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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (IAS #40)

Oh fateful day. Thank you on behalf of Only Solitaire and I hope we've passed the audition.

Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)


  1. Finally! Oh, how I waited for this day...

  2. This album just seems utter trash to me, I really don't get it..

  3. Hey, George!

    Based on your review, I’m a little unclear on how your discussion of hip-hop in the “Background” section is meant to be taken. Are you trying to cast aspersions on the genre’s merits, or are you just attempting to describe the way it strikes you personally?

    If this piece does just represent your own tastes, then hey—kudos on going outside your comfort zone! If it doesn’t, though—I gotta ask: what makes you think a DJ is less a musician than a singer or a guitarist?

    Is it because you think sampling is merely the reproduction of other musicians’ sonic material? The same is true of any musician who’s ever recorded a cover or stolen a riff—and I’ve never heard you accuse Jimmy Paige or Dread Zeppelin of being “meta-musicians”. Hell—with the exception of the ouvre of whichever caveman invented notes and chords—isn’t most music a reproduction of other musicians’ sonic material at some level? What makes stringing together a series of noises that somebody else created on a guitar different from stringing together a series of noises somebody else created on a computer or turntable?

    Is it because you think sampling is less transformative or less creative than playing a note or a chord sequence that somebody else has played before? DJs adjust the pitch, tempo, and timbre of their music; they scratch; they recontextualize recordings by plucking them from their original context and setting them against other recordings. If I played a single note of “Pachelbel’s Canon” on an acoustic in a Starbucks, I don’t think anybody would dispute that I’m a musician—but that pedestrian act of guitar work wouldn’t contain a fraction of the care, ambition, and innovation you’d find in a Bomb Squad production or a DJ Shadow record. If creativity and transformation are what matters, why should my coffee-shop hackwork be elevated above material which is more creative and more transformative?

    Is it because you think—unlike guitar-playing or drumming—DJing isn’t performative and can’t be done live?

    Your tastes are your tastes, George, and there’s nothing wrong with them—but that’s what they are: tastes. There is no universal, consistent, coherent line in the sand that separates DJs from other musicians—and, accordingly, any distinction between hip-hop and “real music” is subjective. It’s not right, and it’s not wrong—but it’s a reflection of the listener, not the sounds.

    Anyway—have a nice day!

    1. I think the issue / 'controversy' (not on George's part, but in general) - and I speak as a huge hip-hop fan here - is that Western societies have always valued musicians as author-geniuses, where the melodies and progressions and notes you hear are supposed to come from the mind / spirit / 'heart' of the sole musical genius. You certainly have a point regarding blues and rock and pop musicians recycling riffs and progressions much in the same way DJs sample the same, yet at the bottom line these riffs from the bluesman are still the product of his instrument, his fingers: he is the one making these sounds, and therefore they are still, in a way, his.
      Hip-hop was the first popular music form where this notion of the author-genius is directly disputed through the use of sampling, and naturally this cannot help but be controversial as a kind of violation of centuries of listening expectations. It's the creation vs appropriation argument that's also seen in post-1950s art - I know many people who (still!) don't think Warhol or Kruger should be considered artists.
      No matter how much care is put into the selection and extraction and manipulation and recontextualisation of the sample, while we live in this Western society where the original creator is valued there will still be an underlying issue for some people regarding the validity of the work, and this issue is a relevant one and cannot be dismissed. The key, I think, is viewing the work as authorless - which goes against everything a modern music consumer is told to do - and then hip-hop becomes just as valid as other artforms, while still retaining its considerable sonic pleasures and complexities.

  4. As many rock lovers, it took me some time to come around to enjoying rap and hip hop. Growing up in the 90s on grunge, metal, alternative, and my parents records from the 60s and 70s I had the usual biases about rap being mostly show with little substance - generally no instruments are played, much of it had a macho “cash, hoes, kill your enemies” vibe (NWA, Ja-rule, Tupac, DMX, etc.) that seemed insincere, the music was simple and repetitive, there was no singing, etc. Yet somehow it was everywhere and most of the other kids at least simply accepted it.

    The first rap song I really found myself enjoying was Canibus’s “The C-quel” Initially I found it comical but over time it grew on me doing what it sets out to do well. And yes, it is a song that is solely about how cool the rapper is, but it was verbally inventive, and the sampling creates a groove that when you suspend your disbelief and judgment about Canibus the person makes you imagine you are just as hardcore as he is. It’s a similar inspiration that head banging to Master of Puppets produces – or the rage I probably just provoked in metal heads for even suggesting such a comparison.

    To this day, most hip hop is enjoyable for me when I want to feel energized, inspired, tough (good workout music) or get into a dancing mood. Within its range it can be inventive and emotive if done well, but I struggle to think of any rap song, though I’m no expert, that could convey a sad day (I have never teared up listening to Eminem), inspire a loving sentiment, or make me feel fear (as opposed to being scared of the rapper). If you’ve ever heard a song by or featuring Pitbull, there is usually someone else who sings in contrast to his raps to provide a greater emotional array. And though he may not be an exemplary representative of the genre, at least in popular rap there seems to be a more limited spectrum of emotions.

    That being said, I listened to this album 5 or 6 times on 3 separate occasions and could not get into it. For all its acclaim, innovation, and inventiveness among the distinct personalities, when I want to hear a rap song, I almost never think of Wu Tang other than to remind myself that I should give them another chance. I may pause and think, smile at a clever line, or occasionally imagine a martial arts battle, but this is not an album that draws me into the artist's world as music should.

  5. Well, as always, George, you've given us all a lot to think about. I think I'm with you though, regarding this record, at least. It IS funny, and that is a strength... But there's something a little weird about it being the top rated hip-hop album on rateyourmusic. It's comparable to a community of mostly hip-hop people saying, I dunno, The Misfits' "Walk Among Us" (a great record, no doubt) is the greatest rock album of all time (a great mistake, no doubt). "Enter the Wu Tang" just repeats the same ideas and themes over and over... Hip-hop is better than that. Gimme "Illmatic" over this (a beautiful record; I look forward to your review) or "Aquemini" or, hell, "To Pimp a Butterfly"-- all records w/ an emotional edge and sonic variety that "36 Chambers" only hints at.

  6. Good points, gentlemen - thank you for trying to actually build a case rather than just say "you don't get it". Some answers:

    I am not trying to cast aspersions on the genre's merit. What I am trying to do is explain why my perception of hip-hop is fundamentally different from my perception of any other kind of music, and why, roughly speaking, I would say that "there's music, and then there's hip-hop" (if you wish, you can replace the word 'music' by any other that means all kinds of music without hip-hop - to me, saying that "hip-hop is not music" is not meant to denigrate, merely to segregate hip-hop in its own art category).

    I am not saying that sampling is "merely" the reproduction of other musicians’ sonic material. Sampling is an established art form in its own right. But sampling is fundamentally different even from "stealing" a riff, let alone creating and playing a new one based on the melodic experience of your peers and ancestors. A sample is a "robotic" creation, like a musical box; I can't get as emotionally involved in a cut-and-paste sample as I can in the original (unless, in a rare exceptional manner, the sample is perfectly integrated into a larger musical whole so that it does not feel like a sample any longer - e. g. Portishead' 'Glory Box', which is not hip-hop anyway).

    And yes, obviously, I would rather listen to a great hip-hop album than a piss-poor rock album, but that's pretty much the same for me as saying "I'd rather read a great book than listen to a piss-poor rock album" or "I'd rather play a great video game than listen to a piss-poor rock album".

    (Isn't it curious, by the way, that literature does not have its equivalent of hip-hop, even though one could easily imagine a work of literature consisting entirely of "sampled" passages from other works? I'm pretty sure somebody must have tried something like that, but I'm not sure if it counts as literature, much less famous literature).

    In response to H. Eliot's comment: I'm not sure that this is really a "Western" vs. "non-Western" or even "author" / "authorless" matter. For instance, most of pre-war blues was really created, in folk tradition, on an authorless basis, and yet that does not prevent me from enjoying the various individual styles. It's really just the post-modern aesthetics, as concerns both Warhol and hip-hop, and it's a recent, not an old thing. And it's perfectly okay, it's certainly art. But it's a different kind of art that requires a different sort of perception and a different set of criteria to evaluate it.

    1. I can think of one example of literature made from 'sampled' works - Guy Debord's Memoires, which I think is nowadays considered more as art than literature, precisely because of its sampled nature. Maybe literature is special because of the conceptions surrounding it? Once it starts to mirror hip-hop in its productions it is seen more as art?

    2. T.S Eliot comes to mind

    3. "Found poetry" is literature's version of sampling.

    4. Eliot's poetry is so dense with allusions and quotations you nearly have to read a study guide alongside it, at least the first few times. But I don't think the samples in hiphop have any meaning, at least for most artists and to my knowledge, they are chosen merely for how well they contribute to the beat. I don't think there is some sort of meta point made.

    5. For "sampled literature" one could perhaps point to Tom Phillips "A Humument"( I'm sure you could find plenty of examples of "sampled" visual art also. Personally however, I have a near hatred of such things and most "modern" or "post-modern" visual and literary art.

  7. The album is not good and I do not understand why it's rated so high on RYM.

  8. ...sitting at home analyzing music that had it's origins in disco the same way we would DSOTM....

    & that's not meant to be dismissive of Hip-Hop at all. It doesn't have the same goals as rock, so why complain that it doesn't reach them.

  9. The emperor is naked.

  10. My feelings on hip-hop? After many years, I have concluded that it is a valid, relevant form of performance art coming from the street. (Having a 9-year-old son who won't let me change the radio station on the car has helped). Certainly, there are certain talents required to make it effective -- breath control, timing, stage presence, and creativity in writing rhymes. Particularly anything that makes coherent sense.

    However, one thing that is NOT required is any musical talent. I think of hip-hop as a performance art form that USES music, not music in and of itself. No one sings or plays, samples and programming predominate. (with the rare exception of a rapper actually being backed by a live band rather than a guy manipulating turntables --- that tends to be the stuff I can get into the most).

    I'll use the following analogy. Let's say that a performance artist creates an installation using pre-existing photos, paintings and music that he did not shoot, paint, write or perform. By creative combination, he certainly could create art. He's an artist, but I wouldn't call him a photographer, painter, songwriter or musician.

    And so it is with the hip-hop artist. IMHO, he fits the criteria for a performance artist -- but not those for a musician. I think this is also borne out that these people never evolve as hip-hop performers. Like rockabilly, for example, the limitation of the form itself precludes any real artistic growth. Even more than rockabilly, the performers just wouldn't age well. You won't see any rappers filling Shea Stadium at age 60.

    Do ANY hip-hoppers have any long term careers as PERFORMERS of hip hop? It's telling that those that have survived have moved on to acting (Ice-T, Queen Latifah), actual singing (Latifah again) or producers/entrepreneurs (Eminem, Jay-Z).

    As for Wu-Tang - -well, they do have a cool band name.