The year is 1993. A cassette is placed into a tape deck and played. After a series of beeps, a kung-fu sample plays, followed by a war cry of “Bring the muthafuckin’ ruckus, bring the muthafuckin’ ruckus”, repeated over and over. A man begins to rap — “Ghostface, catch the blast of a hype verse/My Glock burst, leavin a hearse/I did worse.”
And thus begins the Wu-Tang Clan’s landmark debut album Enter The Wu-Tang, which turned 20 this year. At times it’s hard to fathom that this group of nine men left such an indelible mark on hip-hop. Enter The Wu-Tang was released on the same day as A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders and just two weeks before Snoop Doggy Dogg’s blockbuster debut album, Doggystyle. All three albums changed the game as we know it; with Doggystyle bringing even more potent G-funk to the table than Dr. Dre’s The Chronic that preceded it, and Midnight Marauders raising the bar for production —.
But Enter The Wu-Tang had lingering effects that resonated beyond hip-hop. Almost immediately, the concept of the Wu-Tang Killer Bee began to take shape on a global scale as the swarm grew larger and larger, spreading to countries all over the world. A bit of the phenomenon was captured in the 1995 hip-hop documentary, The Show.
As a group, the Wu-Tang Clan was signed to Loud/RCA Records but their deal was structured in a way that allowed each member to negotiate deals for solo albums on any label of their choosing. During the first round of solo albums, Raekwon stayed with Loud/RCA, GZA went to Geffen, Ol Dirty Bastard found a home with Elektra, Method Man signed with Def Jam and Ghostface Killah landed with Sony.
The plan was to make Method Man the first breakout star. In fact, the B-side to the group’s first single was the song that bears his own name, “Method Man”. His album Tical was released in November 1994 and months later, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s severely underrated Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version was released in March of 1995. Later in the year, Raekwon’s seminal classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx made its debut with Ghostface Killah as a featured guest. GZA’s Liquid Swords rounded out the list of Wu-Tang solo efforts for that calendar year.
In October of 1996, powered by the album’s lead single “Daytona 500”, Ghostface Killah’s debut album Ironman was released and in quid pro quo fashion, featured Raekwon and Cappadonna as featured guests. Hits like the the aforementioned “Daytona 500” and the tales of courting older women on “Camay” showed more versatility than Ghost had exhibited on Wu’s debut effort. “All That I Got Is You” was a nostalgic, unrelenting look at Ghost’s rough childhood.
The release of Ironman shined a brighter light on Ghostface Killah as the charismatic-but-ferocious emcee with a penchant for emotionally drenched, oftentimes nostalgic songs and vivid storytelling abilities that at times have a tendency to tug at the heartstrings without being preachy or unbearably corny. All of those remarkable qualities seemed to be bubbling under the surface on Enter The Wu-Tang, but when given ample opportunity to showcase his talents, Ghostface was quick to make the most of those chances.
Following the opening rhyme of “Bring Da Ruckus” and a verse on “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” Ghostface, along with Raekwon, commanded absolute attention with “Can It All Be So Simple”, Enter The Wu-Tang’s fourth and final single released in February of 1994. The track samples Gladys Knight & The Pips’ version of “The Way We Were”. Yearning for a better life, Ghostface paints a picture of an existence that includes luxuries such as vast lands enabling him to plant rows upon rows of his own Sensemilia crops to go along with an extravagant yacht to sail across the open waters.
The song then comes back down to Earth and the poverty-stricken reality that permeates his everyday living. He winds up setting it all on the backburner and dismissing it as a “big dream”, while being satisfied with the mere ability to maintain in the here and now. Ultimately, a higher being steps in and gives Ghostface the directions to the land of prosperity, allowing him to bloom and blossom.
As Enter The Wu-Tang draws near a close, “Tearz” finds Ghostface and RZA both kicking tales of devastating losses that can occur when they are least expected. In RZA’s verse, he raps about the unfortunate robbery and subsequent murder of his younger sibling while he was out on an errand to pick up a loaf of bread for the house — the irony being that RZA had done something similar to someone else. In Ghostface’s verse, he expounds on the story of a male who happens to be extremely ignorant to the many dangers of unprotected and promiscuous sex. He rolled the dice once and lived to tell the story, but subsequent trysts were not as fortunate for the story’s character, Moe.
Following Enter The Wu-Tang, the Clan released the highly-successful Wu-Tang Forever in 1997 and The W in late 2000. Ghostface’s sophomore effort, Supreme Clientele was also released in 2000 and has since been recognized as one of the best projects to come out of the Wu chambers, solo or otherwise. It’s a hip-hop classic — and another step on the road to superstardom.
Hits like “Cherchez La Ghost” and “Apollo Kids”, along with his flair for the extravagant including big oversized designer robes and gaudy jewelry helped to solidify Ghostface as a star in his own right. He began to add more elements to his arsenal, including vivid stream-of-consciousness rhymes and references that seem to come out of left field but still work effortlessly.
In 2001, the Wu-Tang Clan released Iron Flag while Ghostface dropped Bulletproof Wallets. The Clan would not release another album until 2007, but in the interim, Ghostface Killah switched record companies, dropped The Pretty Toney Album in 2004 and Fishscale, an album considered by some to be his magnum opus.
While many members of the Wu-Tang Clan were actively recording and releasing music, for all intents and purposes, Ghostface had emerged as the Clan’s flagbearer — keeping the name in the limelight. Towards the end of 2007, both the Clan (8 Diagrams) and Ghostface (The Big Doe Rehab) had albums scheduled to hit retail shelves on the same day before RZA decided to delay the group album for one week. The group has been working on a new album slated for release sometime this year entitled A Better Tomorrow on RZA’s Soul Temple Records imprint.
Since the release of the last Wu-Tang Clan album, Ghostface Killah has remained as prolific as ever. In addition to his own solo albums, he has recorded collaboration projects with the likes of MF DOOM, Trife Da God, Raekwon & Method Man (as Wu-Massacre), and D-Block — forming the Wu-Block supergroup. In April of 2013, Ghostface Killah was hitting the road with Adrian Younge and Venice Dawn, playing at small, intimate venues in support of Twelve Reasons to Die, his tenth solo album and first since 2010’s Apollo Kids.
In 1993, absolutely no one, save for Ghostface Killah could have seen this coming. To humbly borrow a line from the man himself — when the face got revealed, game got real. Ghostface Killah rose through the ranks of Wu-Tang Clan, paid his dues and deserves his rightful place as the savior of the Wu-Tang regime. He weathered the storm and although there have been some very public moments of dissension in the ranks, the group finds a way to work through their issues.
The Wu-Tang Clan is like a family, and it definitely shows at times. It’s almost fitting that the cover art to the aforementioned Twelve Reasons to Die shows Ghostface Killah once again donning that well-known mask; and while it isn’t truly a cycle back to where he started from, the concept album is chock full of the gritty storytelling rhymes that made so many take notice of him in the first place.
// Notes from the Road
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