Anyone who knows me will probably think; what are you doing reviewing Wu Tang albums? Well, as a lover of all different varieties of music, I can appreciate any type of music. Whilst I’m not a massive fan of the current trends within hip hop, I’m an avid listener to the more classic sounds that came out of the 90s. And something I often debate with my friends is the best wu tang albums.
I’ll listen to anything from that era, but there aren’t many groups that I’ve listened to more than Wu Tang. I’d go as far as saying they’re the most influential groups in hip hop, perhaps bar Run DMC, but even then I don’t think they managed to produce music quite like those of Wu Tang.
About Wu Tang
Coming out of Staten Island New York, their sound epitomises that of the gritty East Coast street life. people weren’t used to hearing lyrics like those of the Wu Tang. Whilst there was an element of downright nastiness in many of their lyrics, there was also a depth to their music that made them stand out from other artists.
Curse to the wicked snakes who try to snatch the truth away, cursed be the ones who try to take our youth away.
Whilst it wasn’t all filled with prophetic quotes, Wu Tang seemed to blend together well with RZA’s early production and ODB’s radical, sometimes ridiculous lyrics. With RZA, ODB and GZA the original members, it wasn’t long before Method Man, Ghostface, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna formed the Wu Tang. No, I don’t want to debate when exactly Cappadonna was ‘accepted into the Wu Tang; he’s been there since the (almost) beginning and contributed some great lines through history.
For anyone wondering, they were named Wu Tang after the film, Shaolin and the Wu Tang was released in the early eighties. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list of the top ten Wu Tang albums, both solo and as a group. Remember, this is just personal opinion, so people may disagree with this. But, I will fight you ’til the death if needs be – just kidding.
10. Fishscale – Ghostface Killah (2006)
Ghostface appears on the top ten list several times; we’ll let you guess what the other albums featured are. Released in 2006, Fishscale was the fifth project from Ghostface and was extremely successful, selling well in excess of 100,000 copies in its first week.
It features every other member from Wu Tang in some form, which helps contribute to its quality. The album was released by Def Jam in early ’06, and to be fair, Def Jam were adamant to make this album a success. Ghostface had an array of beats and producers to work with, and it shows. It tells the sotry of a typical ‘Coke Boy’, but not in the stereotypical way. No, it’s over smooth beats instead of a rugged street sound, which make this album top notch.
It’s filled with famous producers, which are apparent from listening to the cohesive tone of the album Both MF Doom and J Dilla produced several songs on the album, and it’s easy to tell. If Fishscale is 10th in our top ten list, then the other albums must be pretty great. Right?
Tracks to check: Jellyfish, The Champ, Be Easy.
Tracks to avoid: Back like That featuring Ne-Yo (it’s an okay song, but it certainly doesn’t fit in with the vibe of the album as a whole. It feels like it was just added to get Ne-Yo on the album as he was poppin’ at the time).
9. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Part Two – Raekwon (2009)
Only Built Part Two was released as the follow up to the original classic released 14 years prior. This makes it the most recent Wu album to make the list, showing the longevity of Raekwon’s style and flow.
Although many say that it would never match the first one in terms of pure music, it definitely surpasses the original in terms of production quality. Much has been said about RZA producing the Wu’s original records as the sole producer. He was the producer and executive producer on the first Cuban Linx, though Raekwon reached out to other artists for Part 2. Why? Well, it has been said that RZA can be awkward to work with, though we’re not sure if this is the case with this album. It must be frustrating to sit in the studio with someone you’ve known for 20 years and whack out a full album.
But, we prefer to think of it as Raekwon taking advantage of all the quality producers that were available to him when he released the record. Though it has some legendary producers on the album (J Dilla, Dr Dre, Erick Sermon) it still manages to encompass that gritty sound that’s synonymous with the Wu. This definitely certifies its spot in the top 10, with Raekwon’s best work since he release the original OB4CL
Tracks to check: Ason Jones, House of Flying Daggers, 10 Bricks (all produced by the late great J Dilla).
Tracks to avoid: Mean Streets.
8. Supreme Clientele – Ghostface Killah (2000)
Supreme Clientele was the 2nd album from Ghostface, and enters the lists in the eighth spot. Released in 2000, the production on this album is again excellent. As is the storytelling vibe that Ghostface has become famous for, which makes him the favorite member for many Wu Tang fans. There are some who even claim that this might be the best hip hop album of all time.
Whilst that might be pushing it a little bit, there’s no doubt that it’s up there with the best Wu Tang album discussion. It continues with more excellent Ghostface storytelling lyrics that resonate in the mind. One of the most interesting things about this album is that a fair amount of it was written in Benin, when Ghostface had flown there to see a bush doctor, worried about his state of health. There’s a sense of despair in this album that isn’t featured in Fishscale, where he seemed to have gotten back to the Ghostface that we know.
Another interesting point with this album is that whilst RZA wasn’t automatically producing all the Wu’s albums at this point, he was the executive producer for this one. He produced the majority of the songs on this album. It would seem that whilst some criticise RZA for his lack of production depth, he has definitely produced the majority of the Wu’s best albums.
Tracks to check: Mighty Healthy, Apollo Kids, Nutmeg.
Tracks to avoid: Cherchez LaGhost, The Skits.
7. Tical – Method Man (1994)
Whilst many don’t give Method Man the credit he deserves as a rapper, it’s important to remember what he contributed to the Wu Tang. This was the first solo album to be released, and whilst lyrically Meth might not be one the level of some of his contemporaries, it definitely still holds its ground.
It seems his charismatic nature increased his popularity in the media and amongst fans, leading to Method Man being the first member to release his solo record. Whilst it was definitely a success sales wise, there are those that feel it was slightly underwhelming. This is usually because it has a sort of dark feeling to it, which wasn’t what people expected from Meth at that time. Meth has actually come out since in an interview with Hot 97 and said that he wasn’t totally happy with the record as many of the beats got lost in a flood at RZA’s house. This flood also destroyed most of Inspectah Deck’s original first album, which is a shame, as I didn’t enjoy ‘Uncontrolled Substance’ as much as I like Deck’s verses within the clan.
Back to Tical, the album keeps to the street sound of the Clan. In all honesty, it’s actually more like a mixtape than a full project. This might be one of the reasons I enjoy it so much; many of the Wu’s solo projects are far too long and filled with skits. With no skit in sight, this is why Tical makes my top 10.
Tracks to check: Bring the Pain
Tracks to avoid:
6. Iron Man – Ghostface Killah (1996)
It is often said that Ghostface has the best discography out of the Wu Tang. Well, Iron Man is solid proof that Ghostface’s discography is definitely the most consistent throughout the years. Iron Man was Ghostface’s first solo release back in ’96.
Though the cynic would say that it was all downhill from there for Ghostface, that’s a negative look at things. Though technically true, it was just difficult to match the intensity of this album which has definitely been solidified in hip hop history as one of the best albums of the era.
Whilst it might not be as dark as some of the other albums featured, it certainly still carries the same vibe that features on every other Wu albums. Perhaps the stand out from the album is the duet with Mary J Blige All That I Got Is You, which seems to blend hip hop and soul perfectly. Remember, this is before Jennifer Lopez broke through with her romantic duets that blew up in the pop world. I wonder where she got her inspiration from.
Tracks to check: Daytona 500, Winter Warz, All That I Got Is You
Tracks to avoid: Motherless Child, Marvel, Black Jesus.
5. Return to the 36 Chambers – ODB (1995)
As much as Method Man is popular for his charisma, ODB is the only other member in the clan to really gain a cult following due to his personality as much as his rapping. There really hasn’t been another rapper with the same attitude as ODB. In recent years, the most common comparison is probably Danny Brown. This is much due to his style and attitude as his music, but you can tell ODB was an influence on him. He even named this song after him;
Unfortunately, after ODB died of an overdose in 2005, he only got to officially release two albums. Whilst N***a Please is another great album, it doesn’t feel as original as this one. This album has ODB at his most immature, which made him a cult hero amongst younger fans. His cousin GZA even noted in an interview that he would often exchange his more immature lyrics with ODB, as they were more suited to his wacky style.
As ODB would so often say,
which became one of the most popular quotes in hip hop ever. ODB was certainly a character, and this album solidifies his place as a unique hip hop artist at the top of his game.
Tracks to check: Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Brooklyn Zoo, Snakes.
Tracks to avoid: Brooklyn Zoo II.
4. Wu Tang Forever – Wu Tang Clan (1997)
Wu Tang Forever was the much anticipated second album from the Wu. After the success of their debut, they released several great solo albums, though fans wanted to listen to the whole group collectively again.
They didn’t disappoint, releasing a 2 disc album that was heavily lyrics influenced. Filled with mellow beats, this helped to highlight the slick bar writing abilities of many of the Wu’s members. Was it as successful as their debut? Almost definitely not. Whether this is because the album wasn’t as good, or that it didn’t have the same initial impact as their debut, we don’t know. It certainly cemented it in the top 5 Wu albums of all time, though.
More recently, Drake released his song Wu Tang Forever on his Nothing was the Same album. This was supposed to pay his respects to the Wu Tang, though some people didn’t feel that way about the record.
Ironically, if you listen to the Intro on the second disc of this album, it actually condemns much of what Drake does. The RZA speaks the truth, saying;
A lot of n*ggas trying to take hip-hop
And make that sh*t R&B, rapping bullsh*t, ya know what I’m sayin?
Yes we do RZA, and Drake is a prime example of taking rap music and making it focussed around hip hop and fashion. No wonder several members of the Wu weren’t feeling him naming the track Wu Tang Forever, even though it was supposed to pay homage.
Tracks to check: Triumph, Reunited
Tracks to avoid: Older Gods, Little Ghetto Boys.
3. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995)
If you ask the majority of Wu fans what their favorite solo Wu album is, chances are a decent percentage of them say OB4CL. As the West Coast were releasing more ‘braggadocious’ gangsta rap, Raekwon and the rest of the Wu were representing the East Coast with a gritty and street sound that was unique. This album epitomises the street, with the RZA’s production at it’s peak.
Of all the Wu albums, this album has some of the least features, with Raekwon rapping on the majority of tracks alone. This in itself has made Rae one of the most popular members of the Wu, with this album being considered one of the greatest in hip hop history.
Tracks to check: Verbal Intercourse, Ice Cream, Guillotine.
Tracks to avoid: Ice Water, Wisdom Body.
2. Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers) – Wu Tang Clan (1993)
The original. And, many people would crucify me for not putting it in the number one spot, but hey/ It’s my own personal opinion, and it doesn’t take away anything from this album as whole whole. It’s undoubtedly one of the most influential albums in the whole of hip hop, and will be remembered alongside classic like Illmatic and Life after Death.
Perhaps the reason that I didn’t rank this as my number one Wu Tang album is the fact thatso many people place it there solely on its influence. The album itself is amazing no doubt, but I feel that it’s just not a well produced as my number one pick. Anywho, this album was released in ’93 and took the East Coast hip hop scene by storm. This was before the West Coast really rose to prominence with Tupac and Biggie releasing their best albums, but they both held prestige in a different way.
While the LA focussed largely on party tunes for the clubs, Wu Tang stuck to the gritty music that they grew up on. And in the process, they changed the NY hip hop scene forever.
Tracks to check: Check the whole album. Avoid none, really. It’s only 12 tracks long (originally, the deluxe is 15 tracks). You do have to listen to it all to appreciate it properly. But Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ is my personal favorite track.
1. Liquid Swords – GZA (1995)
Now, there are some who will disagree with this being number one. I can understand your contempt. 36 chambers was the birth of Wu Tang. OB4CL was a gritty street album that spoke the streets. But for me, Liquid Swords is the best Wu Tang album, and here’s why.
It’s like nothing that came before it. It does have the street gritty-ness that’s entailed in all of the Wu albums, but it has something extra that makes it into a special album. It’s thematic, following a set pattern that helps the listener really immerse themselves into the story. Ghostface gets a lot of credit for being the storyteller amongst the Wu Tang, but in my opinion, this is storytelling at its very finest.
It has to be said that GZA cannot take all of the credit for this masterpiece of an album. Produced by leader RZA, the chemistry between them is undeniable. Of course, this is natural as they’re cousins, and the groups oldest members along with ODB. Anywho, RZA’s production on Liquid Swords is certainly amongst his best work. Because he knows GZA’s flow and style, the album merges together perfectly. In an interview, GZA even noted that RZA made changes to the record towards the end of recording by adding in certain kung fu film samples. These certainly help to make the album, following a kung fu fantasy theme that epitomises the Wu Tang.
It’s fitting that all of the Wu feature on this album in some from, as in my opinion, this is the best project from anyone from the Clan. Never will there be another Liquid Swords.
Tracks to check: Hells Wind Staff (the best skit ever), Shadowboxin’, Duel of the Iron Mic.
Tracks to avoid: None. You have to listen to the whole project to appreciate it.