Checking in with the Clan after 20 years
All hail the Wu!
It’s 20 years since Staten Island’s finest came through the backdoor and blew the place apart. As befits kung-fu movie fans, the Wu-Tang Clan came out of leftfield when no-one was really expecting them.
It took just one album for the Wu to hit their stride. “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” was hip-hop from another planet. The work of a crew of roughnecks and hard chaws led and marshalled by RZA at the top of his game, it created a landscape full of vibrant imagery, incredibly detailed narratives and weirdbeard characters. This was raw, exciting and unmissable.
The Wu’s debut was groundbreaking in every sense. Others had explored the notion of a hip-hop crew, but not with nine full-formed, talented, hugely idiosyncratic, superhero MCs in their ranks.
Many others had come up with innovative sampling ideas, but not to the extent that RZA did in sculpting and shaping the album. This was a gritty, cinematic, menacing, tense, dramatic soundbed which many would try to emulate again and again in the years to come.
In terms of storytelling, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” was an intoxicating listen. Here were long-reads and in-stories ripped from the streets with no heed paid to whether the listener could keep up or not. You knew you were in deep when you found yourself learning lines and narratives by heart. It wasn’t until The Wire hit our TV screens years later that you came across similar feats of linguistic bravado.
Of course, the Wu are still in the game – they’ve even got into the hologram game with ODB doing a Tupac at a recent show (video below). They were one of the hits at the other week’s Electric Picnic (Patrick Freyne’s review is here), rowdy and raucous and capable of making a field in Co Laois jump around. Naturally, it was the tunes from that first album which made the biggest impact then. 20 years on, Wu-Tang Clan still ain’t nothing to fuck wit’.