – 2Pac & Scarface
A Day In New York – AZ, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah
Stream it in full above or if you just want to download it and carry it with you on your travels, head to MonkeyBoxing.com.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the Wu-Tang Clan made an impact with this album. That impact was definitely not immediately, at least not nationally. When Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (LOUD/RCA) was released on November 9, 1993, the Wu did not have any heavy rotation anywhere, outside of NYC. Those months between the album release day and the spring of 1994 would eventually cause a shift, which would mark the end of another era of hip-hop and the glorious beginning of another.
I became a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan when the video for “Method Man” was getting airplay on BET’s Rap City. I loved the raw feel of the song, could not get enough of Method Man’s flow, it was that great. I also loved his constant barrage of pop
culture references, as if this guy knew where I was coming from even though I had no idea where he had come from, at least not yet. It was with that song that The Genius said “from the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again: The RZA, The GZA, Ol’
Dirty Bastard, Inspector Deck, Raekwon The Chef, U-God, Ghost Face Killer, and the Method”, then Method Man rhymed for the next three minutes, making reference to everything from Tootsie Roll Pops to the Rolling Stones and Dr. Seuss to Digital Underground, and I did not know what was going on. I felt I had liked the rap music that was released between 1990 to 1993, there was a hell of a lot of great music in those four years and yet it felt like this approach was old school and yet new school. Method Man was truly “hitting you from every angle” and I had to have more, but at the time there was very little to
For me, the big news in hip-hop was that A Tribe Called Quest had just released their third album, Midnight Marauders. This was going to be the album of 1993, nothing else could beat it. There had also been some buzz for a group called Black Moon who had just released “Who Got The Props” as a single, a song that sounded fun and festive, a bit different from the slightly dark vibe of the album. Or if not dark, it was a bit like walking down an alley unsure of what would be lurking, but you’d take that risk anyway. Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage was an album that was a few weeks before and people would soon not get enough of them and the collective they helped create. I definitely didn’t buy Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) on release date, for the group and the album was not something in demand, at least I wasn’t looking for it. Looking back, maybe it was looking for me. It would actually take video airplay for “Da Mystery Of Chessboxing”, with its kung fu imagery, for me to finally by the album. Were these the same guys who were rapping about making a bitch squirm for
supersperm? Yeah, there was Method Man with his face hidden.
This had to have been in December or early January, but I remember the moment when I popped the CD in:
“Shaolin shadowboxing, and the Wu-Tang sword style. (Hmmm.) If what you say is true, the shaolin and the Wu-Tang style could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?
En guard, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”
This was straight out of all of the kung fu movies I watched as a kid, either at theaters in downtown Honolulu with my dad, on Kung Fu Theater on the USA Network or all the kung fu movies I was renting on VHS. Then came the chant of “BRING THE
MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS! BRING THE MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS!” It may not have happened, but my eyes, mouth, mind were wide open and in awe from what I was hearing. There was nothing like it, this was not something I heard in songs by Biz Markie, Showbiz &
AG, Ice Cube, Ice T, Gang Starr, or Dr. Dre. This was far better. The song also had percussive snaps and brick slaps, as if it was a group of warriors in a Shaolin temple praying and waiting for someone to invade. Ghostface Killer would start up the song before Raekwon comes in and delivers, and then Inspector Deck offers greatness. The song ends with the sacred words of The Genius. They were waiting, and eventually they could no longer wait. You heard warriors fight, smacking each other left and right before came the one man army Ason Unique, a/k/a Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and getting dope with “Shame On A Nigga” before Method Man comes in with his verse. The album continued to build from there, and to hear all of these new voices and not have any sense of who was saying what was incredible. The group may have shown themselves on the cover behind masks, but
inside there was a photo, but Method Man was not a part of that line-up. At least here on the west coast, I had never seen the video for “Protect Ya Neck”, which offered a chance for viewers to see who was who and by name, as if they were teen pop
sensations. Outside of hearing them mentioning their own names in song, there was little to go on in terms of applying a face to a name.
It wasn’t until the DasEFX cover issue of The Source did I know who they were, their pseudonyms, and everything else that made them out to be hip-hop’s Marvel Universe. I had read and collected comic books as a kid, so I understood what it meant to be named this, then that, and then maybe two or three other things. The Wu-Tang appealed to me because they thought like kids, but doing things in a very adult manner. It was a bunch of guys shooting shit amongst one
another, but there was also a sense of the now, as if they knew that they could not live in the past, and thus thought about the future, what would come next for themselves and for others.
Each song on the album felt like there were reaching new plateaus, and when the song finished, they would all make it to the next level and build again. It was great to hear a song that might have two members, or another with four or five, before it leads to a song with the core eight. Then you learn that the core eight expands to a nine. It would be a few more years before that nine turned into a ten man team, but while Digital Underground did it to a point, it was always “to a point”. Plus, Shock G. was also Humpty Hump, who was also MC Blowfish, a/k/a Piano Man, and when when you heard Money B. say “well I’m Humpty Humpin'”, I was left wondering “well, who are these guys?” X-Clan had an incredible collective too, even though on their albums it was generally Brother J doing most of the raps. You also had Isis and Queen Mother Rage, and of course Professor X had his own solo album too but that was it, Brother J really didn’t get his own path until X-Clan was over. The Wu-Tang Clan seemed like a different beast, an entity, as if they were looking at hip-hop, celebrating what came before and were going to build on the successes and see how far they could go with it.
I’m someone who lived in Honolulu but grew up admiring the hip-hop from the east coast, specifically what came from New York and New Jersey. It was NYC or die, and yet I loved what everyone else from Seattle to Los Angeles, Dallas to Miami were doing, the more the merrier. In my mind, there was a slight shift on the artists that would gain acceptance, and maybe that had a lot to do with some of the shifts happening in the community. If hip-hop started in NYC, it seemed to turn into Motown in 1971 and headed to Hollywood. Nothing wrong with that, but there was a lot of music being released that became hits but I did not like. At the same time, there was much more to Cali hip-hop than MC Hammer and everyone had a chance, yet it seemed from afar that the NYC stuff was being pushed to the side. It seemed to make artists push harder to be heard and make better music, even if it meant “better for ourselves”. The Wu-Tang Clan came out not giving a fuck about anyone else but themselves, and I loved that attitude. It was in that early 1994 interview on MTV where Ol’ Dirty Bastard talked about his name, how he was old school, his style was dirty,and he was a bastard, because when he rhymed, there was no father to his style. That was attitude and a half, and yet he meant it, as if to say “I know what came before me, but I want to show you what I’m about, for the now people.”
What also made Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) interesting is that by the time “C.R.E.A.M.” had become the hit of early 1994, that’s when news surfaced about how they were going to make sure that each member of the group would be signed with their own solo contract and release their own solo albums. To me, this brought back memories of Kiss and their four solo albums in 1978, and what Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young did with the various combinations they made music under. This was much bigger, and I couldn’t wait. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait that long, as The RZA was working with producer Prince Paul, Stesasonic’s Fruitkwan, and fellow Tommy Boy Records’ alumni Too Poetic in a group project called Gravediggaz. This would be RZA’s thing, and while no one knew it at the time, Gravediggaz was one of two “make or break” projects he was working on in 1992-1993. His career as Prince Rakeem only lead to the “Ooh, I Love You Rakeem” single which barely caused a dent in 1991. The RZA offered the Wutang (no hyphen) to Tommy Boy Records as a possible group to work with but they passed. Tommy Boy was losing their impact on rap music, and that’s when Rakeem became The RZA and started two projects, hoping one of them would gain some glory. Due to the success of the Wu-Tang, Gravediggaz would soon pick up steam, eventually becoming recognized in their own right. Then there was word on Method Man being signed to Def Jam. His solo album would be released in the fall of 1994, and then there was word of three more Wu solo albums on the way.
It seemed too much, and I loved it because within a two year period, the Wu-Tang Clan were doing things other rap groups had only talked about or imagined. As Method Man would later say, “you talk about it while I live it”, and no one had ever done what they were doing within a hip-hop context. On top of that, if any of the guys in the Wu wanted to drop a verse/cameo in other songs, they could. Did they want to product something? They did. Have some affiliates they wanted to hook-up with? There was more than enough time for everyone, and to experience it in real time, before the MP3 became the format of choice for music fans, was something that may not be repeated in the near future. The music felt good, it sounded good, and you couldn’t help but want to find people who were into that goodness.
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was about entering their world, knowing that one had to echieve certain levels before bein gable to proceed, but realizing that even if you had reached the peak, you had to then create your own path. It was as if they were also telling their fans “it’s all on you. Take it where you want and if we can help guide you towards your own path, go for broke.” That was the attitude they all had on the album, as if they were all going for broke, as if tomorrow did not exist for any of them. We all know what happened with their individual careers. We all know how Ghostface Killer (later Killah), the man who once hid his face from view, would become the most visible of the bunch. We all know how The Genius, like true geniuses, would become the hermit crab. We all fell in love with The RZA’s “Miracle On Dirty 4-Beats”. We loved what Inspectah Deck offered in everything he rhymed and was hoping he would be next to release an album in 1995. Some of us were stupefied by Raekwon’s delivery and wit. Then there was U-God, the 4-bar killer, who came and went with his 4- or 8-lines in a song, we all wondered why but we were happy with it. For a brief moment, it seemed everything that was good about hip-hop was achieved with that album. The egos were self-contained and it had a Three Musketeers-meets-Brand Nubian feel, “one for all and all for one”. Anyone who had ever felt the East Coast had lost its way, they would find the path again with the Wu-Tang. It was a celebration of Spider-Man, porno flick bitches, and Saturday morning cartoons and cereals. We all understood the power of that shot in the “Can It Be All So Simple” where the kid did a wheelie with his bicycle, when that was considered the ultimate goal. Nothing else in the world could be better than that wheelie, and you felt like a bad ass. For a brief moment in my life, the Wu-Tang Clan meant the world to me.
Yes, it was indeed so simple then.
This year’s Moogfest gets a bit more interesting with some brand new editions to the lineup, including a rapper who, to my knowledge, doesn’t play the Moog or any type of keyboard. However, he will be performing with a 9-piece Moog band. The “he” in question is…
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin (b/k/a Oneohtrix Point Never)
Morton Subotnick presents From Silver Apples to a Sky of Cloudless Sulfur
Buke & Gase
This is in addition to everyone else who are scheduled to appear, announced earlier this month.
The weekend of October 26th & 27th will be when keyboard and synth enthusiasts will want to program their schedules to be in Asheville, North Carolina for this year’s Moogfest. Tickets go on sale this Friday, August 10th, and what would make you want to pre-order your tickets then? A change to see and hear these people:
The GZA presents Liquid Swords
Black Moth Super Rainbow
Mouse on Mars
Prefuse 73 with Teebs
Many more will be there, and I’m sure a few more will be announced as things get closer to October. There will also be weekend passes, daily general admission tickets and VIP packages available, so a number of ways to check it out that is affordable for all. For more information, head to Moogfest.org.
March 28, 1995.
16 years ago, hip-hop music was in a good place. Method Man had become THE man of the Wu-Tang Clan, who were becoming the hottest group in the land. Yes, it was still “the land”, Wu-ness was appreciated overseas but hadn’t become a worldwide movement just yet. In the summer of 1994, as “C.R.E.A.M.” was still getting airplay, the Gravediggaz made itself known in August. A few months later, Method Man released Tical (Def Jam). News surfaced that everyone in the Wu-Tang would release their own solo album, signed to whatever label wanted to snap them up. That had been the plan, a plan that was unheard of in any genre. The Beatles all went solo but they had Apple Records, which was their own label. Crosby, Stills & Nash expanded to include Neil Young, who had been signed on his own as a solo artist after leaving Buffalo Springfield. Then when CSNY splintered off, that allowed Young to explore his solo muse while CSN all released albums on Atlantic. Then when Stills wanted to form another group, and Crosby & Nash wanted to become a duo, it too went through Atlantic. That would change years later when Stills found himself on Columbia, and Crosby & Nash made ABC Records their home. The members of Kiss wanted to release four solo albums on the same day, and with much hype and a lot of money put into the campaign, they did. In hip-hop, groups like Digital Underground and the X-Clan all had intentions of being a group while having members in the collective going solo. It worked for a few of them, but it did not equal the fanaticism that would become one of Wu-Tang Clan’s trademarks.
16 years ago, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was obviously the crazy guy in the group. In the spring of 1994, MTV had begun airing a half-hour interview with the group that was edited with live performances of the group. It was then that Wu fans discovered that for Russell Jones, he liked to keep it old school, he loved keeping it dirty, and since he was raised without a father, he decided to take that identity as one of monikers, claiming that there was no father to his style. In that interview, he said he was Ol’, he was Dirty, and by default he was a Bastard. It was self-deprecation at its best, but there was humor mixed in with the bravado. He may have seemed reserved in that interview, but once you turned on the microphone, the man was ruthless. Up until that point, rap music was still about walking back and forth on a stage and you were either “cool, calm, and collected”, wanting to “fuck bitches”, or were ready to “bust a cap on your ass”. It may have come as a surprise that when Ol’ Dirty said “first things first, man, you’re fucking with the worst, I’ll be stickin’ pins in your head like a fucking nurse” with the kind of uncontrolled pandemonium similar to a water hose moving uncontrollably, it was as if he was ready to confront anyone that came in eye contact with him. He may have sounded and appeared to be controlled, and maybe later in life he was. But in those early years of the Wu-Tang Revolution, he was the young kid who was motivated to do better because he had no father. If there was no father to his style, who would dare tell him what to do? If he was to play the role of an only child, then he was going to be an unwatched kid ready to pull out some surprises.
Looking back, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (Elektra) seemed like any other hip-hop solo album, at least from the outside. It was a simple photo of Ol’ Dirty’s food stamp identification, but once you opened it up, you were in his Disneyworld. The intro consisted of him saying he would take things back to the days of Clarence Reid, a singer/songwriter known in some circles as Blowfly. Instead of singing Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, ODB decided to take it to bed and sing it as “The First Time Ever You Sucked My Dick”. When he began to sing, obviously showing that he wasn’t a professional singer, and had the vibrato during the word “balls”, I am certain some people must’ve said “this guy cannot be serious”. I laughed my ass off, and he did too by stopping the singing and telling everyone that what you will hear will be bangin’. With a click to a sample from the English dub of Master Killer, The RZA started to plot out the continuity that would become a major part of their music for years. Throughout sound and metaphor, the listener discovered that at the Shaolin temple, there were only 35 chambers. There was not a 36th, and in kung fu movies this was absolute. In Wu-Tang’s world, their home of Staten Island, New York was nicknamed Shaolin. The voice continues, and he said that he knew this, but with bravado, he said “but I want to create a new chamber.” The abbot asks “oh, and what would that be?” Then we explore for the first time what that 36th chamber is/sounds like. It is a Return To The 36 Chambers, or in this case, we’re going back to what made ODB who he is, his origins.
No one realized on March 28, 1995 how much of an influence the sample from Richard Pryor in the intro to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” would be. The sample was Pryor talking about how someone told him “what the fuck, you can’t even sing”. Yet in entertainment, if you’re going to make an impact on anyone, sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Even if you can’t sing, you do your best to sing anyway. A sell-out move? Perhaps, but as Pryor clearly says, sometimes you have to sing to get not only attention, but “the pussy”. Then ODB commits to getting some pussy by strutting his vocal style and singing “oh baby, I like it raw/yeah baby, I like it raw”. What the hell is this rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan doing, singing on his own album? Being a rapper and singing on it was still something that didn’t happen as frequently as it does now, it’s almost expected these days. But in 1995, you were a rapper and you still rapped, that was your bread and butter. Here he was singing, and from Malcolm McLaren‘s 1982 album Duck Rock you hear a woman on a phone saying “I like the way you talk”. In the context of this album, it seems the lady likes the fact ODB is singing. ODB is making an impression on the ladies, and it seems, metaphorically, he is about to get the pussy. At this point, he metaphorically goes in and then proceeds to go deeper. He’s immersed, and he’s not coming out until he pulls himself out. He’s Dirty, and he was setting up what would become the mystique of his music and his persona for the remainder of his life.
I will not analyze each song, but here are a few things to consider. It had been later established that each Wu-Tang member would release an album not in the style of another rapper or album, but carrying the same kind of vibe that equaled some of their personal favorites. Some would say “oh, this album has a Strictly Business feel” or “this definitely has the same power as It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” or “it is like an updated Long Live The Kane. On the album, Ol’ Dirty would refer to “bring it on back”, including in “Brooklyn Zoo” (“you want to react, bring it on back”) and “Dirty Dancin'”, and it seemed that if there was a switch in emphasis on what made good hip-hop great, the guys in the Wu-Tang were saying “let’s take it back”. Whether they were commenting on the shift from the East to the West, or wanting things to stop being glossy and shiny and remain gritty and street, it didn’t matter. The Wu-Tang were hungry and ready to be heard, and if that meant taking it back a few years to allow fans to remember where hip-hop came from, they were going to do it and they did. If N.W.A‘s Straight Outta Compton, originally titled From Compton With Love, was the group’s abusive love letter to Los Angeles, then Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (LOUD/RCA) could not be a greater soundtrack for New York City. With Return To The 36 Chambers, ODB was a building inspector and allowing everyone to come along for the ride.
“Brooklyn Zoo” is still a nice swift kick in the face, and is very much like Eric B. & Rakim‘s “Paid In Full” in that it has a lot of content and power for a song that consists of one single verse. “Hippa To Da Hoppa” sounds like a mutated old school track from the mid to late 80’s while “Rawhide” was of the future with its slightly off-center production. “Damage” was a great example of how The RZA produced his tracks and how he would end up making what he did. Apparently the song was not made specifically for ODB, but for anyone who wanted to have the song. It was intended to be a track for The Genius so he did his track normally. Somewhere down the line, The RZA felt that perhaps ODB should do the song, using the exact same lyrics. The final mix heard on the album is not a proper duet, but rather The RZA popping buttons off and on, alternating between ODB’s and Genius’ vocal tracks. This is why some of them are cut-off during mid-stream of a word or sentence, it’s not seamless by any means but this goes back to when The RZA was all about analog production and wanting to “keep it warm”. Sometimes his productions sounded like very rough demos, but the kind of demos you’d love to hear over and over again. To my knowledge, The RZA has not released full versions of “Damage” with complete verses from ODB and The Genius, nor do I know if they have been bootlegged or circulated in MP3/FLAC form. Did other Wu members do their own vocal tracks as well for the song? There are a lot of variables and possibilities, but so far what lurks on any existing multi-tracks is unknown outside of their immediate circle.
Before the first half of the album ends, ODB decides to do a song based on an old track he had done for years where he talks about about going to school and loving the classmates that’s turning him on. Killah Priest shares his views on what he likes too, and then ODB reveals that he’s down with dirty ladies. All of a sudden, his deepest fantasy comes true when his teacher wants to teach him a course in oral sex. ODB is like “what the fuck?” but does he stop? No.
The first half is over, and while he says that Part II is coming up, most people did not hear the proper introduction to “The Stomp”, due to the songs played in the background. In the intro, ODB is now spending some intimate time with a lady, and isn’t afraid to tell her that she is now his bitch.
Throughout the album, ODB is basically unleashing what was said to be a number of his classic routines, along with old school and comedy flashbacks. It wasn’t just taking it back to old school hip-hop, but schoolyard games when things were more innocent. If anything, Return To The Chambers was meant to be comedy relief in a genre that perhaps began started to take itself too seriously. It was still a young music, but it was finding itself in suits, it was not just a mere million dollar industry, various people had grander visions of the music and the community willing to spend their money on anything and everything that had to do with the boom bap. In fact, maybe when KRS-One spoke about the Return Of The Boom Bap, maybe he too wanted to “bring it on back”.
Yet despite the humor, sex rhymes, and word play that ranged from the infantile to dropping serious knowledge, there is a moment in “Going Down” that I always felt was the center point of the album. In the song he has a woman yelling at him at a rapid pace. As a means of finding some sense of personal and inner space, he sings to himself Judy Garland‘s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. It showed, for a few seconds, that this man who had no father to raise him was very much a young kid at heart, was still loving music and life as if he was a young kid with friends who would have his back, no matter what. It was a brief crack into who Russell Jones was as a person. At the start of the album, the Pryor sample said that sometimes you have to sing to get the pussy and here he is on the album singing as if he’s wanting something better in his life, and hopes that by going over that metaphorical rainbow in the promised land, he’ll find it. You can cue up Raekwon‘s “Rainy Dayz” if you wish to continue with a bit of Wu-Tang continuity.
The vinyl and cassette version of Return To The 36 Chambers ended formally with “Cuttin’ Headz”, and a lot of times finding bonus tracks on another format are placed there to just fill up space. While “Dirty Dancin'”, originally released on The Jerky Boys soundtrack as a Wu-Tang track, is one of the bonus tracks on the CD version, it almost seems out of place. Perhaps it could have been released by “Give It To Ya Raw”, the B-side to “Brooklyn Zoo”. If there is a proper way to end Ol’ Dirty’s first album, then that honor belongs to the second bonus track, the incredible “Harlem World”. To this day, I still feel it is one of the best tracks Ol’ Dirty ever released. Yes, he obviously brings him elements from various well known songs but by using Kool & The Gang‘s “Hollywood Swingin'”, he creates a timeline that the listener must follow. He sings that he remembers something, so again we “go back” to the 1970’s. Eventually we hit the reference to a 20th century modern day C.H.U.D., or “cannibal humanoid underground dweller”, which takes us to 1984. Eventually, we realize that Ol’ Dirty has ended his adventures and we get to hear someone beating his ass as he cries out to his mom. That’s it.
It seems very random and scatterbrain, and yet within the madness was someone who was not afraid to be a man while revealing a softer side, as if he was Sears. He remained old school throughout the album with reflections of some of his musical influences, and as for being dirty, he didn’t care who he offended because he knew someone else might get off at it too. As for being a bastard, there was no one up until that point who had the guts to do what he was doing, in the way he did it. He had a level of confidence in his style that was incredible in the first four years of the Wu-Tang post-36 Chambers, but then things started to fall apart at an eerily slow pace. Maybe he felt that people were getting into the humor and prankster ways of his persona, and that’s what he ended up doing until his death. There was very much a serious side to Mr. Jones but he also knew that it was best to overshadow things with humor and twisted sexual tales. Fast forward to the song “Diesel”, originally released as a non-LP track, where he opens up the song by saying “I need help, i need help, the government is after me, I need help, someone help me please, someone help me, they already did 2Pac in, Biggie Smalls, someone help me, someone help me please”. It had been said that it sounded like he was paranoid and under the influence of something. If it was a substance of some sort, Ol’ Dirty was no longer the guy who was “trying to get up and be somebody”, he was becoming someone who wanted to hide over, beyond, and under rainbows if he could find that promised land. He sounded uglier and more disgusted. By saying the line “insecure about my ding dong, married to Babylon”, perhaps he was doing nothing more than reflecting a mirror on the community he came from and the people who may have felt the same way. Either that, or he knew that whatever drugs he was doing was consuming him, and this was nothing more than an audio diary towards his uncertain future.
Did he need to do songs with En Vogue, Mya, and Macy Gray? If anything, he stayed true to his passion for music, and if he had to sing in order to get what he felt was rightfully his, he did. He became everyone he established. He became Big Baby Jesus, he was Dirty McGirt, he was Ol’ Dirt Schultz, but he was always Unique Ason, the original U-God. Yet behind the layers of comic book stories, fantasies, and verbal attacks to the mind, body and soul, he always remained Russell Jones. Yet by being branded Russell Jones, he knew that no government name was going to hold him back from whatever he wanted to do, in music and in life. No father to his style, no true name to the shell that tried to contain him, and yet in life he was beyond life, always searching. Maybe he wasn’t searching for something more, I think he was comfortable with what he had. The ego of more was in his music, but there was some sense in the mind of his. I think he always knew that wherever he laid his hat would be home, be it mental or physical, and throughout his life he tried to find a sense of home that he could never find in the first half of his life. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was someone who had the balls to say he was willing to take a chance to create a chamber, a 36th chamber in a place where only 35 had existed. It was a bold way to say that the Wu-Tang Clan was ready to put their foot in the door to continue the traditions of what came before, but showing that the future can be incredible if you allow it to be. It’s sadly fitting that ODB died at the age of 35, two days before his 36th birthday. He did all that he could to reach the unobtainable 36th chamber, and yet perhaps in life he knew he could never get their alive. It was too big of a goal, his heart got in the way and unfortunately it was his heart that gave out on him.
He was tragedy and comedy all wrapped up into a witty lyricist who was not perfect, yet never lived as if perfection was something worth striving for. Within his flaws was an uncontrolled child who played beyond his curfew, and a man who refused to be played, although his personal demons did end up playing him for the fool he truly was not.
“You want to react? Bring it on back.”
r.i.p. Russell Tyrone Jones.
15 years ago, on November 7, 1995, an album ended what is arguably one of the best year’s in hip-hop’s recorded history. The Wu-Tang Clan had released an album two years previous, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and in interviews they were dropping hints about world dominance. Despite what has been said and what people think they know, Wu appreciation was not immediate, they were not overnight sensations. The Genius had failed at first for being a hip-hop new jack Bobby Brown, and many laughed at Prince Rakeem. Then as the story goes, they formed like Voltron. Since Prince Rakeem, a/k/a The RZA, was a Tommy Boy artist, he wanted to bring his new group to the label. Tommy Boy went as so far as to print the name of the group on display ads in The Source in the summer of 1992. The group was called simply Wutang Clan, with no apostrophe. Seems as if the label didn’t think it would work, a rough 1992 demo of “Method Man”, complete with appropriate Humpty Hump reference (Digital Underground were Tommy Boy artists), failed to impress.
They put their resources together and recorded a song that was originally called “Blowin’ Up The Spot”, where everyone dropped a verse. Some of those verses were edited for the final version we now know as “Protect Ya Neck”. Constant driving and networking up and down the East Coast lead labels to the group, leading them to being signed by LOUD Records, then a subsidiary of RCA. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was born. Uncertain that this project would work, The RZA also hooked up with fellow Tommy Boy drop-outs Prince Paul, Fruitkwan, and Too Poetic to form Gravediggaz. Initially, Gravediggaz were dropped too, no one was quite ready to hear death and horror movie metaphors in rap music, even though the industry were cashing in on the shoot-‘em-up stories of the West Coast.
In time, it was decided that for maximum coverage of a brand name, each member of the Wu-Tang would somehow obtain their own recording contracts. To make it more interesting, they were able to sign under any label they pleased, individually they were not exclusive to LOUD or RCA. In the press, people were falling in love with the different voices and flows, not sure who was who at the time. When Spring 1994 came around, LOUD/RCA released “C.R.E.A.M.” as a single, and that finally crossed them over into the mainstream spotlight. People discovered who each member was, and matched up the voices with the faces. People started to take to each member to create a fanbase and individual buzz. When this started happening, labels wised up to what Gravediggaz were about. For The RZA, that would mean double duty. A month after the release of Niggamortis/6 Feet Deep, the seeds of what was to bloom the following year were thrown in the form of the Fresh soundtrack. The soundtrack featured older hip-hop classics, but were highlighted by three Wu-Tang related songs, “I Gotcha Back” by The Genius, “Heaven & Hell” by Raekwon & Ghostface Killer, and a remix of “Can it Be All So Simple”.
Three months later, Def Jam released Method Man Tical. Something was up, and it became known that there would be at least two solo albums by Wu members, with a possible three. Initially it was just Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Raekwon, who were signed to Elektra and LOUD/RCA respectively and released albums in March and August. For a short time, fans wondered who would do the third album. When it was announced that The Genius was signed to Geffen, it was immediately promoted as the greater of the three, even if the album wasn’t completed. Very few Wu fans knew The Genius had released an album on Cold Chillin’ in 1991 called Words From The Genius, and with it being out of print (but not for long), it was out of sight, out of mind. The Genius, for the most part, was Wu-Tang’s Voltron “head”, and people were deciphering his lyrics inside and out, truly showing support for their appreciated Genius.
In the 1995 equivalent of a “leak”, The Genius pressed up a 12″ single of “Labels”, a song which expressed his issues with a music industry that once signed and dropped him in an instant, telling people how you have to be careful in your path as an artist. He did this by using the name of record companies as metaphors for the hazards of his chosen field. This was more than enough for fans who were loving what Ol’ Dirty Bastard was doing, celebrating the Meth remix of “All I Need” with Mary J. Blige, and being blown away by the skills of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which was said to have been put together as Wu-Tang’s proper second album. As the group wanted to expand their dominance, it became not only a vehicle for Raekwon, but also allowed Ghostface to explore his persona too.
When the video for the title track to Liquid Swords was released, it seemed underwhelming after ten months of intense Wu-ness. It seemed somewhat light in its approach, but it was the lyrics that proved that this Genius was not someone light on his feet. The visuals, directed by The Genius himself, showed him in a basement destroying records with specific “labels”. At the time, fans were also noticing a unique approach to their music videos. There was a sense of continuity with the group walking around their neighborhood, showing their love for the 160 building they spoke of in songs, so they were either in the basement of the building, the hallway of the building, rollerblading outside of the building, popping a wheelie outside the building, digging their nose and wiping it on the wall of the building, and in Meth’s and Mary’s case, they were on the roof and buying feminine products for an apartment in said building. The Genius was in the basement, showing perhaps that he had a grittier vibe to him.
No one could expect the full greatness of what was Liquid Swords. Its release on November 7, 1995 was celebrated on the internet, at a time when people were flocking to the Usenet and having deep discussions on mix tapes and mixers. Fans were already picking sides as to which was the best Wu-related album of the year. Many found it hard to choose between The Genius and Raekwon, although some were blunt and said they were all about ODB. In two years the Wu-Tang Empire released six albums, while various members were spotted on other people’s albums or on different soundtracks. For the next two years, it was the Wu era, and no one would ever mess with that legacy. 15 years later, people to this day still debate on which album is more important: Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Link…, or Return To The 36 Chambers. Then when fans waited another year for Ghostface to drop Ironman, everyone wanted to embrace him.
It was a great time to be a hip-hop fan. For years, I bought their music excessively and not just what was at stores, but radio promos and whatever “white label” bootlegs were surfacing. The Wu-Tang Clan were one of the first groups to find success at the dawn of hip-hop’s initial populations on the internet. Back then no one was called a “hater” as many are today, but the equivalent of that = “Wu dick rider #1″, especially if your username was KZA, FZA, CHZA, MZA, QZA, and Ol’ Dirty Musberger, or if you magically developed your own gambino persona. Yet all of the Wu dick riders showed support for their favorite group by buying the music, and also demanding merchandise that did not exist for a long time.
Looking back, it doesn’t seem like the efforts of the Wu will ever be equaled again in hip-hop, or in any music genre. Liquid Swords has become an album that defines a generation of fans, and an era of hip-hop that is now locked in time, waiting for fans both old and new to explore and re-explore many times over.
Here’s an album that surprised me, a live album by Masta Killa. When I was knee deep in Wu-ness, I thought Masta Killa could have been one of the more successful of the bunch, definitely more than U-God. For whatever reason, his camp announced a solo 12″ that never seemed to see the light of day, or was delayed and it got to a point where not much was going right in the world of the Wu-Tang. But Masta Killa has continued to represent in his own way, and Live (Gold Dust Media/!K7) shows what he has become known for.
Simply put, he remains one of the best rappers and writers out there, and on this 16 track album he goes across his history not only as the man who did the last verse in “Da Myster Of Chessboxin'” but also various cameos and of course his own solo material throughout the years. Inspectah Deck and The GZA are also here, along with Streetlife, Prodigal Sunn, and Startel, and together they demonstrate what the Wu-ness was once about. For a live album, it sounds really good too, no one doing any major screaming and both vocals and music are mixed quite nice.
Hip-hop live albums are not plentiful, but considering what could have surfaced (i.e. a bootleg concert in inferior quality), this is a slice of history done right.
When the cameos on your own album outshine you, it’s best that you move to a new field. So is the case of U-God, who could’ve been one of the unpolished jewels of the Wu-Tang Clan if it wasn’t for the fact that his lyrics aren’t that impressive. His debut solo album was a waste of energy and electricity, and did he really think this would be a good idea? Pfftt.
Dopium (Babygrande) is an album that features a lot of special guests, including Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Method Man, The Genius, Cappadonna, Killah Priest, Large Professor, Mike Ladd, and Jim Jones among others, and these guys totally rip U-God a number of anuses to the point where he looks like a block of cheddar cheese. If this album was released as… well, if U-God‘s vocal tracks were removed and released as Wu Shtyles, Bufo Frog Logs, or even Douchebag Rebels, it would have been considered an incredible project. U-God was known as the 4-bar killer so when he goes past four lines, he’s boring. Remove him, and this album would have jaded heads going “this shit is nice”. If U-God was a factor with the Wu-Tang behind the scenes, then I hope he continues working behind the scenes. But as a front man in charge, he doesn’t have the power to impress. Hell, if this was released as an instrumental, people would mistake this as something by The Alchemist.
In truth, the tone of his voice as always been nice and mellow in that Chali 2na-sort of way, but if he still writes his own lyrics, he needs to improve on them. If others are doing the writing, U-God needs to select better lyrics. Imagine if U-God did some tracks with Pharrell Williams? Now that might be good (keyword: might).