Ghostface Killah, Inspecta Deck and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan performs in New York City.
Twenty years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan blessed the world with their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Masterminded by the group's de facto leader RZA, the album paired grit-sodden, lo-fi production with razor sharp rhyming skills from the nine-man troupe who claimed Shaolin (as they'd re-christened Staten Island) as their fortress. The album's influence has become legendary: It helped restore New York City rap pride in the face of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's g-funk dominance, Raekwon and Ghostface's rhyme styles inspired the subsequent work of Nas, Jay Z and the Notorious BIG, and RZA's tick of speeding up soul samples struck a chord with a young Kanye West who then embraced the technique for his own early break-through productions.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was the first stage of worldwide dominance for the Clan. (Meth even claims that as their goal on one of the album's slang-saturated skits.) But while the album, its iconography and its lead singles are now solid pop culture fixtures, there's also a mysterious underbelly to the project. Here's15 factoids about the Wu's jump-off moment that might have passed you by.
1. The Demo Tape Off-Cuts
The demo tape which begat Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is a fascinating affair. "Bring the Ruckus" is fleshed out with a (subsequently unclearable) sample and some alternate lyrical performances, while tracks that never made the final album include "Wu-Tang Master," "Problemz" and "The Wu Is Comin' Through." Most intriguing though is "It's All About Me," which references De La Soul's "Me Myself And I" and flows forth in an uncharacteristically lackadaisical manner.
2. Passing the Bone
During "Clan In Da Front," the GZA makes one of the album's many references to weed when he implores, "Pass the bone, kid, pass the bone." But beyond the blunt craving, the line also nods to the rapper's prior unsuccessful career when he called himself the Genius and was signed to the Cold Chillin' label; "Pass the Bone" was a ruggedly chugging production that was left off his debut album, 1991's Words From the Genius, but added to a 1994 re-release. (The song also features RZA in his Prince Rakeem guise and he name-checks Raekwon.) Self-referentially, the bone passing saga continued when Masta Killa updated the song for 2006's Made in Brooklyn.
3. The Album Was Fueled by Canned Goods
The Clan's early image involved the idea that they were a bunch of scrappy, striving artists from the slums of Shaolin. ODB certainly mined a look you could kindly call "disheveled poverty chic." According to 9th Prince, RZA's younger brother, the low budget living was a true part of their life and Ghostface would frequently make shoplifting trips to the local store to help feed the Clan. "Ghostface would throw on his big, oversized coat and just stack four or five cans in his coat pockets, and we'd walk out," he told the Village Voice.
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4. "Protect Ya Neck" Cost $300 to Record
The Wu recorded their debut album at Firehouse Studios, which also facilitated rap hits from Audio Two, MC Lyte and Das-EFX. According to Yoram Vazan, the studio's owner, the crew's first single, "Protect Ya Neck," cost $300 worth of studio time to complete. They apparently paid him in quarters.
5. The Tenth Wu-Tanger
The official ranks of the Wu-Tang Clan number nine: RZA, GZA, Ghostface, Raekwon, U-God, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, Method Man and the now departed Ol' Dirty Bastard. Cappadonna became something of a semi-member but never secured water-tight Wu status. According to the RZA though, he came close to offering a local Staten Island MC named Scotty Wotty an official place in the crew. You'll hear the character's name shouted out later on occasional Wu releases, and he also put in an appearance on a 1998 indie rap release by Shadez of Brooklyn under a new guise as Jackpot.