The beginning of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) leads us into 80s martial arts movies. Before any music can be heard, dialogue from Shaolin & Wu-Tang and Ten Tigers from Kwangtung reverberates through the speakers. “On guard, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”
From here, “Bring Da Ruckus” slashes aggressively with chorus shouts from Prince Rakeem aka RZA himself, and as he literally “brings the motherfucking ruckus,” 36 Chambers introduces its gritty, manic and in-your-face hip-hop that inspired thousands and set forth one of the biggest hip-hop branches of all time.
At the time of Liquid Swords’ release, Wu-Tang Clan had already established itself as the group that reinvented hip-hop at its very core. From 36 Chambers to Tical, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Return to the 36 Chambers, the Wu had MCs hiding while their style continued to caress the genre like a game of chess. More importantly however, is that the Wu-Tang Clan’s versatility dominated every spectrum of the genre at the time. The group’s stories had such rhythm and flow it made the Amazon River look like a ditch, and RZA’s production varied from raw, stripped down beats (Tical, 36 Chambers) to sinuous symphonic works with a hip-hop base (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…). By the late summer of 1995, Wu-Tang Clan wasn’t only hip-hop’s best, they were becoming influential in every which way to artists around the country.
If anything, the November release of Liquid Swords only cemented this notion down further, but it also showed fans and critics that the Genius/GZA was the best pure lyricist in the group and one of the best in all of hip-hop. Masked with easy delivery and unyielding rhymes, GZA’s lines come off like free-flowing honey from a spoon, and his rich and expansive imagery paints a beautiful portrait of Wu street influence.
On “Investigative Reports,” GZA takes the second verse:
“Calling all cars, calling all cars Ghetto / Psychos, armed and dangerous, leaving mad scars on those / Who are found bound, gagged and shot when they blast the spot / Victims took off like astronauts.”
With all of the verses describing GZA’s home of Staten Island and the New York streets, the hooks on Liquid Swords are just as notable. “Gold” sees GZA taking the lead with one of the most memorable Wu choruses to date: “Fiends ain’t coming fast enough / There is no cut that’s pure enough / I can’t fold I need gold I re-up and reload / Product must be sold to you.”
The hidden gem behind Liquid Swords is that every Clan member makes an appearance and delivers, while at the same time shaping their own content and style to fit the quiet demeanor and presence of the record as a whole. This makes Liquid Swords feel consistent and eerily beautiful throughout as it rattles off track after track. Songs like “Cold World” and “Liquid Swords” hold the record together like glue and blockbuster tracks like “4th Chamber” and “Shadowboxin’” are spine tingling posse cuts that overwhelm the listener with positive sound.
RZA’s production on Liquid Swords is perfectly constructed for GZA’s calm delivery. The kung-fu samples are slimy and creepy as they muster up insane visuals; the songs are brilliantly layered and noticeably more concise than past Wu projects; and the sound of each track is fitted with unique doses of samples and sounds that compliment Liquid Swords as a whole. Like always, RZA is on top of his game.
Liquid Swords ranks with 36 Chambers and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… in terms of the best of Wu’s work, but to limit this record to just that stat is a disgrace. As a whole, Liquid Swords reinforces the fact that GZA’s meddling lyrics and unforced lines of genius are some of the best in the game. Liquid Swords also represents undisputed collaboration and cohesiveness, as RZA and the rest of the collective fit themselves to follow the record’s concept. This is undoubtedly one of the best Wu records ever, not only for its construction and content, but also for its influence on both the Wu-Tang Clan and hip-hop as a whole.
Released in 1995, Liquid Swords by GZA the Genius is arguably the best solo album from a Wu-Tang member (Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Ghostface Killah’s Ironman and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Brooklyn Zoo are right up there). The great thing about Wu-Tang is that their sound and approach to music will always be innovative and push the limits of how hip-hop is defined. The organization of the legendary ensemble, led by the RZA, has been emulated but will never be duplicated. With its sinister interludes featuring samples of classic Kung-Fu films, trademark RZA beats and the poetic prowess of GZA, Liquid Swords is a testament to the brilliance of the Wu-Tang Clan. The hidden greatness of this record is that each Wu-Tang member featured takes on an accompanying role, adding his unique vocal style all the while making space for GZA to shine.
For instance, the second track, “Duel Of The Iron Mic,” would be nothing without the memorable hook contributions from Ol’ Dirty Bastard and verses from Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck. That being said, GZA completely takes the song with his verse with lyrics such as, “I ain’t particular, I bang like vehicular homicides on July 4th in Bed-Stuy / Where money don’t grow on trees / And there’s thieving MC’s who cut-throats to rake leaves.” Another example of this is in “Living In The World Today” and “Shadowboxin’” that heavily feature Method Man on hook, background vocals and some of the verses. Over the finely tuned production, Method Man doesn’t take over any of the tracks, which he would be totally capable of doing. Instead, he provides the needed backdrop for each track, making the necessary space for GZA to fully display his abilities as an MC.
This is not to say that GZA is incapable of holding his own. Following my favorite interlude of any hip-hop song, complete with the spine-chilling sample from Shogun Assassin, GZA transports the audience to another level of consciousness with, “I’m on a mission that niggas say is impossible / But when I swing my swords they all choppable / I be the body dropper, the heartbeat stopper/ Child educator, plus head amputator/ Cause niggas styles are like old Mark 5 sneakers / Lyrics are weak like clock radio speakers.” There is no better example of GZA’s dominance then with “Cold World” where he describes the hardship of the projects, brilliantly using the cadence of Twas The Night Before Christmas; “It was the night before New Year’s, and all through the fucking projects / Not a handgun was silent, not even a tec.” There is no doubt that GZA is in fact a lyrical genius. However, the accompaniment from other Wu-Tang members present the necessary support for GZA’s lyricism to soar.
There is no doubt that GZA’s Liquid Swords is one of Wu-Tang’s best solo efforts from an MC. There is an abundance of great solo works form the likes of Method Man, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. However, what stands out on Liquid Swords is GZA’s lyrical talent, the production of RZA and the complementary sounds from the other Wu-Tang members that serve to round this album into a classic that will stand the test of time.
When you think of the game of chess, what comes to your mind? If you answered “hip-hop,” then you already know where I’m going, but to some chess and hip-hop isn’t the connection that is made. However, these two go hand-in-hand more ways than one might think. For one, both are battles: chess pits two sides against one another with the goal of trapping the King, in which pieces are thrown, movements are made and victories are seized; in hip-hop, everything is a battle, whether it’s between a movement and a certain oppression, getting out a certain ideal, pitting two MC’s head-to-head in a freestyle or having b-boys facing off in a break battle. Those reasons, along with plenty more, showcase this nature. Secondly, chess is a game that is notorious in the urban community. From the park tables that are swamped with players everyday to the inner-city championship tournaments held all around the world, chess has manifested itself deep within the roots of urban culture and has consequently become a beacon and symbol in hip-hop.
For the Wu-Tang Clan, chess has long had an important role. RZA, a founder and the producer for the collective, has long stood by chess and has stated that it’s part of the “Wu essence.” In The Wu-Tang Manuel, RZA goes on to say, “It’s a game of war–it’s about battle. And Wu-Tang was formed in battles from challenging each other.”
RZA isn’t the only member to publicly point to chess as one of the Wu staples. In fact, the collective has made a notion to include chess whenever possible. Littered throughout the Wu music archives, chess not only is mentioned, it’s used as symbolism. Moreover, samples containing chess dialogue are strewn among these tracks, and GZA went as far as to include a mini-chess set in his Liquid Swords reissue box.
So with all this, I thought it would be fun to think of the primary Wu members as chess pieces. In fact, wouldn’t it be cool to have a chess set, but instead of normal pieces you’d have miniature Wu members? Who would represent the King? What about the Rooks? This is my take, something that can and should be argued over among Wu fans all over.
Note: There are eight non-Pawn pieces to a chess set: one King, one Queen, two Rooks, two Bishops and two Knights. Because the current Wu lineup has eight members, I will use them. I dedicate this idea to the ninth member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Russell Tyrone Jones aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and he will be the “second King” alongside the one I have chosen from the eight current members. Rest in peace Mr. Jones. Also, there are eight Pawns, and I figured that since all of the primary Wu-Tang members hold the other positions, Pawn pieces can be represented by Wu-Tang affiliates, Killa Beez and Wu Fam. Picking those eight individuals is up to the reader.