Like the other writers at Strictly approaching this, I found it disgustingly difficult. A single album that is my favourite? Ask me this question at numerous times throughout my music listening life and I would probably give you a different answer every time. So to get to my conclusion I had to use some self-set criteria. It had to be an album that was listenable from start to finish; too many records have some amazing singles only to be undone by filler. That said I also decided that singles from the album also had to be stand out tracks in their own right, that they made sense without being guided by the rest of the record. Another factor I thought critically important was that the album I chose had to have impacted me personally, whether it be socially or that it influenced the way I viewed music in the future.
A few albums nearly made it. As covered by fellow Strictly writer Joe Hill, the Manics ‘Holy Bible’ is a fantastic album, it came very close to being mine too. Another album that came close was Orchestra Of Wolves by Gallows, not traditionally considered a brilliant album but I have no shame in admitting that without it, I probably would have never experimented in the Hardcore Punk genre and all the great music it produced. It lacks in other areas though with some of the songs not being as impressive as the bigger singles from the album. ’13 Songs’ by Fugazi was there, as was ‘Bleach’ by Nirvana but whilst I enjoy both immensely they weren’t quite my favourite. The album that probably came closest is Eminems ‘Marshal Mathers LP’. It has (nearly) everything. The big singles, the quality album tracks and although it wasn’t the first Hip Hop album I listened to, it was one which got me to dive deeper into rap music and led me to the album I have chosen as my favourite.
The year was 1993 and a relatively unknown hip hop group called Wu Tang Clan had just dropped their debut album Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers), the album was an instant stand out and a complete contrast to anything that hip hop artists were releasing at the time. Rap music having evolved in New York had seen itself hijacked by recording artists from elsewhere in the States, more specifically the West Coast in the areas surrounding Los Angeles. Artists including Cypress Hill, N.W.A and their influential producer Dr.Dre and D.O.C had been dominating hip hop music with their funk influenced beats but this was all about to change. The Wu Tang had arrived and they wanted people to know it.
Much of the band’s style was based on Martial Arts philosophy including the title of the album coming from ‘The 36th Chamber of Shaolin‘, a kung fu film released in the 70′s. The album is also littered with samples from a variety of films whilst sound affects are also widely used. Production for the album was completed by Clan member RZA, his stripped down, bass-heavy beats were raw and uncompromising whilst the lyrical content provided by the Clan was gritty, loud and impossible to ignore.
The members were explicit, at times humorous, but always individual. From the very start of the record you could see that it was delivered with intent, opening track ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ is hip hop at its hardest leading into the classic ‘Shame On A Nigga’. Whilst ‘Wu Tang Clan ain’t Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit’ is an arrogant, yet clear message that Wu Tang were the Alpha Males of Hip Hop, there were to be no compromises. Usual themes of hip hop are apparent but were at the time an original look at times. ‘C.R.E.A.M’ details the emerging belief to get money at any cost with the chorus stating ‘Cash Rules Everything Around Me, C.R.E.A.M, get the money’. Often considered as verging on ridiculous the chorus’ from the album are often criticised, but they just fit so well with the record, simple yes, but uncalculated? I doubt it. A personal favourite track from the album is ‘Tearz’ geniously sampling Wendy Rene’s 1964 single ‘After Laughter (Comes Tears)’. An ode to inner city violence, it’s just flows so well. The sampling is delicious whilst lyrically all the members are on top form.
It was just such a believable album, it was far from the fabricated stories spoken about by rappers today, Wu Tang Clan were realists. The members were at the time in Jail, wanted by the police and living with the drug use they highlighted. They lived by the sword and in the case of Clan Member Ol’ Dirty Bastard would later die by it, having overdosed in 2004 after the heavy drug use from the early Wu Tang Clan days.
Easily one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time it was even included in Rolling Stone magazines ‘Top 500 Albums Of All Time’. Sure, to some the production may sound dated now, and hip hop music has changed direction extensively since the 90′s but there can be no doubting the quality of this album. It is for me at the pinnacle of hip hop music, an honest expose of inner city life and staggeringly good debut. I cannot recommend this album enough, if you haven’t heard it before stop reading this and listen to it now. Lewis Lowe