HOLD UP AND ANALYZE these wild raps bring back those rich, gritty, lyrical bars that represent what is now a scarce style of hip-hop. Raekwon the Chef and Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan emulate that style of rap. Not to say the other members don’t, but Rae and Ghost have had the most success in their solo works.
The standout albums are among the most esteemed in hip hop history. The leadoff hitter was Raekown’s classic, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,” released in August of 1995, and then came Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman,” released in October of 1996. The closer was maybe the hardest of them all: Ghosface Killah’s “Supreme Clientele,” released in February of 2000.
There are constants with these three albums. They’re all under the Wu Tang umbrella, which means they’ve all been curated by the Wu Tang mastermind, The RZA. RZA is among the greatest producers in hip-hop history, having played the essential role in bringing together the Wu and producing all their biggest hits.
In an interview with the “No Jumper” podcast, Ghost commented on RZA’s genius: “RZA, he’s like a doctor. I seen him studying slides under microscopes. I’m like wow, he went and bought a microscope.” Keep in mind, RZA is a producer, not a doctor. Maybe a rap doctor.
RZA’s signature style is that dirty New York grit. Songs like “Criminology,” “Knuckleheadz” and “Glaciers of Ice” stand out with their heavy, ringing beats that complement the hard-hitting rhymes about the crime lifestyle from Rae and Ghost.
Raekwon’s signature song is “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” Rae lucked out with this beat, as RZA said in an interview with “XXL” that “I wasn’t making that beat for Rae… I was making it for GZA probably. He was next. But then Rae heard that beat, grabbed his pen and paper, and started writing. Two hours later it was written.”
Raekwon recalls the rushed writing process and what he felt when he first heard the track. “This right here be for them n***** in jail. It won’t be for nobody else. I just wrote it real quick. I did three verses on that, so Ghost didn’t have to come in and really do anything on it.”
Right off the bat Raekwon comes in with the fire: “Thug-related style attract millions, fans / They understand my plan, who’s the kid up in the green land? / Me and the RZA connect, blow a fuse, you lose / Half-ass crews get demolished and bruised.”
The original rhyming on “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,” specifically in U-God’s verse on “Knuckleheadz,” can send listeners into a twisting whirlpool. “The rap star is born, rap parmesan, put it on seal it on / We’re silicone, spark it on your talkathon / This rap phenomenon, two corresponds / Took the arms, hit me on the hip and horns, rap chaperone.”
“Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” is littered with bars, heavy beats and the crime mentality. “Ironman” continued that.
The album, although Ghostface’s album, starts with a Raekwon verse on the track “Iron Maiden.” “Yo, Gambino n***** who swipe their / Deluxe rap cavaliers / M*****s who steal beers, give ‘em theirs.” It’s difficult to decipher what these rhymes mean, but the grouping of word mesh so well it doesn’t matter. That’s the mantra for a lot of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah’s music.
Other songs from “Ironman” that slap include “Daytona 500,” a song with a fast, bass-driven beat that features Raekwon, Force MDs and Cappadonna; “After the Smoke is Clear,” an eerie song driven by The Delfonics’ hymn like background singing; and finally, “Winter Warz,” the most recognizable song on the album. “Winter Warz” includes an impressive feature from Cappadonna, where he rips an extended verse filled with thought provoking metaphors detailing life on Staten Island.
Yet, everything came together on “Supreme Clientele,” which is regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever. An hour worth of mind-boggling rhymes, elite beats, numbing skits and beastly features resulted in the hip-hop equivalent to Van Gogh’s “Sunflower” paintings. A consistent style bent in different ways that produced a great collection of musical art.
The beginning of the album is aggressive, to say the least. “Nutmeg,” featuring a RZA verse, opens with an orchestrated, base-driven shot-to-the-ear drum tagged by the whistling beat that flows beneath Ghostface’s raps. RZA’s verse is bar-none the most incomprehensible piece of hip-hop ever recorded. Even with the lyrics in hand it’s hard to grasp what RZA is saying.
“One” is a fast-paced song led by a piano-based riff. The rhymes in “One” flow unlike any other. Yet, a lot of it doesn’t make sense. “Hit Poughkeepsie, crispy chicken, verbs throw up a stone, Richie / Chop the O, sprinkle a little snow inside a Optimo / Swing the John McEnroe, rap rock’n’roll / Ty-D-Bol, gung-ho pro, Starsky with the gumsole.”
I could go on and on talking about these albums and giving the readers samples of the grimiest beats the Wu has ever flexed. This should be enough, though, for now. Help yourself by listening to the original Wu Tang Clan album, “Enter the 36 Chambers,” then the aforementioned albums if you want to dip yourself into the grime of the 90s New York rap scene. Also listen to “Liquid Swords” by The Genius GZA. I need to stop and listen to some music.