Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the 36 Chambers

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

August 30, New York: This post is about a different friend named Chris. This Chris was the sports anchor of our high school television show. I was the news anchor (“news” = announcements). Chris and I were good buds and he was often forceful of opinion. In this particular case I don’t recall the beginning point of contention, but Chris one day took me to school about hip hop. He had merciful pity for his poor white friend and graced him with some wisdom. He handed me a cassette tape of the Wu-Tang Clan and said “Go home, listen to this twice through, and then bring it back to me.” I did that (and I copied it) and oh man, did Chris save my life.

Enter the 36 Chambers was the first time I really experienced incredible hip-hop for what it was. Sat down and listened to it. Most of my youth had been dirty south dancefloor rhymes and radio hits. Sure, I’d heard Dre and Snoop and Tupac, but I’d heard all of them through the filter of a white, suburban, MTV-viewing audience. And that ended up not being my thing. Around the time people-who-were-not-in-gangs were really into acting like they were in gangs, I got into techno and Fiona Apple and punk. Hip-hop to me was just what was on the radio (this is probably the root of the disagreement Chris and I had.)

This album, though, this album revealed a whole different world to me. This gaggle of guys was awesome and awesomely talented. Fantastic beats. Incredible rhymes. And so many artful movie samples— by which Wu-Tang creates a whole WORLD within their mythos. I once took a class on hip-hop from Dr. Todd Boyd who dedicated an entire day to discussing the majesty of the Wu-Tang Clan, drawing an incredible parallel between them with their Shaolin vocabulary and Parliament-Funkadelic with their space alien world. Best day of class ever.

And you know what? I didn’t hate the skits on this album. They were little snatches of life. “Where my killer tape at?” This album is the best. Thanks, Chris.

You should own a piece of the Wu-Tang, like the secret Shaolin you are.

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