The mere existence of the Wu-Tang Clan is simultaneously fascinating, terrifying and miraculous. That these nine individuals even lived on the planet at the same time is baffling, let alone the fact that they all grew up on Staten Island and formed a rap group. In 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang came out and changed hip-hop forever, improbably launching the slew of successful solo careers and merchandising vehicles that it intended to. It’s now eleven years later, and Wu-Tang is still inarguably crucial — Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death last week undoubtedly sent some of the world’s toughest, most street-hardened thugs crying into their pillows like emotionally unstable pre-pubescent girls. ODB’s sudden demise may alter the way we eventually look at Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1, recorded on July 17, 2004 in San Bernadino, CA, given that it has suddenly become the last document of all nine original Clan members performing on stage together, but for the time being it’s just the new Wu-Tang live album.
Right off the spiked bat, the Clan dives straight into a medley of hits from their earth-shattering debut. But the biggest flaw of the album is immediately obvious: the sound is terrible. On “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” Raekwon sounds like he’s rapping via satellite broadcast instead of actually being present on stage. The crowd seems thrown off guard by the early onslaught, and it isn’t until “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta F’ Wit,” where RZA screams as desperately if he were drowning, that it finally matches the Clan’s intensity. RZA gives a terrific performance throughout. Each of his verses is similarly inspired, and at the end he compassionately requests that the show’s patrons “get home safe and don’t drink too much.” No wonder they call him The Abbot.
The rest of the album, aside from several tracks off of Wu-Tang Forever and The W, is spent diplomatically covering a wide variety of the members’ solo albums, which is one of the record’s finest aspects. Although none of the solo projects have been as hyped as those of the group that spawned them, Disciples accurately represents their consistently high quality. Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is particularly well represented, and he and Ghostface show why on “Criminology,” an indisputable highlight. The album occasionally falls prey to a criticism that commonly befalls live rap performances in general — there are too many moments where all the crew members are concurrently shouting into their respective mics, interfering with the delivery of the verse at hand. This might be a problem if the other Wu members were measly posse members, instead of unstoppable hip-hop legends.
Ultimately, this album’s target market is anyone with an imagination. The best way to listen to Disciples is to close your eyes and envision the entire Clan prowling the stage together, seething with energy and vigor.
This image alone justifies the album’s purchase, especially since such a concert can never again take place.
Archived article by Ross McGowan
Sun Staff Writer