Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Hip-hop has always been the music of the streets. But the Wu-Tang Clan took street life to totally different places courtesy of a unique and heady brew of styles, influences and philosophy. Taking dialogue from kung-fu movies, snippets of Nation of Islam teachings gleaned from corner shop preachers and samples of soul records, RZA concocted a dense, dark and dangerously thrilling sonic arsenal over which nine assorted emcees battled, boasted and bamboozled their way to greatness.
A woozy, off-kilter dustiness created a claustrophobic and intense atmosphere that permeated throughout, giving the different personalities a unique canvas to paint their aural magic on. The emcees were made to battle for the right to rhyme alongside RZA’s beats, thus ensuring each was primed and ready to roll with soon to be classic rhymes. Whether it was the opening verse of the album by Ghostface Killah (“Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse / My Glock burst, leave in a hearse, I done worse”), the imperiously insane ODB’s verse on “Shame on a Nigga” (“Yo! I come with that ol’ loco style from my vocal / couldn’t peep it with a pair of bifocals”), or U-God’s immense verse on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” (“Raw I’ma give it to ya with no trivia / Raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia”), the album is knee-deep in lyrical masterpieces.
Make no mistake, this was hardcore rap that found a place way beyond that of the genre’s fans, reinvigorating New York’s rap scene in the face of West Coast Gangsta rap and making the Wu-Tang collective a beast that somehow managed to be greater than the sum of their formidable parts.