“Straight from the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang killer bees on the swarm”.
That’s all it takes to get there, and once in, there’s no getting out.
If you listened to the punk nostalgists and E-ficianados, you might believe there’s nobody out there peddling a total musical vision, no all-defining worldview to slot behind your eyes like a slideshow. Yet ‘worldview’ sounds a bit insipid for what this record offers; it implies some kind of [I]perspective[/I], when the [a]Wu Tang Clan[/a]took one look at the horizons and colonised them completely. A self-sustaining system in every way: musically, politically, spiritually, financially. A place you could, if you wished, seal yourself into and survive.
This compilation is production master RZA’s first release on his label Razor Sharp, and apart from the usual compilation flaws (dubious motivation, missing tracks), it’s an impeccable collection of Wu-hits. So monolithic you can barely see the edges, when the light of the ordinary does illuminate the mechanics – links from the man himself, the shameless ad campaign of ‘Wu-Wear – The Garment Renaissance’ – it’s like seeing the drainage system of the Taj Mahal.
Keeping it real is one thing – these records kept it hyperreal, surreal, scratching the surface of Staten Island to find the mythical Shaolin beneath, splicing fallible men with superhuman alter egos, warping true-life violence into martial arts style. While the West Coast sipped gin and juice on easy street, the Wu were covered in dank underground residue, deflecting the chromium shine of gangsta excess into a distinctly gothic murk. The shadow they cast, though, wasn’t just from the shades of urban gloom; from their very first mission tunnelling out onto the sidewalk, they became an insidious force. A benchmark. A challenge.
‘Protect Ya Neck’ is the first representation of the viral rhyme flow from multiple brains: wickedly funny, scabrous, immense. ‘Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit’ is an equally toxic statement of intent, all coffin-creak beats and sinister piano loom, while ‘CREAM’ deals with the realities of dollar bills by moving smooth as an extortion racket. For a splintered collective, the solo tracks don’t stray far from the aesthetic source: from Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s John Wayne Gacy leer on ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ and the spaced drawl of GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’, to the defiant, blood-scrawled calling card of ‘Method Man’, all obey rhyme and reject reason. It’s another psychedelic tradition, the product of minds scorched full of holes like cigarette burns in nylon.
“The most influential sound of the ’90s,” declares The RZA, modestly. It’s a legacy to keep invested.