Enter The Wu-Tang: Hip-Hop’s Voltron celebrates their 36 Chambers masterpiece at Shoreline
The legendary hip-hop group showcased their seminal debut album on its 25th anniversary as a testimony to their legacy of beats, bars, and branding.
Midway through the Wu-Tang Clan’s headlining set at Shoreline Amphitheatre on Saturday night,, the legendary rap group’s producer and architect, the RZA, reflected on regional relevance for the 20,000 Bay Area fans in attendance. Currently on tour in support of their paradigm-shifting hip-hop classic Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the RZA pointed out it wasn’t until the record hit on the West Coast that their groundbreaking 1993 debut went platinum.
In the time since, the Wu-Tang Clan has evolved into a global brand that has transcended far beyond their early days as radio pariahs and music industry outcasts. Reflective of Enter The Wu-Tang’s staying power, the group had a full clan of dedicated fans in attendance, as well as hip-hop mainstays sharing the stage with them: The Pharcyde, De La Soul, and Erik B. & Rakim, top legends in their own right.
From the band’s very beginning, RZA’s blueprint for Wu-Tang was to build up a tall enough hip-hop Voltron—powerful individual parts adding up to an unparalleled juggernaut—so they could collectively be seen and heard all around the globe. Over the past quarter century they accomplished this as much with breakout solo efforts as with highly anticipated Wu-Tang Clan records; their names etched not just in hip-hop, but in the overall cultural landscape. To name a few, they turned out chart busters that have stood the test of time as hip-hop classics: Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, and Method Man’s Tical, which featured the breakout single “Bring the Pain.” This mix of cohesion and independence gave Wu-Tang the bamboo-like flexibility of adapting and evolving to ensure their longevity as well as their relevance.
So once their set kicked off at Shoreline with “Bring da Ruckus,” all the multilayered celebrity faded into the shadow behind the lyrical wizardry that their debut album introduced into the world. As RZA brought out Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, GZA, Ghostface Killah, and the one-and-only M-E-T-H-O-D MAN, Wu-Tang contextualized the instinctive definition of a hip-hop group as a multimedia art collective. No longer RZA’s experiment, rather their promise fulfilled decades and the world over. And with Silicon Valley’s current hyperfocus on branding, the O.G.’s were indeed on hand to give a masterclass. After all, the Wu-Tang yellow “W” is the de facto symbol for all of hip-hop, proving how powerful they were as a catalyst for globalizing the artform long before tech enabled it in an instant or branding became the buzzword it is today.
The Wu-Tang Clan still draws arena-sized crowds 25-years after their outside approach to everything transformed basements, street corners, and vacant warehouses into the Shaolin-style soundscapes. The most obvious change in the last 25 years — the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Yet Ol’ Dirty Bastard is honored front and center via his son’s inclusion, Bar-Son Jones A.K.A. the Young Dirty Bastard. With ODB’s image on the stage’s big screen, the Wu-Tang let Young D B shine on all of Ol’ D B’s verses. After bringing da ruckus, Wu-Tang cued up Young D B for “Shame on a Nigga,” allowing the second generation Wu-Tang emcee to spit the first rhymes his dad did on record, going back and forth with the sturdy Raekwon, who has been perhaps the most prolific individual emcee from the Wu-Tang in terms of releases.
It was true generational transcendence felt inside the Shoreline when Wu-Tang fans yelled with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s living legacy the line from “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”: “Gotta get up and be somebody!”
The Wu-Tang Clan’s original DJ — Mathematics — no doubt did his part too, particularly during his turntable showcase. Mathematics, who created the iconic yellow ‘W’ Wu-Tang symbol, cut the classic Wu-Tang sound with the “hard as hell” line from LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” track, and at one point took off his shoes while spinning the turntables, standing up on his platform and stopping the record with his foot in his white gym sock. It’s a resounding message found in any real hip-hop show: just because the DJ is in the back doesn’t make them any less of an integral contributor.
On a night that also featured genre-defining hip-hop DJ and emcee duo Erik B and Rakim, lyrical expressionists De La Soul — all from New York as well— and West Coast pioneers The Pharcyde, the reverence and celebration for hip-hop culture was expertly passed from masters of ceremonies up and down the lineup.
The Wu-Tang’s classic lines were in abundance. From “cash rules everything around me” and “protect ya neck” to the crucial public service announcement: Wu-Tang is for the children.
And finally, not the message or reminder, just the fact, 25 years later…Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthin to F**k wit.”
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