The lovely folk at GIT asked me to do a top ten of the Wu’s best moments ahead of their release of new album next month. A top 100 would be easier to do than a top 10 for the WU, their shit is so good, so I made a few rules. No album could have more than one cut (so no ‘CREAM’, ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ and ‘Tearz’ – sigh), I’d include at least a couple of guest slots on non Wu albums and above all I’d tried a tell a story about what the breadth of Wu represents into my fleetingly short snapshot of the greatest mob hip hop has ever seen.
Obviously there’s close to 98787587567645 records missing, and even though I’ve tried to be varied there’s a lunge towards Rae and Ghost more than anyone else. The former has two solo cuts and the big guest verse on there, even though I omitted my favourite Wu cameo ever (Tash’s ‘Rap Life’, above) because his handful of bars alongside Outkast was a proper event in hip hop. He’s not the best rapper in Wu but Rae travels better than anyone else, just shading it from Meth. Tony Starks though is the finest in the clan, end of.
It also got me thinking about writing a story about the impact of RZA’s controlling attitude and the clan above all approach which ruled from Enter the 36 Chambers up to Wu Tang Forever. Raekwon and GZA did rather well out of that deal, U-God and Masta Killa definitely didn’t, and then if only that flood hadn’t scuppered all Inspektah Deck’s beats. One day…
Cazrface, the partnering up of Inspektah Deck from Wu and 7L & Esoteric, is a fictitious comic book character returning to the golden era of hip-hop. Those last four words are probably the most mooted in hip-hop circles, and it’s even more surprinsing that the year in question isn’t before 1993… instead it’s 1999.
It would seem odd that a member of Wu would be behind that assertion, even with his best album appearing that year (as well as the only real post wu tang forever masterpiece, Ghostface’s ‘Supreme Clientele’), but nevertheless there is a grain of truth in 1999 being the don year wise… and one I’ll visit with a stronger analysis in the future.
Anyway the album is a beast, not exactly the greatest lyrics ever but still tight with some fantastic beats, and some decent guest appearances as well. In the 1999 vein Ghostface turns up and mumbles like only he can, and Preemo delivers a textbook production, but it’s not all 20th century doyens. Action Bronson and Roc Marciano bring some heat too. Check it on Spotify below
This weekend is a big bad dollop of 1997 for me. Tomorrow, 16 years ago to the very day, one of the greatest of all time was gunned down, and in Manchester I am off to see easily the best hip-hop album released that year performed live in it’s entirety, Camp Lo’s ‘Uptown Saturday Night’. And seeing as 1997 was the first full calender year where I was in love with the music from start to finish this week’s instalment of Five for the Funk simply had to celebrate the year.
Turns out thought that 1997, when peering beyond the sepia tinted memories, was a weak one for hip-hop and probably the worst in the decade. Even though I was enthralled by the genre at the time the lack of being on the money (I was 15 and living in a RAF base in the Midlands) meant it was mainly old albums (Doggystyle, All Eyez on Me, 36 Chambers) that I liked (Camp Lo aside), and a confirmation of a look at this list shows rappers were more about sales, quantity and that horrible beast in hip-hop; the double album.
That said there was still some decent music this year, and none of those pesky double albums were classics in my eyes but they did throw together some great tunes. Here’s five of the best hip-hop videos and tracks from 1997…
They didn’t quite nail it with ‘Wu Tang Forever‘, but you genuinely do have to admire the Wu for their balls. I can remember the hype on UK and European MTV for this album and in turn this single, which still wasn’t that in tuned to hip-hop compared to the way it was with rock, and to announce the return of the whole clan with a lead single that was straight up lyrical wordplay at six minutes long was insane. The closest thing it had to a chorus was ODB screaming out that ‘Wu Tang was here for ever mutherfuckers’, and this was the record they were taking over the world with at the very inception of the shiny suit era in hip-hop. I mean come on! Stateside it sold over 600k in the first week and smashed it to the top of the charts. Killer figures from the killer bees, and that opening verse from Insepktah Deck.
‘Triumph’ was just that, the Wu knocking the shit out of the rest of the world. One of ten or twelve very good records on the album, although it might not be as dynamic as the likes of ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’, it was still a relentless slab of stark hip-hop. And nothing on TV looked so gully at the time. A grimy as fuck two finger salute at the staunch sound of selling out.
Biggie knew he was the epitome of the best of both worlds. The ugly as fuck fat boy who was so silky smooth he made women forget his appearance as their panties fell to the floor. The rapper that could make an album that featured a rags to riches radio joint side by side with tributes to stick-up kids and paranoia soaked suicide notes. And an absolute club and radio banger that had some of the tightest flows ever on it. It shone of the real Biggie, braggadocio to the hilt but gloriously self aware.
A genuinely brilliant record, and although technically a 1996 joint an anthem both sides of the Atlantic throughout 1997. And every year since.
Boot Camp Clik ‘Headz R Ready’
Wu weren’t the only hoodies and timbs NYC hip-hop crew bringing that rugged and raw vibe in 1997, so too were Boot Camp Clik. The collective consisted of Black Moon’s Buckshot, Smif N Wessun, Originoo Gunn Clappaz and Louieville Sluggah, and this was a tight record that featured a lovely nineties era drenched video. If you were one of those teenagers, like me, who lived for that one or two hours a week in 97 when Yo MTV Raps rounded up the best videos of the time, this was more often than not what would greet you.
Tha Alkaholiks ‘Hip-Hop Drunkies’
The West coast was flatter than usual between 1996 and 1999, but in the midst of it all was an underground antidote to the chronic flavoured riddims of the G-funk sound. And one of the better crews repping it were tha Liks. Their 1997 album ‘Likwidation’ is an underrated beast, straight up beats and rhymes tomfoolery from J-Ro, E-Swift and Tash, and this video sums up their vibe brilliantly.
An inspired pairing of their alcohol focused swagger with hip-hop’s fav substance abuser ODB, it flips a sample of Marley Marl’s piano riff off ‘The Symphony‘ to create a posse cut for boozers. Like the video for ‘Triumph’ ODB’s role is played by an actor, laying the groundwork for his troubled years ahead. He rips it up on here though, particularly with the “no disrespect to any architect who tries to perfect, oh what the heck” lyric, riffing brilliantly on the production of the song and his own role in hip-hop with a flurry of densely packed inner rhymes. An absolute genius.
60 Minutes of Wu, mixed by Rinse FM’s Alexander Nut. The mix is designed to showcase the influence the monolithic hip-hop crew had on his musical upbringing in the mighty Wolverhampton, and is being delivered over on fashion emporium Oki-Ni’s great mixtape series. Amidst the consistent lyrical darts there’s the odd song the crew have sampled, such as Wendy Rene’s ‘After the laughter comes tears’, and lashings upon lashing of that off kilter bass heavy Wu production that makes you want to pull your hood over your head and delve into darkness. Great reminder about why Staten Island’s finest remain so relevant.