When nine masked rappers from the slums of Shaolin in the early ’90s New York hip hop scene, no-one had a clue what was going to happen. Only RZA did.
Over the next five years, under the Abbott’s dictatorship, the Wu-Tang Clan would transform from a ragtag underground crew to the single most recognisable hip hop brand in history.
From multiplatinum, number one albums to video games and clothing lines, the Wu managed to penetrate all facets of American pop culture while retaining their gritty aesthetic. It all started with their debut album though.
From Raekwon’s unforgettable verse on “C.R.E.A.M.” to RZA’s heartbreaking tale on “Tearz,” here are the top 10 best verses off Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
10. RZA – Verse 1 on “Tearz”
Other rappers on the track: Ghostface Killah
For the most part, RZA took a back seat rapping-wise on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut. The Abbott was content to play the production maestro in the early days and voicing the occasional hook and intro (“Bring da Ruckus”, “Clan in da Front”). But that’s not to say he didn’t have his moments. RZA dominated the fan-favourite cut “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit” and spun a heartbreaking tale on about his little brother getting shot over a mournful Wendy Rene sample on “Tearz.”
Check the script, me and the gods gettin' ripped Blunts in the dip, forty dogs in my lip Had a box, 'boom boom' the bass would blast We was laughin' at all the girls that passed Conversation, brothers had began to discuss (Hey yo, Rob, remember that kid you bust?) Aw yeah, he ran, but he didn't get far 'Cause I dropped him, heh heh heh heh heh ha Not knowin' exactly what lied ahead My little brother, my mother sent him out for bread Get the Wonder, it's a hot day in the summer Didn't expect to come across a crazy gunner "Hey, Shorty, check it, run the bag and the dough!" But he was brave, looked him in the eye, and said "No!" Money splattered him, BOW! Then he snatched the bag Hit his pockets, then he jetted up the Ave Girls screamin', the noise up and down the block (Hey, Rakeem!) What? (Your little brother got shot!) I ran frantically, then I dropped down to his feet I saw the blood all over the hot concrete I picked him up, then I held him by his head His eyes shut, that's when I knew he was… Aw man! How do I say goodbye? It's always the good ones that have to die Memories in the corner of my mind Flashbacks, of us laughin' all the time I taught him all about the bees and birds But I wish I had a chance to sing these three words
9. Method Man – Verse 1 on “Method Man”
Other rappers on the track: N/A
Method Man’s flow, and his delivery, and his voice, and his charisma on the mic, is just so goddamn incredible that he can say anything he wants on a song and make it sound hot. It was those traits that made him one of the best rappers of the ’90s. On “Method Man” (only one of two solo joints on Enter the Wu-Tang), the husky voice rapper effortlessly jumps from one pop culture reference to another while literally spitting nurses rhymes. And it’s the most amazing thing ever.
Hey, you, get off my cloud You don't know me and you don't know my style Who be gettin' flam when they come to a jam? Here I am, here I am, the Method Man Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, hey, the Method Man Don't eat Skippy, Jif or Peter Pan Peanut butter 'cause I'm not butter In fact, I snap back like a rubber Band, I be Sam, Sam-I-Am And I don't eat green eggs and ham Style'll hit ya, wham, then goddamn You'll be like, "Oh shit, that's the jam" Turn it up, now hear me get buck w-w-wild I'm about to blow, light me up (Light me up) Upside, downside, inside and outside Hittin' you from every angle, there's no doubt I Am the one and only Method Man The master of the plan, rappin' shit like Saran Wrap, with some of this and some of that Hold up (What?) I tawt I taw a putty tat Over there, but I think he best to beware Of the diggy dog shit right here Yippy-yippy-yay, yippy-yah, yippy-yo Like Deck said, "This ain't your average flow" Comin' like rah, ooh-ah, achie-kah Tell me, how you like it so far, baby paw? The poetry's in motion, coast to coast and Rub it on your skin like lotion What's the commotion? Oh my Lord Another corn chopped by the Wu-Tang sword "Hey, hey, hey" like Fat Albert It's the Method Man, ain't no if ands about it It's the Method
8. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Verse 4 on “Shame On A Ni**a”
Other rappers on the track: Raekwon, Method Man
Ol’ Dirty Bastard didn’t appear on the album’s opening track “Bring da Ruckus,” so save for his appearance on “Protect Ya Neck,” this was the first time listeners would be treated to his off-the-wall, hyper-kinetic rapping style. Listening to ODB rap on “Shame on a Ni**a,” you’re reminded of what Method Man said about him later on the album – “then we got the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, ’cause there ain’t no father to his style.”
Yo! I come with that ol' loco style from my vocal Couldn't peep it with a pair of bifocals I'm no joker, play me as a joker Be on you like a house on fire, smoke ya Crews be actin' like they gangs, anyway Be like, "Warriors, come out and play!" Burn me, I get into shit, I let it out like diarrhea Got burnt once but that was only gonorrhea Dirty, I keep shit stains in my drawers So I can get fizza-funky for ya Murder, taste the flame of the Wu-Tang Rah! Here comes the Tiger vs. Crane I'll be like wild with my style Punk, you play me, chump, you get jumped Wu is comin' through at a theater near you And get funk like a shoe, what?
7. Inspectah Deck – Verse 3 on “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber”
Other rappers on the track: Raekwon, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, RZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, GZA
Method Man had the best flow and charisma, Ghost had the hyper-aggressive and distinct voice Ol’ Dirty whirled around with his maniacal energy, but Deck was bar-for-bar the best rapper on the Clan’s debut. What the Rebel INS does with his verse on “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” is pure poetry in motion.
Yo, yeah, yo I leave the mic in body bags My rap style has the force to leave ya lost like the Tribe of Shabazz Murderous material made by a madman It's the mic wrecker, Inspectah, bad man From the bad lands of the Killa Rap fanatic, representin' with the skill that's iller Dare to compare, get pierced just like your ear The Shooby Doo-Wop pop, strictly hardware Armed and geared 'cause I just broke out the prison Charged by the system for murderin' the rhythm Now, lo and behold another deadly episode Bound to catch another fuckin' charge when I explode!
6. Ghostface Killah – Verse 2 on “Can It Be All So Simple”
Other rappers on the track: Raekwon
While all nine members of the Wu would display amazing chemistry throughout the debut, there was a special bond between Ghostface Killah and Raekwon the Chef. The two MCs with rhymes most drenched in the street life, Ghost and Rae did their best work weaving stories about their drug dealing days while conjuring up vivid imageries of the future. Ghost’s verse on “Can It Be All So Simple” is a goddamn movie.
Kickin' the fly clichés, doin' duets with Rae and A Happens to make my day Though I'm tired of bustin' off shots, havin' to rock knots Runnin' up in spots and makin' shit hot I'd rather flip shows instead of those Hangin' on my livin' room wall, my first joint and it went gold! I want to lamp, I want to be in the shade Plus the spotlight, gettin' my dick rode all night I want to have me a phat yacht And enough land to go and plant my own sess crops But for now it's just a big dream 'Cause I find myself in a place where I'm last seen My thoughts must be relaxed, be able to maintain 'Cause times is changed and life is strange The glorious days is gone and everybody's doin' bad Yo, mad lives is up for grabs Brothers passin' away, I gotta make wakes Receivin' all types of calls from Upstate Yo, I can't cope with the pressure, settlin' for lesser The God left lessons on my dresser So I can bloom and blossom, find a new way To continue to make more hits with Rae and A Sunshine plays a major part in the daytime (Peace to mankind, Ghostface carry a black 9, ni**a) Word up, it's all like that… yeah
5. Masta Killa – Verse 6 on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”
Producer: RZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Other rappers on the track: Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah
Here’s a fun fact for you hip hop heads: Killah Priest and Masta Killa were competing for the last verse on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’.” According to the Wu affiliate, he and Masta Killa were writing during a marathon studio session, but he ultimately fell asleep and when he woke up he realised he had missed out on the spot. The most low-key member of the Wu, Masta Killa’s verse on here is a fan favourite and showed fans why he belonged amongst the ranks of his deadly Shaolin brothers.
Homicide's illegal and death is the penalty What justifies the homicide when he dies in his own iniquity? It's the master of the Mantis Rapture comin' at ya We have an APB on an MC Killa! Looks like the work of a Masta Evidence indicates that his stature Merciless like a terrorist, hard to capture The flow changes like a chameleon Plays like a friend and stabs you like a dagger This technique attacks the immune system Disguised like a lie, paralysin' the victim You scream as it enters your bloodstream Erupts your brain from the pain these thoughts contain Movin' on a ni**a with the speed of a centipede And injure any motherfuckin' contender!
4. Inspectah Deck – Verse 2 on “C.R.E.A.M.”
Other rappers on the track: Raekwon, Method Man
For the most part on the Wu’s debut, Deck was going all-out with the rhymes and dropping memorable bars on bars. But for “C.R.E.A.M.,” Deck got into his storytelling bag, talking about his drug dealing days, going to prison as a young youth, and experiencing depression. It’s a beautifully vivid moment and one of the most memorable rap verses of all time.
It's been twenty-two long, hard years, I'm still strugglin' Survival got me buggin', but I'm alive on arrival I peep at the shape of the streets And stay awake to the ways of the world 'cause shit is deep A man with a dream with plans to make cream Which failed; I went to jail at the age of fifteen A young buck sellin' drugs and such, who never had much Tryin' to get a clutch at what I could not— The court played me short, now I face incarceration Pacin', goin' upstate's my destination Handcuffed in the back of a bus, forty of us Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough But as the world turned, I learned life is hell Livin' in the world no different from a cell Every day I escape from Jakes givin' chase Sellin' base, smokin' bones in the staircase Though I don't know why I chose to smoke sess I guess that's the time when I'm not depressed But I'm still depressed, and I ask: what's it worth? Ready to give up so I seek the old Earth Who explained workin' hard may help you maintain To learn to overcome the heartaches and pain We got stick-up kids, corrupt cops, and crack rocks And stray shots, all on the block that stays hot Leave it up to me while I be livin' proof To kick the truth to the young black youth But shorty's runnin' wild, smokin' sess, drinkin' beer And ain't tryna hear what I'm kickin' in his ear Neglected for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted That what? That life is hectic
3. GZA – Verse 8 on “Protect Ya Neck”
Other rappers on the track: Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, RZA
“He the head, let’s put it that way. We form like Voltron, and GZA happen to be the head,” is what Method Man described GZA’s role in the Wu-Tang Clan. The oldest member of the group, GZA had already been through the ringer during his earlier years, after signing to Cold Chillin’ Records, one of the first rap-based record labels, as The Genius and flopping with his 1991 debut album, Words from the Genius. Two years later, he would come back as GZA and vent his frustrations with record labels on the Wu’s debut. This verse on “Protect Ya Neck” would be the summation of GZA’s feelings towards corporate America and clueless industry executives.
The Wu is too slammin' for these Cold Killin' labels Some ain't had hits since I seen Aunt Mabel Be doin' artists in like Cain did Abel Now they money's gettin' stuck to the gum under the table That's what you get when you misuse what I invent Your empire falls and you lose every cent For tryna blow up a scrub Now that thought was just as bright as a 20-watt light bulb Should've pumped it when I rocked it Ni**as so stingy they got short arms and deep pockets This goes on in some companies With majors, they're scared to death to pump these First of all, who's your A&R? A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar? But he don't know the meanin' of dope When he's lookin' for a suit-and-tie rap That's cleaner than a bar of soap And I'm the dirtiest thing in sight Matter of fact, bring out the girls, and let's have a mud fight
2. Ghostface Killah – Verse 1 on “Bring Da Ruckus”
Other rappers on the track: RZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, GZA
You couldn’t have asked for a better rapper to set off this album than Ghostface Killah. His opening lines, “Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse,” will forever live in the minds of hip hop fans. “Bring Da Ruckus” is one of the hardest rap songs of all time, and a lot of it has to do with how Ghost delivered his verse.
Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse My Glock burst, leave in a hearse, I did worse I come rough, tough like an elephant tusk Your head rush, fly like Egyptian musk Aww shit, Wu-Tang Clan spark the wicks, an' However I master the trick just like Nixon Causin' terror, quick damage your whole era Hard rocks is locked the fuck up, or found shot P.L.O. style, hazardous, 'cause I wreck this dangerous I blow sparks like Waco, Texas
1. Raekwon – Verse 1 on “C.R.E.A.M.”
Other rappers on the track: Inspectah Deck, Method Man
Raekwon’s performance on the aforementioned “Can It Be All So Simple” and “C.R.E.A.M.” was just a preview of the rapper’s wide-screen cinematic lenses that would show up in its full form on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… “I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side” is perhaps the most famous line off the album, and Chef’s verse as a whole has to go down in hip hop history as a top 10 rap verse, at the very least.
I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side Stayin' alive was no jive Had secondhands, Mom's bounced on old man So then we moved to Shaolin land A young youth, yo, rockin' the gold tooth, 'Lo goose Only way I begin the G off was drug loot And let's start it like this, son Rollin' with this one and that one, pullin' out gats for fun But it was just a dream for the teen Who was a fiend, started smokin' woolies at 16 And runnin' up in gates and doin' hits for high stakes Makin' my way on fire escapes No question, I would speed for cracks and weed The combination made my eyes bleed No question, I would flow off and try to get the dough all Stickin' up white boys in ball courts My life got no better, same damn 'Lo sweater Times is rough and tough like leather Figured out I went the wrong route So I got with a sick-ass clique and went all out Catchin' keys from 'cross seas Rollin' in MPV's, every week we made forty G's Yo, ni**a, respect mine, or here go the TEC-9 Ch-chick-pow! Move from the gate now