Hip-hop has had its fair share of iconic groups. Run-DMC became the genre’s first superstars; N.W.A. showed the world the horrors of the hood, and Public Enemy exercised rap’s political and militant voice. OutKast took the game to new heights musically, but there is no group quite like the Wu-Tang Clan.
Twenty years ago, on November 9, 1993, the nine-crew from Staten Island and Brooklyn dropped Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), a kung-fu-inspired,12-track masterpiece that shook up the music world with its lo-fi inventiveness and gritty look into street life. The effects are still being felt today.
In honor of the anniversary, we asked several of rap’s biggest stars to share their memories of the album and the Wu’s overall impact.
“36 Chambers is another classic, first of all to have that many members as a group, it just shows you what a team and what a group could do,” DJ Khaled told “RapFix Live” of the platinum project.
The album’s first single “Protect Ya Neck,” featured uninterrupted verses from Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, RZA and GZA with no hook or catchy chorus in place. The posse cut might not be able to anchor a major-label release today, but hip-hop’s biggest stars still count the track’s influences.
“I just remember when we had our yearbook, at the time ‘Protect Ya Neck’ was the hottest song when we were in high school,” Rick Ross said.
“For all them n—as to be in a group, they all came across differently, you could pick who was who, the sh– was genius,” Schoolboy Q added.
36 Chambers‘s most memorable record, however, was undoubtedly “C.R.E.A.M.”, a soul-filled and painful look into the negative effects of street life. On it, Raekwon raps about watching his mother leave his father, performing sticks and smoking dangerous drug combinations. This year, on his platinum-selling album Nothing Was the Same Drake employed the song’s famous hook: “Cash rules everything around me, cream get the money. Dollar, dollar bill y’all.”
For a young Kendrick Lamar, who at the time was just a child situated on the other side of the country in Compton, California, the Wu-Tang Clan gave him an east coast street perspective that would stick with him. “They were talking about what was going on in their neighborhood and at the same time bringing their whole character with it — how they were walking in the streets,” he said. “That’s what I really got from it, besides just spitting bars. They were the craziest.”
On Wednesday (November 6), Wu-members U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna (who joined the group for their second album) sat with “RapFix” host Sway Calloway to talk about the album and their unforgettable rap journey.
Led by RZA, Wu would go on to release five albums as a group, but the crew constructed a revolutionary deal in 1992 that would allow each member to release their own solo albums with whichever record company they chose. Method Man had his Tical album on Def Jam, GZA dropped his Liquid Swords LP with Geffen and Raekwon released his Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… LP with Loud.
Though they all hailed from New York, the Clan’s broad appeal extended all across the globe. 2 Chainz remembers just being a fan in his native Atlanta. “My dude Dolla Boy that’s in Playa Circle — the other half, I remember him having the GZA album, the RZA album, I remember the Tical album. I’m a big fan of Wu-Tang. The Cuban Link album probably changed some things that I did in my life, so Wu-Tang is very influential,” he said.
The 25-year-old A$AP Rocky was just a boy when Wu dropped their first, but just one look at the Harlem rap prince and his A$AP crew and you can see the 36 Chambers effect. The sheer numbers in the 12-man A$AP Mob alone scream Wu-Tang Clan. “When I listen to Wu-Tang I see a bit of us in it sometimes, because I hear stories about things that they went through or things that did when they were coming up and it’s just identical to the things and experiences that we go through,” Rocky acknowledged.
Ask 10 different rap fans who their favorite rap group is and you’ll likely get 10 different answers, but that does nothing to diminish the effects of a group that changed the course of rap with a single album 20 years ago.
“To say each dude, from each project we’re gonna all get together and we’re gonna all bubble, I respect that because I never seen it and guess what I don’t think we’re gonna ever see it [again],” N.O.R.E. said. “So Wu-Tang, salute for life.”