Vinyl of the Week: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan

Revisiting a hip-hop classic and one of the best debut albums in hip-hop history.

The Wu-Tang Clan may go down in history as the greatest hip-hop group of all time and at worst have the greatest debut album in hip-hop history. Formed in 1992 in Staten Island, Wu-Tang is made up of nine members: RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa.

Cappadonna was an original member as well, but he went to prison in the early days of the group and Method Man took his place. Cappadonna would continue to perform with Wu-Tang as an official member once he was out of prison.

At first, you would think that many rappers at once would not create anything more than an overcrowded mess. In fact, it was the total opposite. Together, these nine rappers fed off each other and created one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever and cemented themselves as pioneers and influenced just about any rapper that came after them.

Let’s take a look at the album that changed it all.

Photo Credit: Sony Legacy

The album was inspired by the group’s shared love of old kung fu movies. In particular, the old movie The #6th Chamber of Shaolin. In fact, throughout the album there are lines from various kung fu movies to keep with the overall Shaolin theme. The group even got the name Wu-Tang Clan from an old movie Shaolin and Wu Tang.

Not every song includes each member, but every song on the album fits each rapper’s spot on each song perfectly. RZA was the de facto leader of the group and handled much of the production. The way he dealt with each member’s spots on different songs was by having them rap battle in the studio.

In the end, the better man snagged the spot on a track. With the added kung fu movie samples, the album drew you into a whole world where Wu-Tang were the stars.

Opening track, Bring da Rukus starts off with a killer verse from Ghostface Killah that brings you right into the world of Wu. The hard beats are total New York style of hip-hop.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Shame on a N****a is a funky fun jam that shows the lighter side of Wu-Tang especially when Method Man was dropping rhymes like he is here. Where a lot of the album is experimental as RZA was looking to change things up, this is one of the most straightforward hip-hop songs on the album.

Clan in da Front is all GZA and deservedly so. “The Genius” has a style that’s his alone in the group and to give him a track all to himself on the album is a testament to his talent. The beat stays consistent in the background, accompanied by some great piano.

Wu-Tang 7th Chamber is the most crowded song, as seven of the Wu-Tang contribute here, hence the name. The track starts with a skit with a bunch of the group which shows the comedy side of their personalities.

Once the best starts the song, your head instantly starts moving to it, almost like you had no choice. That’s what I call great hip-hop. This is one of the best tracks on the album and by this point you know you are listening to something special.

Photo Credit: Zach Cordner

Can It All Be So Simple takes a sweet and calming beat and puts it with some nasty raps by Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. You want to chill with the beat but the verses won’t let you. The harsh contrast works amazingly well and a lot of that I feel is due to RZA’s production.

Side 1 comes to a close with the killer Protect Ya Neck. The single that introduced Wu-Tang to the world is still one of their best pieces of work.

Everyone is accounted for on this track which I still think stands as one of the best hip hop tracks of all-time. The grittiness of the song accompanied by the harsh lyrics make you know these boys are from the streets of New York as that was an actual style of hip-hop in the 90s.

The real fun is to dissect each rapper's verse and try and decide who brought it the best. It’s an endless debate I still have. The beat is just so freaking good and to hear each rapper's style come out make this track a must listen for anyone who is interested in learning the history of hip-hop.

Photo Credit: Billions

Side 2 starts with my all-time favorite Wu-Tang song, Da Mystery of Chessboxin’. This was the song that made me a Wu-Tang fan for life. The beats are some of the best on the album and with a majority of the group on this track you get that insane mix of styles that RZA made work so well. If you are on the fence with Wu-Tang, start with this and Side 2 of the album.

The chorus of Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin to F With became the group's calling card. This aggressive track makes you feel like you got kicked in the head. RZA and Inspectah Deck trade verses in this intense way that with the accompanying beat feels like you are in a scary movie.

C.R.E.A.M. is probably one of the most well-known songs the group has ever recorded. With some of their songs being on the fun side or the cartoonish side, C.R.E.A.M. talks about capitalism and the worst parts of it. The group shows their range as artists and how from track to track they can change on a dime. The beat style of this song became more famous as The Notorious B.I.G. used similar beats on his songs.

After one of the most insane skits ever recorded, Method Man hits and takes you on a fun journey with the man the track is titled after. With the song to himself aside from some help on the chorus, Method Man shows us that he was a star long before he actually was one. This lighthearted track is totally Method Man as an artist and explains why he is probably the most popular of the group.

Photo Credit: Hip-Hop Golden Age

Tearz is another track where the beats and the message don’t mix in theory but in the hands of the Wu it totally works in every way. The serious tone of the verses by RZA and Ghostface Killah mixed with the happier beats give the song a cinematic feel as you can envision what’s going on here.

Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, Part II brings things to an epic close with most of the group getting their final verses in. The super low bass beat gives me a Beastie Boys feel, but that doesn’t matter as I love the way these guys bounce off each other. It all comes to a close with words to remember, “It’s a secret. Never teach the Wu-Tang.”

Enter the Wu-Tang changed hip-hop on the East Coast and showed the West Coast that they could hang. The album has so many amazing layers. The way each rapper could bounce off of each other flawlessly despite their different styles.

The amazing and experimental beats and the cinematic feel of each song with skits/dialogue from kung fu movies really showed how these nine rappers collectively created an album that's considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.

Photo Credit: Billboard

The New York hip-hop movement became the new thing thanks to Wu-Tang and ushered in an era of Biggie, Nas, Mobb Deep, and Jay Z. Where West Coast hip-hop was funkier and more structured, NYC hip-hop was gritty and real. It took you to the streets and left you there.

The members of Wu-Tang have all gone to successful solo careers and are still touring solo and as a collective. Enter the Wu-Tang is a great starting off point for those wanting to learn about the amazing 90s NYC hip-hop scene. Give it a shot on vinyl as it adds to the feel of the album.

For more hip-hop on vinyl, check out A Tribe Called Quest’s Anthology. For more groundbreaking hip-hop vinyl, check out Check Your Head by The Beastie Boys.