I totally understand it when Aubrey Graham says Wu-tang are forever. I came into my own as a Hip-Hop fan in the early late nineties mid-00′s. A profoundly bad period in rap history. It was bad because New York was suffering a serious identity crisis after the rap world lost big & pac. New York tried to overcompensate by getting gangster and losing a lot of the lyrical edge and sophistication that made new york rap great. A lot of what we saw were bad 2-pac caricatures in the form of Ja-Rule & DMX then you also had wannabe battle rap gods like Canibus and lets not forget all the east ghost color gangsters reaping blue and red. It was confusing to say the least, but it was not all bad but if you look closely at stuff that came from labels like Murder Inc, Ruff Ryders and Rocafella the truth was a lot of the music was uninspired. its all music that was more concerned with its image than the nature of its sound. At the time I was overdosing on the testosterone pumping infectious sounds of Ja-Rule & D.M.X and don’t even get me started on their equally appalling sidekicks, who had names like Cadillac Tah or Drag-on.
Growing up in a place were access to anything remotely underground or niche in Hip Hop was similar to encountering a unicorn getting ridden by a Saskwatch. Only access I had was via BET,MTV & VH1 and believe me those capitalistic juggernauts are doing nothing but play DMX’s song , Money-Cash-Hoes over 5-times an hour and not forgetting forgettable rap shows like Big Tiggas Rapcity basement series. I grew up in a desert were every little nugget of authentic rap was as precious as water, in the remotest part of the Sahara. Yet among all the timb-boot brandishing and shiny suite wearing, the wu-tang stood out in my imagination. They seemed to be authentic creators of a unique world founded on a philosophy that was a fusion of disparate ideas from popular culture and philosophy. Yet they were a hard pill to swallow, their lyrics seemed grounded in a strange esotericism that was wrapped in indecipherable jargon and imagery. The first Wu I ever heard was “The W” and believe me It was a little ahead of my time but also just too plane weird. My mind was not on their wavelength and lacked the tools to decipher Wu-Ideology. In my mind that was why their music was worth it, it existed in its own realm and functioned by its own set of rules.Their music totally consumed me, and opened a whole new realm of not only Hip Hop but all manner of music and pop-art. Incredibly enough I probably came upon Wu-forever before i came upon Enter the Wu.
I came upon enter a lot later than when it debuted around this time 20 years ago. I always recall on first listen I knew this was not going to be an easy listen. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy listen because, its hard to acclimatize ones ears to the under produced sinister minimal sounds of enter the wu especially considering before this all we heard were all these large sounding glossy modern rap albums.
The first thing that stands out especially one whose hip hop baptism is indebted to the round glossy loud sounds of albums in the mid to late 90′s. Enter the Wu for me is a sonically minimally sophisticated. According to legend RZA’s economic circumstances pushed him to create a record that was sonically skeletal and atonal. High hats sound distorted and formless, and drum kicks sound jaggedly echoey like something playing from a cheap two deck tape machine. I often criticize a lot of third-world wannabe rappers who do not realize the opportunity that stems from the lack of expensive equipment. Sonic sophistication is about a balance between sound, that is dynamic in that its constantly changing and meandering while sticking to a formula. New albums that manage this have been records like M.I.A’s “Arular” anything by EL-p, early odd future stuff and of course killer mikes R.A.P.
For me the next important thing about R.Z.A are his sample choices and his drums. As well as being a Hip Hop fiend, I was a soul music fan and a huge part of my collection can be attributed to hearing RZA’s drums and samples. This album in particular opens me up to the wonders of Willie Mitchell;s Hi records, and a ton of the rare stuff from the people at stax records.
The album is further turned into a loosely conceptual album through its sonics but also essentially through its skits. It sounded like a kung-Fu epic in which you are guided through each chamber by a trustworthy shoalin monk. The album is part eastern mysticism, comic book pop art, 5% nation righteousness and street knowledge. It was the anti-thesis to the smooth and glossy veneer of the west coast. An album that manages to give me goosebumps to this day.