In 1992, an unsuspecting hip-hop world was bumrushed by a force that would dominate its consciousness for the next two decades (and, some would say, more): the nine-member Wu-Tang Clan
Let’s count them off, because these are names that any hip-hop fan should know and revere: Prince Rakeem (aka The RZA), The Genius (aka The GZA), Ol’ Dirty Bastard, (Shallah) Raekwon, Inspectah Deck (aka Rebel INS), Method Man, Ghost Face Killer (aka Ghostface Killa), U-God and Masta Killa.
The group had been bubbling up via various routes and musical tentacles since the late ’80s, in most of New York’s five boroughs. Demos were made, singles and albums were released under different names (most notably, GZA’s Words From The Genius LP, as The Genius; and RZA’s “Ooh I Love You Rakeem” single, as Prince Rakeem; both in 1991). By 1992, things were really starting to take shape, as RZA began to prophesize and execute his hip-hop masterplan. The thought of nine MCs co-existing as a cohesive group is certainly impossible to think about in 2016. Back then it was almost as crazy.
Nevertheless, RZA put his ideas into motion, and by late 1992 a single appeared: “Protect Ya Neck.” Originally self-released on cassette and vinyl (with producer and group patriarch The RZA’s Staten Island home address on the label), the song blew up in a way that has rarely been equaled in the hip-hop world.
The track, beatwise, is a driving, dusty musical assault. That description holds true lyrically as well, thanks to eight out of nine group members attacking the mic (Masta Killa is not featured), one by one – each showing their unique flow and methodic madness, from GZA’s even keel to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s manic train of thought. First exploding at college radio, within months the song was also dominating mainstream mix shows around the world.
After the song’s success, Loud Records inked a deal with the group and album work began. Luckily, RZA was beyond prolific. Many of the main issues were, in fact, corralling, harnessing and properly showcasing the different group MCs, who had a range that covered the lyrical spectrum, from hyper-lyrical to unhinged.
The Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album hit on November 9, 1993 and featured an array of retail and radio-/promo-only singles beyond “Protect Ya Neck,” including various A-Sides: “Method Man”; “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'”; “Can It All Be So Simple”; “Shame On A Nigga [Nuh]”; “C.R.E.A.M.”‘ and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’Wit.”
Thanks to its true-school grit and rugged, undeniable street appeal, the album never got widespread radio play, and only just pushed Platinum status during the era of its release (in contrast to the rap “superstars” of the mid-90s, who had exponentially more sales; Enter The Wu-Tang has since gone on to sell more than 2 million copies worldwide). But it still had as much, if not more, resonance amongst the group’s peers and other producers – the true sign of a genre-changing LP.
Rolling Stone praised the album as an “Essential Recording of the ’90s” and one of the “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time”; Vibe categorized it as one of the “100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century”; and fans – including any favorite MC you’d like to name – still worship at its altar to this day.
As RZA recalls to Chris Faraone in the 7-Inch Casebook’s Shaolinology liner notes book:
“[Considering] the trouble we were going through, being young black men in America trying to find our way, I definitely had the confidence that [making music] was the way out of it … When Loud announced that 36 Chambers went platinum, that right there was confirmation. I remember saying to myself that MC Hammer sold 10 million records, but that’s 10 million people who still sleep. If Wu-Tang sold a million, that’s a million people who woke up.”
This absolutely unique, deluxe edition of this classic album – which has been created in full collaboration with The RZA – is presented as a “Casebook” hardcover book, which houses the album’s 12 full songs that are divided into six 7-Inches. And beyond the 56-page liner notes, six additional pages have a Wu-Tang logo picture sleeve in which to put the vinyl. A bonus 7-Inch, “Protect Ya Neck / Tearz” is housed on the exterior of the outer leatherette slipcase, in its own picture sleeve.
Besides the vinyl, the centerpiece of the Casebook is a 56-page Shaolinology book, featuring input by RZA, written by journalist Chris Faraone. Beyond many never-before-discussed Wu-Tang nuggets, the book also includes rare photos of the group, lyrics for all album songs, as well as other images and advertisements from the Enter The Wu-Tang era.
If you are a Wu-Tang Clan fan – and what self-respecting hip-hop junkie isn’t? – this is a trophy that you will be proud to have on your shelf, to celebrate the influence of one of music’s most influential groups. More information can be found here.