In 1993 America was a country in the process of unprecedented change. The democrats had just won the US presidential election ushering in the ‘Clinton years’, the country was in recession in the wake of the first Gulf War and the Rodney King case was making it’s way through the US federal court. Economic and racial tentions were running high and people (mainly urban teens) were looking for something to open the pressure valve. This is the world into which Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) was born. The late 80s hip hop scene was dominated by the West coast by way of acts like N.W.A. and Dr Dre, but the pendulum swung firmly across to the East coast (namely, New York) with the emergence of the Wu Tang Clan in the early 90s. The nine piece groups’ de-facto leader, GZA, sculpted the foundations of the album out of old school disco samples and clips from vintage martial arts movies laid on top of big, eerie mid-tempo beats. Nobody had ever really attempted this before and the end result was a hip hop record that solidified the East coast renaissance of the genre.
The opening track, ‘Bring Da Ruckus’, is one of the most definite statements of intent ever to be recorded. It is a vociferous call to arms for a disenfranchised youth and it would have been impossible to pass a Jeep in any given neighbourhood without hearing ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ rattling its tinted windows. The rapping style on 36 Cambers was more direct and confrontational than the West coast style and this gave the music an intense, ominous presence. The flows tell stories of hardship, violence and drug abuse that, for some, were (and still are) an every day reality of living in projects like the bridge in New York. The tracks on 36 Chambers encapsulated a way of life people could identify with in the same way the melancholy nature of delta blues makes you feel better because you can find truth in the words. The harshness of the album simply mirrors the world in which it was made, something that wasn’t to be recreated until Nas’ Illmatic a year later. 36 Chambers is an album that still sounds fresh and, nearly twenty years on, a lot of people can still relate to the themes on the album today. Maybe that’s not such a good thing, but it’s what makes the album relevant and, ultimately, live on.