[Today: Ain't braggin'...]
This one goes back to Joe Namath and Muhammad Ali – two Southern gentlemen who weren’t afraid to proclaim their own brilliance and then back it up by performing when the lights were brightest and the stakes were highest. Namath and Ali certainly didn’t invent trash talk, but they perfected the craft. Their highlights – Namath’s prediction of victory over the heavily-favored Colts in Super Bowl III and Ali’s incantation that “I am the greatest!” – were delivered with the kind of verve and style that set the bar for professional self-confidence for nearly every form of entertainer that followed.
Hip-hop in particular is a field filled with artists rushing to call themselves the greatest and predict their own big victories, in terms that make Namath and Ali seem quaint and humble. But reality being what it is, only a few kings can sit at the top of any given mountain, so most rappers come off as hollow reflections of their own fantasies – a pack of dogs with no real bite. Not so the Wu-Tang Clan, a swarm of MCs who came buzzing off Staten Island with their 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). This album was greasy, raw and blood-soaked, even by hip-hop’s unique standards. And of course it was a wildly popular, certified-platinum success.
The clan was the brainchild of DJ Robert Diggs, who works under the name RZA (pronounced “rizza”). He assembled a wrecking crew of undiscovered MCs, including Russell Jones (Ol’ Dirty Bastard), Dennis Coles (Ghostface Killah), Clifford Smith (Method Man) and Corey Woods (Raekwon). RZA was also responsible for the group’s artistic direction – a fierce blend of Kung-Fu movies, eastern philosophy, cartoon violence, and the kind of dense flow that sounded like the work of a veteran, battle-tested crew. Wu-Tang is perhaps best understood through the prism of the comic book – a fantasy world where super powers abound, people die gruesome deaths regularly, and Gotham is packed with maniacs and murderers.
RZA’s sound collages feature snippets of Kung-Fu movies and murky funk and soul samples, while the MCs take tag-team turns rhyming about ginseng and body bags, Fort Knox and samurai, Jacques Cousteau and spiked bats, The Warriors and diarrhea, and everything but a Bronx kitchen sink, providing a stream-of-conscious peek into the ultra-violent Id of the Big Apple. Any group that promises to jam a rusty screwdriver into your balls can’t be viewed as the good guys, but Wu-Tang are as entitled to their dramatic violence as Bruce Lee and Superman. Every comic book superhero had a dark-side or an evil alter-ego, and Enter The Wu-Tang lives in a world of tension where super powers are being misused, the bad guys are winning, and the skies are turning black.
Best protect ya’ neck…
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Listen: Shame On A Nigga
Listen: Method Man
Listen: Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II