Imagine having a legacy so big that one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, the Empire State Building, is lit up in your honour. Imagine that a street in that same city is named after you. Then imagine that the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adam, proclaims that November 9th would be entirely your day. Well, if you’re a member of Wu-Tang Clan, you don’t have to imagine.
30 years ago today, Wu-Tang Clan cemented themselves as the bonafide rap group of the 90s with the release of their seminal debut 1993 album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 chambers). A newly formed group from Staten Island would bring about one of the biggest shake-ups in hip hop history, and the East Coast rappers would change the direction of a largely West Coast-dominated hip hop scene.
The album’s began in the early 90s, in the depths of Firehouse Studios in New York, where nine members – cousins RZA, GZA and Ol’Dirty Bastard as well as Method Man, Ghostface Killa, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Raekwon – would rap battle to be on the album’s songs. Just a year earlier they’d been signed to Steve Rifkind’s label Loud Records under a $60,000 deal which, by way of RZA’s savvy business skills, involved an open contract allowing them to simultaneously sign to other labels. This spurred a handful of solo projects, much more freedom, and more of those “dolla, dolla bills.”
With a fascination of martial arts, the group took their name from the 1983 film Shaolin and Wu-Tang, then extended that love to the name of their debut album, which was an amalgamation of the two films Enter the Dragon and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
The album itself took samples from other movies like Ten Tigers from Kwantung and folded them around dextrous, tongue-in-cheek bars. RZA’s sampling style, which changed the speed and pitch of cuts, would influence future artists as big as Kanye West and Jay-Z.
An inexpensive studio and cheap recording equipment gave way to what critics have touted as a ‘street sound’ and which Rolling Stone in their 500 best albums of all time (of which Enter the Wu-Tang (36 chambers) was placed at #27) described as having “hard and menacing melodies” matched by “gritty and aggressive vocals.”
Wu-Tang’s first album debuted at #41 on the US Billboard 200 and two years later would go platinum. “C.R.E.A.M.”, arguably the most famous track from the record, would later go gold.
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“I had no idea that ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ was going to be what it wound up being,” Inspectah Deck told Rolling Stone AU/NZ earlier this year. “I just knew when I heard the beat, it was just so melodic and it kind of transported me to another place”. Pitchfork would later give the album a perfect 10, describing it as an album that ”directly paved the way for harder-edged New York rap from Nas, Mobb Deep, and the Notorious B.I.G., and provided a hardcore hip-hop blueprint that’s been followed by rap purists and collectives for nearly three decades.”
Wu-Tang have enjoyed a career renaissance in 2023, touring their album in Australia and New Zealand – as well as the rest of the world – alongside fellow East Coast rapper Nas. Grandmaster GZA was even here running chess tournaments against Melbourne’s best.
With a legacy so big that the Empire State Building is going to glow up in their iconic yellow and black, there’s a reason Wu-Tang Clan are still so respected today, and one of the greatest legacy hip hop groups.