So with middle age creeping into the Wu’s material, what better time to turn back the clock back and hunt down a few hidden gems from their back catalogue that you may have skipped over, forgotten about or just been unaware existed?
It’s been an exhaustive task sorting through all their tracks for the – ahem – cream, harder still to narrow it down to just 20 songs. So for the following list we’ve stuck to officially sanctioned releases – be that in mixtape or compilation form; ignoring the abyss housed within the Hidden Chambers compilations (another list entirely) and a few obvious releases you already know front to back (i.e. Enter The 36 Chambers, Ironman, Liquid Swords, The W).
Instead we’ve tried to collect a broad cross-section of the Clan: their members, affiliates, different styles and sounds, to uncover diamonds in the rough that refuse to stop shining.
Wu Tang Clan – ‘Babies’ (from Iron Flag)
Iron Flag – arriving little over a year after The W – remains one of Wu Tang’s most underrated group efforts. ‘Babies’ unites their three most notable MCs over an unconventional stoned soul hook: Ghost and Rae tag-teams about crooked cops and errant youths, allowing GZA to bring it back to reality with a verse about how all authority corrupts and – in a less sickly version of sentimentality than most recent release A Better Tomorrow – posits the value in staying true to yourself.
Wu Tang – ‘Ill Figures’ (from Chamber Music)
2009 compilation Chamber Music might not hold the cohesion of a proper album, but it manages to house more than one overlooked classic. Case in point: this collaborative banger. Raekwon taking the lead in an all-star line up that features hardcore peers. Brooklyn’s M.O.P and Queens icon Kool G Rap, offering up guest verses that prove they’re as much an influence as a peer when it comes to the Wu rap style.
Wu-Tang Clan – ‘Rushing Elephants’ (from 8 Diagrams)
As slow burners go, 8 Diagrams is still simmering. The Clan’s most unjustly maligned album, its 2007 release came after a six year break in group recording and was the first since Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death. The LP’s legacy was soured due to public infighting – Raekwon and Ghostface criticising RZA’s more complex, cinematic production – but it’s his heavy use of an Ennio Morricone sample here that brings out an unforeseen gravitas, making it the album’s most memorable joint.
Ghostface Killah – ‘Malcolm’ (from Supreme Clientele)
One of only a handful of Supreme Clientele’s tracks that wasn’t produced by RZA, ‘Malcolm’ – is the kind of underrated gem that solidified Ghostface as rap’s finest raconteur, dishing the dirt on the fabled run-in between Ghost’s crew and Ma$e. The latter walked away with a broken jaw and a dent in his pride that some might account for putting him out of the game.
Masta Killa – ‘Secret Rivals’ (from No Said Date)
After delays and misfires Masta Killa finally delivered on the promise of his abilities with 2004’s No Said Date. After years of gestation, it’s no surprise some of the tracks went through several different incarnations before their release. ‘Secret Rivals’ – which also has a typically strong verse from Killah Priest and a solid mid-career showing from Method Man – originally lifted its sample from ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, but the finished version does away with gimmicky samples in favour of a stark beat – and is stronger for it.
Raekwon – ’10 Bricks’ (from Only Built For Cuban Linx 2)
Iron Chef’s sequel to his classic debut is proof that lightning can strike twice, and ‘10 Bricks’’ piercing hook and moody strings is a three minute encapsulation of why even in death Dilla, the track’s producer, is revered as the greatest of all time. So slick it even makes a verse from Cappadonna – all too often relegated to the lower tier of Clansmen – feel like a standout.
RZA – ‘Fools’ (from Bobby Digital: Digital Bullet)
RZA’s solo output has always been a mixed bag, but ‘Fools’ does the business. It’s taken from his sprawling second effort as Bobby Digital and came at a transitional time for the Wu, when many of their third wave albums were failing to gain momentum. But this track harkens back to some of the finer moments in the Clan’s earliest efforts, with its drunken melody and RZA’s queasily sung hook.
Inspectah Deck – ‘The Grand Prix’ (from Uncontrolled Substance)
Perhaps the most underrated rapper in the entire Clan, Inspectah Deck’s debut remains a minor classic. But while Uncontrolled Substance’s production might have dated – despite its release in ‘99 it was completed in ‘95 – the quality of these hooks and unusually on-point cameos from U-God make it a vital release.
Theodore Unit – ‘Punch In Punch Out’ (from 718)
Taken from The Pretty Toney Album session offcuts, 718 is Theodore Unit’s finest moment, and ‘Punch In Punch Out’ – an anomaly on this list as it’s the only track to exclusively feature a non-Clan member, Trife Da God – is its best cut. Proof that the Clan can hone excellence just by association.
Inspectah Deck – ‘A Lil Story’ (from The Resident Patient)
The Resident Patient initially found release as a mixtape, but while it lacked some of the joy inherent in his debut album, it did produce this gem. Deck’s rhymes feature near constant pop-cultural references over heavy-hitting production from Cilvaringz, and while it’s not quite GZA’s ‘Fame’, it still manages to namecheck everyone from from Spike Jonze and John Malkovich to The Fantastic Four.
ODB – ‘Dirty Run’ (from Osiris)
With so many Ol’ Dirty Bastard offcuts floating about since his untimely death, there’s been a distinct lack of quality control in Dirt McGirt releases. Osiris – which at least benefited from being an official mixtape – sees ODB’s posthumous work follow a similar pattern to Biggie, Tupac and numerous other passed rappers (i.e. half finished songs completed with unlikely collaborators). However ‘Dirty Run’, with its uncredited use of Bowie’s ‘Fame’, is prime solo ODB: raw, wild, witty and a reminder of why Ason Jones’ death still feels like a huge loss to the Clan’s dynamic.
Ghostface Killah – ‘Rec Room Therapy’ (from The Big Doe Rehab)
‘Rec Room Therapy’ was lost towards the back end of The Big Doe Rehab – arguably the last truly great Ghostface album despite being a commercial disappointment. The LP was overshadowed at the time of release by 8 Diagrams, which dropped a week later, but is the better of the two. Shades of Ironman in the verses from U-God, Raekwon and Ghostface, while Raekwon’s yelps of “GET MONEY GHOST!” bury deep into your head.
Wu Tang Clan – ‘Diesel Fluid’ (from Legendary Weapons)
Method Man may have been the first big hitter out of the gate post-36 Chambers, but soon his solo career dipped to the point where only Redman collaborations would save him. ‘Diesel Fluid’ however – taken from yet another Wu compilation – sees him hit all the right notes over a dark, propulsive beat, while backup from minor players like Trife Da God and Cappadonna help generate the kind of Meth magic that hadn’t been seen since Tical.
GZA – ‘Sparring Minds’ (from Legend Of The Liquid Sword)
There’s a lot of talk about the derivative production on GZA’s third album, but it still holds some of the best verses of his career. This cut might be short and sweet, but it’s packed with ideas.
Killah Priest – ‘Devotion to the Saints’ (from The Psychic World Of Walter Reed)
While he may only be classed as an associate of the Wu, it’s Killah Priest’s rhymes that formed the core of GZA’s classic B.I.B.L.E and – unlike a few of the Clan who dropped off long ago – he’s still knocking it out of the park. Ten albums into his career, this joint holds the kind of classic Wu-Tang vibe we can only wish was evident on their more recent releases: hard Ghostface verses, Shaolin samples and a mean beat that takes everything to the next level.
Wu Tang Clan – ‘Impossible’ (from Wu Tang Forever)
It often argued that The Clan could benefit from some strict lessons in editing because – much like RZA’s old pal Tarantino – there’s is an artistic vision that can occasionally dip into wanton indulgence. With so many ideas floating around Forever‘s 27+ tracks, it’s easy to gloss over its highlights, and although ‘Impossible’ receives acclaim for Ghostface’s verse, it’s worth remembering U-God and RZA’s contributions too. The duo might not focus on the microcosmic horrors of street life with quite such acuity as Ghost, but their broad thoughts on life’s bleakness and criminality brought a militant edge to the Wu-Tang’s moral centre.
U- God – ‘Rumble’ (from Golden Arms Redemption)
U-God might be the weakest rapper in the Clan, but this track from his patchy debut is a rare exception, with Inspectah Deck aping RZA but with a slightly more soulful edge on production. U-God’s flow is generally better suited to guest verses, but ‘Rumble’ remains worth digging out if only for its second life as the main theme in the impossibly hard PS1 game – and Mortal Kombat rip-off – Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style.
Wu Tang Clan – ‘Harbour Masters’ (from Chamber Music)
Yet another cut from a great album of offcuts. The soporific boom-bap beat – here coupled with a rattling funk bounce – brings out a Ratpack mentality in the Clan, mixing up rap braggadocio and luxury lifestyles. An inspired track you might expect from guys twenty years deep in the game: up in the club, making sure they get respect.
Wu Tang Clan – ‘Dashing (Reasons)’ (from Iron Flag)
In line with the fine tradition of hip-hop tracks that double as Christmas songs, RZA’s production turns ‘Jingle Bells’ into a buoyant slice of funk.
Wu Tang Clan – ‘Older Gods’ (from Wu Tang Forever)
Another 4th Disciple production that gets skipped over, built on the whir and ring of cash registers and a recursive piano line. It’s an undoubtedly easier ride than ‘Impossible’ but the bleak theatrics are held over for an almost impenetrable session of Wu-slang. Packed with the sort of colloquialisms that will separate fans from aficionados, it takes a few listens to tune your ear into this back-and-forth between three of the Clan’s greatest. The song ends – quite literally – in fireworks.