Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of hip-hop’s kung-fu heroes.
I actually liked Drake’s “Wu-Tang Forever”. Once you got past the inevitable criticisms (“This is disrespectful to their legacy,” etc.), you actually had a good track filled with Drake-isms and 40’s 808s-backed melancholy. Could we do without the bite off “It’s Yourz”? Yeah, we could. But the world still turns despite what the rage last year might have you thinking.
Plus, Drake and the Wu-Tang Clan aren’t completely different. Just mostly. Their main similarity is how they immediately compelled with a fully developed sound. Drake came with the sing-rap and 40’s spacy, Billboard-ready abyss. The soldiers of Shaolin didn’t go down as smoothly. These cats were far grimier and more threatening in their aesthetic — and this isn’t just in comparison to Drake. Think about the shock the uninformed got when Ghostface Killah opened “Bring da Ruckus”: “Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse/ My Glock burst, leave in a hearse, I did worse.” There’s an urgency that trails throughout that seminal debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), that hits like being pressed near a dirty, jagged knife — not as deadly, but just as effective at reminding you you’re alive when that final kung fu sample takes its leave.
Another thing Drake didn’t do: create a mythology. No other hip-hop group warrants a manual. The Five Percenter wisdom. The Shaolin influences. The aliases. The untold stories of the Wu affiliates. There has never been a hip-hop group that came with so many influences, eccentricities, backstories, and, eventually, classics (Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ironman, etc.). This was an empire sitting on top of platinum certifications. But as the recent months of turmoil and the polarizing A Better Tomorrow show, all empires falter at some point. Let the record show that this has been one of hip-hop’s mightier ones.
— Brian “Profound Desperado”* Josephs
*All contributor nicknames come from this Wu-Tang name generator, because it’s still fun.