Happy 20th Anniversary to Cappadonna’s debut album The Pillage, originally released March 24, 1998.
One of my favorite hip-hop debates among friends is who coined the greatest Wu-Tang Clan verse during the group’s apex during the early to mid ‘90s. Some of the verses that always surface are Inspectah Deck’s verse from “Triumph” and the GZA’s valediction for “Protect Ya Neck,” the Clan’s inaugural single from their 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
A gem that also joins the discussion—and is aging considerably well—is the informal introduction to Cappadonna on the song “Winter Warz,” a track strong enough to warrant inclusion on both Ghostface Killah’s debut Ironman (1996) and the Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood Soundtrack released earlier the same year. Hardcore Wu fans were already familiar with the murderous bars “kid change your habit, you know I'm friends with the Abbott / me and RZA rhyme name printed in the tablet / under vets, we paid our debts for mad years / hibernate the sound and now we out like bears / In Born Power, born physically, power speaking / the truth in the song be the pro-black teaching” from the underground mixtape circuit. Meanwhile, hip-hop’s broader audience was formally introduced to Cappa when he featured alongside Raekwon, Ghostface, and Method Man on “Ice Cream,” the third single from the Chef’s first solo LP Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... in 1995.
Cappadonna, who according to other members of the Clan was one of the earliest emcees to gain recognition back in their home base of Staten Island, NY, was replaced by Method Man in the initial Wu-Tang lineup, barring a prison stint in the early ‘90s. Cappa later came home to find his niche alongside the red-hot duo of Raekwon and Ghostface, and would even make the album cover for Ghost’s Ironman and go on to form what appeared to be the game’s strongest trio. His unorthodox style that ignored more traditional 16-bar patterns, as evidenced in “Winter Warz,” made Cappa seem like a natural rhyme partner for Ghost, but his fashion sense and roughneck appeal to the female listeners meshed perfectly with the Chef.
After the acclaim of Ironman, with Cappa appearing on popular songs “Camay,” “Fish,” and “Daytona 500,” Cappa began to rival Masta Killa as the main addition to the “Great Eight.” There were no complaints from Wu heads during the summer of ’97 when we all received a heavy dose of Cappa on the Wu’s sophomore double LP Wu-Tang Forever, including the lead single “Triumph”, where Cappa held his own amongst all eight members and Masta Killa, delivering compelling lines like, “I twist darts from the heart, tried and true / loop my voice on the LP/ martini on the slang rocks, certified chatterbox / vocabulary 'Donna talking, tell your story walking.”
In the wake of the commercially and critically successful two-disc set, which was intended to serve as the musical war proxy to launch an industry takeover, 1998 arrived with the promise of scheduled releases from the remaining Wu members and affiliates. Only weeks behind one of the rapidly emerging members of the Brooklyn wing of the Clan, Killah Priest, Cappadonna’s The Pillage was released with the blazing hot single “Slang Editorial” leading its charge.
Completely stepping out on his own, Cappa led off his solo effort with arguably the best Wu solo performance since Method Man’s “Bring the Pain” in 1994. One of hip-hop’s all too rare combinations of lyrical perfection matched with ideal beat selection, the Clan could rest assured that their prominence was secured even with affiliates now taking the reins. With lines like, “I drip through the faucet, I never lost it / where the party at? Give me the mic and I'mma toss it / head crack, talk back, verbal attack / sidetrack you get japed with my lyric impact,” the Wu now had a new slang professor with complete mastery of its Wu-phonics and an undeniable swag to muster commercial appeal.
The magic moments of The Pillage are the collaborations with True Master, a producer intent on leaving his imprint on the next chapter of Wu greatness at the time. Opting for a more Gospel/Blues sound to distinguish himself from his fellow clansmen, True Master came of age adding to an already impressive resume which included Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo,” and Ghostface’s “Fish.” He struck sonic gold with some extensive crate-diggin’ that grabbed obscure southern soul-man O.V. Wright for two of The Pillage’s standouts: “Slang Editorial” which sampled Wright’s “When You Took Your Love from Me” and “Milk the Cow” which lifted “Born All Over.” The latter was brought to life by Cappa’s autobiographical rhymes: “ So I keep on writin’, meditatin’ in the ghetto / makin’ love, waitin’ for lost minds to settle / then I speak out, because we all need the guidance / deep down inside us where you could define science / my mother told me, when I was so stressed out / All you gotta do is just put your best out.” Not to mention that Method Man’s verbal assist for the hook gets about as funky as a two bedroom apartment in the projects after grandmom’s pot of collard greens with neck bones.
Not to be forgotten, 4th Disciple contributed an R&B-esque ode “Check for a Nigga” where Donna’s tongue-twisting vocabulary takes a more relaxed pace for rhymes like, “Tap into my Wu pedigree, numba three chamber / second in the cut, it's the Black Lone Ranger / Cat in the Hat, fresh clothes on the hanger / the Last Man Standing with the vest and the banger.”
Mathematics also drops in to round out Wu’s trio of RZA understudies, and helps Cappa pick up the pace with his frequent partner Ghostface for the hard-thumping “Oh-Donna” which is delivered like a pre-battle war chant: “It be Wu-Wear for life, my team is top billin’ / more sacrifices, create better livin’ / my darts came to save the world like Blue Ribbon / protect seeds, and protect black women / raised in the Pillage right now we just driftin.’”
Adding his stardust to the already strong LP, RZA almost quietly contributed five tracks, only one less than True Master. The most notable is the album’s second single “Run,” the conceptual thriller where the lyrics cheer the protagonist in his adrenaline charged sprint to evade authorities: “Run if you ever got somethin' on you son / you best to run, be off the set / jet, bounce from the projects, season of the vick / weed in your piss and parole gots ta have it / slide like a rabbit move quick this is it / hang jump from the fire escape, I made it.”
In a year when the Wu-Tang Clan sought to achieve unprecedented heights by pushing its affiliate acts, The Pillage saw Cappadonna give younger members Sunz of Man, Killarmy, and La the Darkman a great head start en route to completing the group’s mission.
The Pillage is a prime example of a well-focused Wu album that showcases the Clan’s chemistry as a brotherhood and the envy of the entire industry. It is an unassuming blueprint of how to optimize all of the Wu’s in-house resources, which made it a very solid LP for 1998, and a precursor for later masterworks like Ghostface’s 2000 sophomore effort Supreme Clientele.