Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.
It’s been much too long since we’ve shown love to the immortal Wu-Tang Clan around here. Today I’m joined by my guy Wesley Riddick to discuss true hip-hop pioneers. The RZA. The GZA. Inspectah Deck. U-God. Method Man. Raekwon. Masta Killa. Cappadonna. The Ghostface Killahhhhhh. And of course the Ol’ Dirty Bastard himself.
When they kicked in hip-hop’s door, nothing was ever the same.
Name the three best Wu-Tang group albums
1 Wu-Tang Forever
2. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
3. The Swarm
Wu Tang Forever. Summer 97. I was riding to Lynnhaven Mall to my summer gig at Monkey Ward signing people up for credit cards. On the way I stopped at DJ’s when it opened to get this album. I put it in on the way to work. I ended up late cause I sat in the parking lot listening to the whole thing. I just love this album. I don’t know what else to say. To this day it’s my favorite Wu album. It’s one of my favorite albums period, despite the intro track that seems to go on forever that I always skip.
Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) is a hip hop milestone. The impact of this album personally and on the greater musical landscape is immeasurable. You know how hearing music takes you back to when you heard it? This album takes me back to when I first heard it back in high school and many other points when I was listening to it. It’s a time capsule. It’s a sonic masterpiece. If you claim to like hip-hop but don’t like this do you really like hip-hop? You don’t get goosebumps when you hear that tic tic tic and GZA starts running down the clan names? Are you even alive?
Wu-Tang Killa Bees: The Swarm. The Clan put out a few albums with heavy features from artists well known to people who follow the underground scene and those Wu affiliates people often joke about. You know them. When you go to a Wu show and you see 30 people on stage – those guys. You can’t say they don’t look out for their folks. I enjoy all of them but this one was the first and my opinion the best because it had a few songs that I think were some of the best the Clan has made. Speaking of which, be sure to check out Soundtracks from the Shaolin Temple. You may have missed it. Don’t make that mistake again.
1. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
2. Wu-Tang Forever
3. The W
Wu’s debut and sophomore albums are two of the greatest albums in rap history, so obviously their placement on this list is solidified. If you weren’t around in 93, it’s hard to describe just how incredible the Wu movement was – the unearthly bars, the bizarre kung-fu samples and the undeniable chemistry between nine VERY different MCs. All those idiosyncrasies not only meshed for a landmark debut but also paved the way for its worthy successor, easily one of the best double-disc releases in hip-hop history. I also have to show love for the very underrated The W, but more on that later.
What’s your pick for Wu’s worst album?
Wesley: 8 Diagrams and A Better Tomorrow
8 Diagrams was just disappointing. As I eluded to before the absence of ODB was felt. The beats didn’t feel like Wu either, I did like “Rushing Elephants” tho.
A Better Tomorrow? Nah, this ain’t it. I think this album was the reason they put out The Saga Continues. They couldn’t go out on this one.
Edd: 8 Diagrams
Call me crazy but I didn’t hate A Better Tomorrow. It certainly didn’t feel like the Wu of 1993, they were just embracing their roles as rap elders statesmen. But I get it, it’s hard to accept your faves going from hip-hop assassins to the cool uncles at the cookout. 8 Diagrams was a slightly bigger miss for me. A couple of solid songs couldn’t save it from being pretty mediocre.
And what’s the most overlooked album?
Wesley: The Swarm
I wore this album out. “97 Mentality” is a classic to me and an example why Cappadonna counts as a Wu member even though my wife doesn’t like him. I played this to death in the dorm. Timbo King had a standout on this. I wish I came up with that name first. “Cobra Clutch” is a Ghost gem you need in your life. “Fatal Sting” has a verse that makes no sense but I still sing it like it does.
Edd: The W
Wes cheated by throwing in one of the compilation albums, and he’s right, those early ones were VERY good. But I’ll stick with the proper LPs and show love to The W. By 2000 most of the Wu were better known for their solo exploits but they reunited and went back to their gritty roots for this one. “Hollow Bones,” “Careful (Click Click)” and “I Can’t Go to Sleep” are some of the best Wu tracks of the era. The W is home to some real gems.
The Wu has several iconic singles. Which one is the best?
Wesley: It was hard for me to pick just one so I give you my top three. Ask me next week and this list will probably change but I promise you the top song will always be the top song.
“Triumph”: This to me may be one of the best posse cuts ever. I love posse cuts and every time I hear this song it’s like the first time. Its euphoria.
“Careful (Click Click)”: Listening to this you feel like you’re in a smoky basement with too many people in it and no AC and for some reason everyone still has on those fur-lined flight jackets everyone had around the time this came out.
“Dog Sh!t”: This song is just awesome. It’s a tutorial to why ODB is great. HAAAAH! HOOOOOO! His passing left a hole in every Wu album that followed. It did for me anyway. It just wasn’t the same afterwards. His energy was just missing and it was needed.
Note: you may have noticed that I didn’t mention anything from the first album. It’s not that I don’t love those songs, it’s more of the issue that I’ve heard those songs so much it has the radio effect. You know, when you hear a song on the radio so much that you get tired of it. Now I love “Shame on a N****” as much as the next man but I have a hard time putting those songs in a ranking. It’s like y’all know they are great I ain’t gotta tell you. I’m prone to say, “Look at this one over here too.”
I feel what Wes is saying about not restating the obvious, hey, we just named “C.R.E.A.M.” the second best hip-hop track of the 90s, so I’m not going to go against the grain here. Besides, it’s obvious because it’s RIGHT. “C.R.E.A.M.” is all that I love about hip-hop – a brazen depiction of the black experience that’s more than just idle bragging and posturing; there is a deep moral message to be learned. “That what? That life is hectic.” It’s hip-hop in its purest form.
We know they can’t all be great. Which single is the worst?
Wesley: “Keep Watch”
This was hard for me to pinpoint cause usually when I don’t like a song it falls off my radar quickly. “Keep Watch” don’t even sound like a Wu song. It’s like they were trying to do something different and it ain’t hit.
Edd: “Ron O’Neal”
I don’t hate on latter-day Wu records as much as others but those A Better Tomorrow singles certainly didn’t stick the landing. I get that “Keep Watch” doesn’t have that trademark Wu grit, but at least the beat is interesting. “Ron O’Neal” is a worse offender. I’m sure the goal was to bring the Wu into the 2010s – evolution is necessary, after all – but it’s a poor fit.
Name an album cut that should have been a single.
Wesley: “Maria” (one of the best ODB appearances), “Projects,” “Duck Seazon,” “Visionz.” I generally feel most of the tracks from Wu-Tang Forever could have been singles (sorry, “Black Shampoo”). I don’t even know what the official singles were outside of “Triumph” and “It’s Yourz.”
More recently, “Pearl Harbor.” This track just goes hard and it has a verse from the gawd Sean P! It has that vintage Wu sound, the eerie horns and the drums.
You beat me to it. Pretty much anything from Wu-Tang Forever would have turned heads. “Visionz” was a hit in the making and would have been the perfect follow-up to the blockbuster “Triumph.” Also, shout out to “The MGM;” it would have made a very fun video. And ODB spitting nonsense with Snoop Dogg on “Conditioner” from The W would be huge in the weird world of 2020.
Aight, let’s go to the solo efforts. Name the three best solo albums from Wu members.
1. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
This is hard. There is soooo much content to sift through. Have you seen the album output from Ghostface? He has more than double the output of the group albums by himself. Some members are more prolific than others of course but each member has at least three albums. If you want to add in guest appearances and affiliate groups we’d be here all year, That’s what makes the Wu great. Unlike most groups that put out a lot of content a majority of it isn’t just throwaway trash. For this ranking I’m just going off my gut. The albums I think of off the cuff that I know I can ride to with minimal skippage.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx: Arguably one of the best solo efforts by the clan but in reality we all know this is more of a duo album as Ghostface is all over this. It has the standout posse cuts which to me are a must have on any Wu album. Of course there are solid contributions by other Clan members and one of the best features of the golden era of hip hop in “Verbal Intercourse.” I always wished they made a whole song over the intro beat. You can’t go wrong with this. Its follow up Cuban Linx 2 should sit right next to it in reverence. To me it’s just as good.
Ironman : Classic. As with Cuban Linx Raekwon features heavy just like Ghost did on his but Ghost does most of the heavy lifting on this album. This is one of those albums where you don’t really need to skip anything. I personally skip “All That I Got is You” as I’m generally not a fan of R&B-heavy hip-hop but I wouldn’t shade anyone that lets it ride. It’s a good song.
Tical: When this dropped everyone knew it was going to be good. It did not disappoint.
1. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
2. Supreme Clientele
3. Liquid Swords
Three landmark albums that are nearly interchangeable on this list. Cuban Linx is an unquestionable classic on its own, neck and neck with Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt in the race for greatest mafioso rap album ever. Supreme Clientele is so impressive because it surpassed its incredible predecessor Ironman (which would be No. 4 on this list, in case you’re wondering). It’s much flashier and more audacious than most Wu records of the era but that’s a perfect reflection of its master of ceremonies. And Liquid Swords is a masterclass in lyrical excellence. There’s a reason why that guy’s the Genius.
Who is the most underrated Wu member?
Wesley: Masta Killa
Name a verse he put out there that was bad? What? You can’t. Of course you can’t. He’s so consistent you forget he was even there. He’s a worker. He puts on his hardhat in the booth gives you quality and clocks out. He’s an unsung hero in the booth. Give that man his due.
Edd: Inspectah Deck
He’s obviously not underrated to Wu faithful and he’s enjoyed a respectable career both away from the Clan and as part of the Czarface collective. But as the man who dropped arguably the greatest intro verse in rap history, Deck deserves WAY more.
Everyone says Redman would have been a perfect member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Hard to disagree. Who besides Reggie Noble would have fit in the best?
Wesley: Sean Price
Although absent from what most consider the golden era of Wu, Sean P appeared on some later era Wu albums. It was what I wanted back when Nocturnal came out. I wanted the Rae/Ghost + Heltah Skeltah mashup to happen bad.
Edd: MF DOOM
Doom has the unorthodox flow, the wild imagination, the love of obscure nerd culture and has the bizarre ability to mesh with almost any artist he collaborates with. I wish we could have heard him rap about King Ghidorah and hoe cakes alongside the killer bees.
Is the Wu-Tang Clan the greatest rap group of all time?
Wesley: In high school I used to duck this question because I used to love BCC and I wanted them to get more shine. While Black Moon and Smif-N-Wesson are still putting out good stuff, BCC isn’t what it used to be (RIP Sean P) or what I thought it could have been so I’d sound crazy making that argument now. Now it’s hard to come up with another group that’s endured like they have. Dungeon Family and Triple Six (Hypnotize Minds) are two collectives I think of offhand that were huge in rap but didn’t hold it together as long as Wu. Griselda … time will tell. At this place and time in history they are clearly the best. While I think they have put out their last group album (RZA ain’t making music anymore, I don’t think) other members of the Clan have yet to stop. Rae and Ghost put out music regularly. Deck has Czarface. If you haven’t checked that out you’re doing yourself a disservice cause it’s great and they have been following a recent trend of using 80’s wrestling soundbites which I love.
Edd: Are they the greatest? I told you they were back in 2015.
It’s telling that nearly 30 years after their debut, the Wu are STILL the crew that every group is measured against. Classic albums, classic songs, a platform that would launch some of the most memorable solo careers in rap history, a Hulu TV series and one of the most recognizable brands in pop culture. Yes, in later years, their productivity was hindered by individual interests and well-documented disagreements, but that can’t dent the Iron Flag’s legacy. The Wu-Tang Clan is the blueprint for all rap crews. Clan STILL in da Front.
Who won the battle, Edd or Wes? Let us know below and share your favorite Wu memories and moments as well.
ALSO, Wesley kindly shared his comprehensive Wu-Tang playlist. It’s a great way to catch up on those underrated gems. Check it out.