Song 50: Wu-Tang Clan, “Shame On A Nigga” (1993)

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New York magazine recently had a series of pieces about 1993, features that explained why that year is responsible for most things you love. As Nitsuh Bebe pointed out, it was an especially great year for “alternative” music debuts: Bjork, Beck, Radiohead, PJ Harvey. It was a pretty good year for hip-hop too: The ChronicBuhloone MindstateDoggystyleMidnight Marauders, and, of course, Enter the 36 Chambers.

I heard Wu-Tang Clan for the first time a couple of months ago. Look, I know! I know. But it’s been really fun getting to know them, and I’ve been glad to realize that 36 Chambers totally lives up to the hype. It’s not only hugely influential, especially for the East Coast hip-hop that followed, but the songs are lively, funny, and full of surprises.

My favorite song from 36 Chambers is “Shame On A Nigga,” on which Raekwon, Ol Dirty Bastard, and Method Man inform you of the ways in which they could kick your ass. Like many of the tracks on 36 Chambers, this is essentially a rap battle, complete with dueling pop culture references (Voltron, The Warriors). My favorite verse is from ODB (live and uncut!), invoking LL Cool J’s “Blaaaaw! How you like me now!” for maximum effect.

I read the other day about a Stax compilation that RZA put together, and it suddenly all made sense. Like the songs of Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, and Rufus Thomas, RZA’s beats and samples are both tightly wound and laid-back. ODB’s raspy delivery, heavy but nimble, is a perfect complement.

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