Wu, as they say, is life. It’s hard to underestimate just how important the Wu-Tang Clan were to the evolution of hip hop as we know it today. Concepts like ‘hardcore hip hop’ and ‘posse cuts’ had been firmly established within the genre. Still, the late 1980s East Coast hip hop world was populated mainly by alternative groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, groups that were softened and more palatable.
Meanwhile, out in Compton, California, a new group brought a harder, more aggressive, and more streetwise version of hip hop into the mainstream. To call N.W.A. controversial would be underselling it: this was a group whose most famous song was a direct attack on the police and got them a disapproving letter from the FBI as well as causing chaos and riots whenever they rolled into town. Never before had anyone in hip hop inspired so much zeal, fueled so much public rage, and attracted so much wanted and unwanted attention. The future of hip hop was now on the West Coast, and so began a footrace to be the most authentic group possible. Wu-Tang Clan have a rich history but a richer discography. Below, we’ve got the ultimate Wu playlist.
The Wu-Tang Clan didn’t need to prove their authenticity to anybody. They were a collection of friends and family members from the Stapleton Houses projects of Staten Island; the Wu created their own world of ‘Shaolin’, complete with violent altercations, drugs, chess, and kung fu references. Stepping into their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) felt like stepping into an alternate universe, with its murky production and radical verses that found nine MCs, all bringing a different style to the fore.
That was the eternal appeal of the Wu: just like choosing a superhero or a player for your favourite sports team, you could pick your favourite MC from the Wu-Tang Clan. Maybe you liked the frantic flow of Raekwon the Chef, or the laid back sounds of Inspectah Deck. You could be partial to the smoothness of GZA, or go in the complete opposite direction with the anarchic filthiness of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Method Man knew how to command attention, while U-God and Masta Killa made the most of their brief appearances. RZA acted and sounded like the leader, while Ghostface Killa crept up and constantly stole the show. Whoever you favoured, they all brought something fresh and unique.
In order to figure out who would get to rap over certain verses, RZA would have the MCs face off head to head, often forcing them to improvise their lines to see who would get to appear on the track. This gladiator style of rhyming favoured the precise flow of GZA, who usually got slotted towards the end because no one could follow him, the attention-grabbing rhymes of Raekwon, and the scene-stealing buffoonery of ODB, who all appear on most of the LP’s tracks.
While there is a good argument for suggesting that the albums of the group have only deteriorated in time, there is still a potent ream of songs to get lost in. 328 tracks is enough for any band to create their own world, but this playlist is a powerhouse of Wu’s perfect image of ‘Shaolin’.
Below, find the 328-track playlist chronicling the career of the Wu-Tang Clan.