The Wu-Tang Clan is one of my favorite rap groups of all time. Run-DMC may have been the first rap stars, Public Enemy may have been much more important, and A Tribe Called Quest may have a better track record, but Wu-Tang Clan holds a special place for me. The collective is one of the most prolific in history, with eight amazing MCs, many of whom would later go on to great success. With so many different albums and side projects, it is sometimes hard to decide where to start with the group. To help alleviate this struggle, here are my top 5 Wu-Tang Clan and Wu-Tang related albums.
5. Method Man & Redman: Blackout!
Method Man is the joker of the Wu-Tang Clan. His lyrics have never been anything to write home about. As opposed to many of the other members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man has never asked that the listener takes him seriously. There’s something to be said for this level of self-deprecation. While Ol’ Dirty Bastard was having a verbal freak out, or Ghostface Killah was getting emo, or Raekwon was telling dark street stories, Method Man only wanted to have a good time. And there is no more fun time in the Wu-Tang canon than Blackout!. Method Man and Redman had been collaborating for a while, with Meth appearing on Redman’s tracks and Redman dropping verses on Method Man’s albums. Blackout! is the equivalent of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne: two great rappers in their prime getting together to release an album where they could relax and have fun. And Blackout is very fun. Tracks like “Da Rockwilder” and “1,2,1,2” are nothing but great rapping and a lot of fun. Blackout! is a great crossover album; a place to start for those who are new to the Wu-Tang Clan.
4. GZA The Genius: Liquid Swords
GZA the Genius and RZA were the people who started the Wu-Tang Clan. They were the ones behind the collective philosophy, allowing each rapper to have a solo career so long as they agreed to promote Wu-Tang. Therefore it would make sense that GZA’s first solo album would be very similar to Wu-Tang’s first album. GZA takes the Wu-Tang obsession with kung-fu movies and extends it throughout a whole album. With intros and samples from classic films, GZA takes his street stories and sets them in a different tone. Liquid Swords relies heavily on RZA’s trademark production style, heavy on repetitive samples and dark, hazy style. Tracks like “Investigative Reports”, “Liquid Swords”, and “Shadowboxing” tell a much darker tale than Wu-Tang’s previous effort. Think of Liquid Swords as a sequel to Enter the Wu-Tang, with a darker atmosphere.
3. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale
Ghostface Killah is one of the smoothest, intelligent, and talented rappers ever. However, he is also very experimental. While he does have a very specific flow, over the years he has deviated from the Wu-Tang style more than any other rapper in the collective. He has gone to everything from emo, R&B, and everything in between. Sometimes these experiments work, and other times they fall flat on his face (I’m looking at you Ghostdeini). Fishscale is one of the few albums where every experiment pays off big time. One of my favorite moments on the album is right after “R.A.G.U”, a track where Raekwon and Ghost get very old school Wu-Tang. There is a short skit, and then the very next track is “Whip You With A Strap”, a song about Ghost’s mom punishing him as a kid. The transition is crazy, yet also works spectacularly. On “Underwater” Ghost delivers the single most psychedelic song in rap history, with Ghost rapping about swimming with mermaids. But for the Wu-Tang faithful, there are also plenty of classic Wu-Tang style tracks, like “Shakey Dog” and “Kilo”. If you’re ok with a little bit of sonic experimentation mixed in with your rap, then Fischscale is the one for you.
2. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
When it comes to the best hip-hop albums of all time, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is high on the list. Many people forget that after Enter the Wu-Tang, the only rappers to have massive popularity were Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Method Man. Ghostface Killah did not explode until after his many appearances on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx not only served as a coming out party for Ghostface, but also proved that Wu-Tang Clan could make just as good solo albums as they could as a group. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx relies heavily on Raekwon’s amazing lyrical prowess, as he crafts stories that rival any told in hip-hop before or after. On Enter the Wu-Tang, Raekwon acted as glue between the more out there MC’s like ODB and Method Man. On Only Built For Cuban Linx, he takes advantage of his time as a solo artist. As the focus is solely on him and Ghost, it becomes clear just how good of a rapper Raekwon really is. While he lacks the flair of the other members, Raekwon’s ability to convey emotional lyrics with an intelligent style makes him one of the best in the collective. Tracks like “Knowledge God”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Ice Cream”, “Guillotine”, and “Verbal Intercourse” (which features a great verse from Nas) are all instant classics. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is equal parts beautiful and raw, and deserves a spot among the greatest rap albums of all time.
1. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang Clan
I can remember the exact first time I heard Enter the Wu-Tang Clan. I was in 8th grade, and I had heard Ghostface Killah on the radio. After a little more research, I downloaded Enter the Wu-Tang Clan. After I listened to it for the first time, I started the album over again. After I was done the second time, I put it on again. For my whole freshman year in high school, I listened almost exclusively to this album. What sets Enter the Wu-Tang Clan apart from the rest. Why, even after 20 years, is this album still so powerful? The answer is simple. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan gives the listener a peek into the life of the rappers themselves. By not changing anything about their style to appeal to the listener, Wu-Tang Clan gives the listener a sense of community. All of a sudden, their slang becomes the listener’s slang. They never talk down to the listener as other rappers are prone to do. As opposed to a tour of their world, Wu-Tang Clan drops you off into the streets of New York and makes you fend for yourself. Instead of taking you to the ghetto, like albums like Illmatic or Ready to Die do, Enter the Wu-Tang Clan takes the ghetto to you. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan is not only a musical triumph, but also a business one. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan was the first indie rap album to go platinum, as it deserved to do. I wish I could say which tracks you need to listen to in particular, but unfortunately every song on this album is required listening. If there’s really only one choice, I would suggest “Protect Ya Neck”, a track that is brilliant, if only for the fact that RZA somehow manages to fit all eight rappers into one song. However, every single track on this album is brilliant.