There’s a canon of great and classic Wu-Tang Clan songs, but when they were first coming out, a lot of us voluntarily overwhelmed our whole lives with the worlds they created, down to the smallest details. These songs weren’t singles & don’t get played out, but formed part of it all.
- “No Hook” by Shaquille O’Neal, featuring RZA & Method Man
Breaking my own parameters right off the bat, this WAS a single, with a video and everything, but still extremely underrated. People were too willing to write off Shaq because rap wasn’t his only job – sure, his albums would have been nothing without the huge list of talented guests and producers, but not everyone has to be a auteur! This song is especially dope because it’s pretty much a Method Man b-side featuring RZA and RZA-as-Shaq (whether RZA actually wrote Shaq’s verse, or big man was just excited to show the influence I don’t know, but “my name ain’t Shaq no more, call me Super Man EMB-A-LEM” is pretty rzable.
- “Shadowboxin” by GZA featuring Method Man
This is entirely a Method Man song featuring GZA, which was one of those really smart cross-pollinating moves RZA would employ to keep us all invested in every member who was working. The sped up voice sample loop feels more like it was left off Tical than like it was part of the mostly gnarly, electronic funk of Liquid Swords.
- “Hippa to da Hoppa” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Except for like three singles that get spun into the absolute dirt, almost every ODB song is a underrated LP cut. I don’t know if it was because he was such a scattered performer that RZA tended to do a lot of extra seasoning on the production end, but this track benefits from a strong, spirited, and coherent but still unpredictable set of verses as well as going through a few phases of different samples and programming that borders on melancholy but stays funky. The Booker T “Hip Hug Her” sample is one of the first that I spotted with my own ear so I’ll always have a extra soft spot for it.
- “P.L.O. Style” by Method Man featuring Carlton Fisk
Why were members and affiliates of Wu-Tang Clan sometimes named after Marvel Comics characters, and sometimes named after 1970s Major League Baseball stars? Knowing nothing about baseball besides how to nap in the outfield, I assumed at age 14 they got Kingpin’s real name wrong. Oops! This beat is gritty and layered, and the back and forth between MCs is charming.
- “Black Jesus” by Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon & U-God
Long-ass skit at the beginning of the track, sorry. That’s part of the history though, I honestly should have included more. I included this because the choir sample is epic, because U-God doesn’t get enough love, and because my first three choices for underrated LP cuts off Ironman all had the word “faggot” in them or something else that didn’t feel good to revisit.
- “Do You Really? (Thang Thang)” by Wu-Tang Clan
It’s nice to hear Masta Killa kick a verse like he’s fully awake. It’s a bonus to include the “Got to check out the avenue” interpolation on the skit that follows. Otherwise idk this is just a upbeat joint.
- “Dirty Dancin” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard featuring Method Man
How did almost total incoherence come together so good? ODB jumps in and out of flows, most likely written by Meth or GZA, but interrupts himself with dragged out inflections and layers of overdubs. Even Method Man got bizarre, reverb-drenched overdubs over his parts. It’s so messy, but doesn’t squander the listener’s attention. Even the few samples that sneak in around different parts of the beat reinforce the element of surprise while showing everything was put together with a deceptive amount of care.
- “Sub Crazy” by Method Man
First time I heard this was on community radio. I stayed up listening to the first half of the rap show, taping it, and when the first side was full, I’d flip it over and go to sleep, and listen to the second half on my paper route the next morning. I remember walking on Garden Street on a dreary, misty morning before school, sneaking issues of The Chronicle-Herald into screen doors, hearing this unprecedentedly weird and dark beat for the first time, and thinking this Wu-Tang thing wasn’t just kind of cool, it was maybe going to change everything.
- “Retro Godfather” by Method Man
You already know what I like about this.
- “Soul Power (Black Jungle) by Wu-Tang Clan featuring Flava Flav
Love this percussion, love this verse from U-God, love Method Man & Flava Flav bonding for life.
- “Rainy Dayz” by Raekwon featuring Ghostface Killah
I found this song so intensely moving as a kid. Going back, I think it was more the music and the urgency of the delivery than the lyrics. I was also just really emotional, and I strictly only listened to hip-hop, so anything that had a hint of maudlin sentimentality I would dig into like I was starving for emotional release. It really influenced the type of music I wanted to make, which I was just starting to do at the time. I guess all these songs did, in pretty identifiable ways. Huh.
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