Wu-Tang Clan's 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' at 20: Classic Track-By-Track Review


I didn't enter the Wu-Tang on November 9, 1993, the date that "36 Chambers" was released. I, like many others, discovered that they were nothing to fuck with years later -- specifically, 11 years later, when a friend gave me a 2004 compilation album, "Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan," that I wore out in my bedroom stereo and which required that I purchase the group's origin story. At that point, Wu-Tang Clan was three years removed from their uneven fourth album, "Iron Flag," and no one knew when a follow-up was coming. Mainstream hip-hop had moved on; a thoughtful kid named Kanye West was turning heads with his soul samples and thoughtful imagery. But every day and every night, walking to my friend's place with a Discman in hand or driving to my part-time job at Quizno's, I would pop on "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" and lose my mind. I memorized lines, then verses, then songs, then every song. I debated with friends who had the best verse on "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'." I marveled at the lyricism of Method Man, and mourned the loss of Ol' Dirty Bastard -- at that time, just a few months deceased. I was an awkward teenage white boy trying to learn how to bring the ruckus; I still don't know how to do so, but I can name eight guys who do.

I discovered and grew to fiercely love the Wu-Tang Clan years after they swarmed onto the scene and detonated hip-hop conventions -- and that's always been sort of the legacy of the Wu, and specifically their bulletproof debut. It is rap music outside of this universe -- a group with multiple nicknames rallying around kung-fu films, sampling forgotten soul songs and playing chess -- and belonging to no time period, so it belongs to every time period. To this day, any kid looking for an alternative to the gaudier aspects of the genre can get lost in the eerie aesthetic and pinpoint wordplay of "36 Chambers." The hook on "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothin' Ta Fuck Wit" is still an insanely enjoyable phrase to scream, the production on "C.R.E.A.M." is still devastatingly layered, and figures like Method Man, Ghostface Killah, GZA and ODB are still demigods with no weak link in their group or faults in their rhyme patterns. These things are not going away.

Since "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," the Wu-Tang Clan has released more great music than they're typically credited for -- but "36 Chambers" is their landmark effort. Twenty years later, still nothing sounds quite like it; nothing can duplicate its hardest edges or most powerful passages. To me, and to the many awkward teenagers that will uncover the Wu-Tang Clan in the decades to come, "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" is, and always will be, timeless.

Check out our track-by-track breakdown of the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album on its 20th anniversary of release.

- Album Review