The 6 Best Wu-Tang Clan Albums You’ve Never Heard
By Hoff Matthews
This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the debut album from perhaps the greatest rap group of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan. Over the past two decades, the crew’s nine members (ten members? eight?) have released a treasure trove of records that are now rightly regarded as hip-hop classics.
They’ve also released a bunch of records that aren’t. Whattaya gonna do? Happens to the best of us.
But the Clan’s back catalog is so deep that while sifting through it will net you plenty of lackluster solo releases and ill-advised side projects, here and there you’ll also find some gems that have been unfairly overlooked. So, drawing on all of my expertise as a white guy from Connecticut who started listening to Wu-Tang two years ago, I now present the Clan’s most underrated releases.
6. RZA’S ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK FOR YOU’VE GOT MAIL
Most Wu-Tang fans are probably aware that the group’s producer, RZA, now composes music for films as well as rap albums, and that his first soundtrack credit was the 1999 Jim Jarmusch movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. What you may not know is that most of the music RZA recorded for Ghost Dog was originally intended to be used in the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail. Writer/director Nora Ephron commissioned RZA for the project but then decided against using his contributions over concerns that his dark, ominous percussion and kung fu sound effects might not gel with the story’s upbeat tone.
5. GRILLARMY – HELL’S KITCHEN
Wu-Tang’s explosive popularity inevitably led to the emergence of various vaguely affiliated side projects. One of the most well-known examples of this was the group Killarmy, which traded Wu-Tang’s kung fu aesthetic for a more military-oriented theme. However, few fans are aware of Killarmy’s side side project, Grillarmy, which preserved the military theme but for some reason also added the conceit that the group’s members were all cooks (with corresponding aliases such as General Millz and Captain Krunch). Needless to say, this concept proved too confusing for mainstream audiences, and the crew’s debut LP, Hell’s Kitchen, became one of the few albums in history to not sell any copies at all. Still, Hell’s Kitchen remains notable both as a precursor to the culinary rhymes of Action Bronson and as an early showcase for celebrity chef Guy Fieri, known then as Sergeant Peppa.
4. GOOD CHARLOTTE – GOOD CHARLOTTE As idiosyncratic as Grillarmy was, it was far from the oddest Wu-Tang affiliate out there. Although most of the “Killa Bees” (artists nurtured under the umbrella of the Wu-Tang brand) were rappers, RZA also chose to bestow his guidance and blessing on the Maryland pop-punk band Good Charlotte. That group’s self-titled 2000 debut may not have been another 36 Chambers, but it went a long way towards broadening audiences’ perceptions of what a “hip-hop” album could be.
UPDATE: I have been informed that Good Charlotte actually is not affiliated with Wu-Tang in any way. I apologize for the mistake.
3. RAEKWON’S PODCAST
This one technically isn’t an album, admittedly, but it’s still bound to be of interest to fans of the Clan. Begun in 2009 as part of the promotional push for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, The Raekwon Show! soon took on a life of its own, with its surprisingly genial host taking advantage of this weekly platform to share his thoughts on music, crime, the latest episodes of Mad Men, and the future of women in comedy. Past guests on the podcast have included RZA, Nas, Marc Maron, and several former associates of Raekwon whose names and occupations were bleeped out because, according to Rae, “there ain’t no statute of limitations on they shit.”
Also Ghostface. Usually the guest is Ghostface.
Listen to some highlights below:
2. BRING DA MOTHAFUCKIN’ RAFFI (WU-TANG/RAFFI MASHUP ALBUM)
Do you love the Wu-Tang Clan and yet somehow also hate RZA’s production? Then mashup albums are for you! The Clan has been paired up with everyone from the Beatles to Fugazi, but in my opinion, the best Wu-Tang mashup project is DJ Kuddly’s Bring Da Mothafuckin’ Raffi, which matches the crew’s streetwise rhymes with the friendly stylings of children’s entertainer Raffi Cavoukian. Featuring such clever cuts as “Clananaphone,” “Baby Beluga C’mon,” “C-A-N-A-D-A Man” and, of course, “Willoughby Wallaby Wu,” Bring da Mothafuckin’ Raffi proves that Wu-Tang is indeed for the children!
And finally, #1:
1. MASTA KILLA – NO SAID DATE
Not their best work or anything, but definitely a solid listen!
If you enjoyed this listicle, check out some of my others: