HIP-HOP WEEK #1
So I really don’t understand hip-hop at all.
Now that my credentials are out of the way, let’s talk about Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). My very scant knowledge of hip-hop history informs me that this album was part of an East Coast movement, particularly in New York, where the genre was reinventing itself as gritty and dangerous. Social commentary, graphic lyrics, aggressive flows, that kinda thing.
Now obviously I’m not one to be able to speak about the company that this album shares, but if it’s contemporaries are anything like I’ve heard/guessed at, this is actually a pretty poor representation of what this movement was going for. It seems to fit the bill at first glance, what with its in-your-face attitude, but what surprised me was how…well, cartoony the energy is. Everything is super over-the-top, from the flows to the lyrics to the beats, all to construct various chambers of rap battle combat. The nine MCs (NINE) in the group do all kinds of nifty lyrical acrobatics to the effect of swinging a rap-shaped sword around like a maniac. It’s basically Kill Bill: The Hip-Hop Musical.
Awesome! I hate it when hip-hop takes itself too seriously, whether failing to communicate a social message or trying to make me jealous of a position. 36 Chamber’s unique character, complete with dialogue and music sampled from old kung-fu movies, grabbed me instantly, even as a non-rap fan. The album is bursting with manic energy and some surprisingly effective grooves, making it nigh-impossible to stand still while listening to it.
Going back to character for a second here. I would be lying if I said all nine of the MCs struck me as vibrant forces of personality the way everyone says they are. But I’m also not used to analyising hip-hop, so you should probably take that with a grain of salt. That all being said, the variety of vocal styles is a lot of fun, and a couple of the members definitely stood out to me. Ghostface Killah, aside from his hilarious name, brings a lot of super-infectious cockiness and spontaneity that fits in with the battle aesthetic perfectly. Method Man, inversely, seems super cool and chill about the whole thing (at least compared to everyone else), which lends him a strong presence. ODB (whose name I can’t take beyond acronym because I like to keep this blog clean) is absolutely hilarious, not just in his overly immature lyrics but in his intentionally slurred, off-key flow. GZA is probably my favorite, simply because of how ninja-like he comes off. Whenever a piece of wordplay or insane insult stood out to me, it was usually by him. His alliteration is also extremely entertaining.
The beats are more or less in the same camp: expertly rhythmic, usually catchy, simple and vibrant. The Asian flavor tossed around is especially nice and adds another layer to the bonkers mood. The one on “C.R.E.A.M.” goes so far as to be pretty, with a great piano sample upholding some intelligent lyrics.
This thing can even be affecting if it wants too! The embarrassingly titled “Tearz” opens goofily enough, with an over-the-top skit and intentionally out-of-place sample, but then turns to a pair of stories about losing close friends to muggers and AIDS.
Other highlights? My favorite is “Protect Ya Neck”, in which a rapidly rotating set of MCs viciously verbally eviscerate whatever group is ticking them off at the moment. Aside from the great delivery and intimidating beat, the string of Carlin-worthy rants are just incredibly entertaining. “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” is filled with fun insults as usual, but it’s all overshadowed by the first verse by U-God. I wasn’t surprised to learn this is one of the most famous verses in hip-hop. In a mere 8 bars, U-God squeezes in more complex rhyming, insane bragging, and cool wordplay then most hip-hop stations play in a week.
So generally this is a great album, maybe brought down a bit by some skits that go on for a little too long. But dangit, as much as I love the idea of Kill Bill: The Hip-Hop Musical, I just can’t get that excited about listening to this all at once. It’s hard to explain, but imagine watching a movie that consisted of nothing but action scenes. Wouldn’t that get your fist-pumping down a bit by the end? I think this is why I like “Tearz” so much, since it offers a refreshing break from all the arrogant verbal fencing. Otherwise, it’s just too much energy all at once for me, and it doesn’t help that it goes slightly over the typical 45-minute LP length. As such, I cannot give this album a perfect or transcendent score (10 and 10+, if you’re new to how we do stuff here). Nevertheless, if you like hip-hop at all, I don’t see why you shouldn’t check this out. It’s certainly a boatload of fun while it lasts. Maybe even a chamberful.
Thematic Content: 5/5
Lyricism: 4/5 Not all of the lines land, but it’s very consistent throughout.
Resonance: 4/5 One point off for overstaying its welcome.
Experience: I think I already used the “movie with only action scenes” and “verbal fencing” lines. Uhh…what else is this album like? A presidential election?
9/10. Best Song: Protect Ya Neck