As a Wu-Tang stan — and a stubborn one, at that — I always hated reading and hearing people say shit along the lines of the Wu being “over”, or “dead”, or trying to start rumors that they were “breaking up”. Yes, the quality of music coming from the Wu camp is not the same as it was some 10 years ago, but that could be said for roughly 95% of rappers, and that’s an underestimation if anything. And recent history has only further proven the fact that rap crews can’t be on top forever (i.e. G-Unit now, DipSet circa the last time Cam’ron and Jim Jones spoke to each other). It’s as if the fact that the Wu was the greatest shit in the game back in the mid-to-late ’90s means that they shouldn’t be allowed to still put out records today.
As for the “breaking up” rumors, I would always tell my non-Wu-listening friends that the relationships within the Wu dated back to before music — at least, that’s the impression I’d received over time listening to their music, reading interviews and what not. I’d always believed that the Wu would never “break up”, even if they decided to stop recording music together… and, unfortunately, things may have come to this point with the disaster that was 8 Diagrams. (And, when I say “disaster”, I’m referring to the well-publicized complaints over the sound of the album from Wu members, not the actual album itself, which I honestly enjoyed. But, again, stubborn Wu-Tang stan talking over here.)
I say all of that to say this… I was initially skeptical about doing a Beat Drop for The RZA. I mean, I figured it would have to come — if the aim of these posts is to compile different opinions on the greatest beats from the greatest producers, then leaving the Wu-Tang Clan’s maestro out of the equation would be criminal. But, unlike many of the producers that we’ve covered in the past, The RZA’s best almost entirely comes out of one collective group of albums, those being the Wu-Tang Clan and its many members. Likewise, Organized Noize’s best would almost entirely come out of Dungeon Family releases, and DJ Paul and Juicy J’s best would almost entirely come out of Hypnotize Camp Posse releases.
I guess that my skepticism was based around the likelihood that a RZA Beat Drop would come off like a whiny bitch-fit about how hip hop was great before, and sucks now, and so on and so forth. So, I had a by-myself meeting, as I do every evening, and I asked myself, “Self… so what?” That is but a small price to pay to properly honor someone like The RZA.
Robert Diggs has one of hip hop’s greatest ears for music, using innovative samples that helped pave the way for the future of hip hop production, always willing to take risks to advance his sound (though those risks and advancements may not have always pleased everyone). He had the foresight necessary to build the first true hip hop empire, strategically planning out the first wave of Wu-Tang solo projects. And, above all, he’s a really intelligent dude.
I had the honor of hearing him speak back in my undergrad days, during his promotional tour for The Wu-Tang Manual (which I’d still like to read one day). It was an experience that I’ll never forget — hearing him talk about going to his first block party at 8 years old with The GZA, selling newspapers with Ol’ Dirty to save up money to buy equipment, how one could make a breakbeat out of everything from rock-and-roll to samba, how he loved Kung Fu because it reminded him of struggles he encountered as opposed to the black history at the time that seemed to focused on either slavery or pimps. Though I certainly wouldn’t want to take on the task of transcribing his at-times-mumbled words (word to AaronM), hearing him speak makes it clear how hard he has worked to get to where he is, and how humble he has remained. Simply put, success didn’t stumble upon The RZA — he sought it out, made it his, and it can never be taken from him.
Here our all-star list of contributors on this go-round (along with their respective plugs):
- 88-Keys, who, in addition to having produced numerous tracks for Mos Def and J-Live, has his debut album, The Death Of Adam, coming soon, featuring “Stay Up (Viagra)” with Kanye West (cop it here via iTunes) and the greatest promotional campaign ever
- Producer Aeon of Tanya Morgan/Lessondary Crew fame
- Ben from Floodwatch Music
- Brandon Soderberg from No Trivia
- DJ Eclipse of La Coka Nostra fame (Ill Bill’s The Hour Of Reprisal in stores!), whose “Rap Is Outta Control” show can be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio
- Enigmatik from Boo Goo Doo Boom
- Eric from Commonwealth (VA) and Whats The Scenario?
- Jerry L. Barrow, former editor of Scratch, from Nodfactor
- Joseph from Geek Down
- Khal from Rock The Dub
- Kirk Franco from Hot Block
- ML favorite and occasional passer-by Marco Polo, who recently contributed to Large Professor’s latest album, Main Source, and is currently working on a full-length LP with Torae entitled Double Barrel
- Statik Selektah, whose Stick 2 The Script (the follow-up to last year’s Spell My Name Right) hits stores October 21st
- Zilla Rocca from Clap Cowards
You make the call! I make the call! It’s all for all!
Knobbz: Enter The Wu-Tang couldn’t have started any other way. When I first heard this song, it was grimier than anything I’d ever heard before. The sample used at the beginning and the end from Shaolin & Wu Tang intrigued me and then the snapping, the chopped-up horns and all the stuff going on in the background knocked me on my ass. This track sounds like a car breaking down. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but I knew I had to keep listening.
88-Keys: This was the first RZA-produced beat which I was like, “Okay… I’m checking for this dude” (a.k.a. the very first Wu-Tang Clan song I liked a lot).
Download: Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” (off Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers))
AaronM: The unconventional percussion is genius. Who else but The RZA would have thought of combining the drums from “Nobody Beats The Biz” with castanets? RZA took dusty crates to another level by making new records sound like they were old. “Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” is grime and filth embodied in audio. This track made the theme from Underdog sound menacing, for goodness sake.
Jerry: It’s hard to pick one off of the album that started it all, but I gotta go with this riot on wax. Taking not just one, but two classic drum breaks (“Hihache” and “Impeach The President”) and wrapping them around the theme from the Underdog cartoon? GEEEEZ, what a mind job. Just another example of how he could make anything feel like a kung-fu sample when it wasn’t. An ass-kicking is still an ass-kicking I guess, even if it’s from a masked dog.
Enigmatik: Music to destroy something to… or increase your bench press by 30-50 lbs.
Statik: This one is self-explanatory, but a lot of people don’t understand how crazy this beat is, and he has the drums in the background slowed down to the point where the bassline in the drums is in key with the piano loop. Craziness. Probably the first RZA beat I ever heard, too.
Enigmatik: The song that started my love for the Wu-Tang Clan. The soulful sample of The Charmels provides the perfect backdrop for the rhymes of two brothers-in-arms painting vivid pictures of life in the hood. You want a classic beat? Look no further.
Buhizzle: The first five seconds of The Charmels’ “As Long As I’ve Got You” (which was produced and written by David Porter and the late Isaac Hayes) was a mere speck of dust in the history of soul music before ’93. The RZA saw something greater within those few seconds, and thanks to him, now the whole world does as well. If you don’t consider this to be one of the 10 greatest hip hop singles ever, it should only be because you consider some other Wu-Tang single(s) to be better.
Marco Polo: Love the piano loop and the hook. Really anything from 36 Chambers could be on this list.
Eric: Debated by many as the greatest track The RZA has ever made. While I’m on the fence in that aspect, this track surely plays in my nightmares. It’s downright creepy. The drums, piano and guitar set up the perfect scare for any unsuspecting listener.
DJ Eclipse: When this one hit Stretch & Bobbito’s show, I remember thinking, “Who the hell is this?” Not ready to accept them for a new group, I started thinking, “Is this L.O.N.S.?” I mean, who else has at least 4 emcees in a group? Well, although I was a fan of Prince Rakeem’s “Ooh We Love You Rakeem”, I was no where prepared for “Protect”. The RZA’s minimal production here was perfect to unleash all 8 emcees fury and prepare us for the Wu dynasty.
Statik: This beat changes so damn much it’s ridiculous. Probably the best song of all time with 8 people on it. It just completely represented a raw cypher, back when rappers were good, that is. The RZA changed hip hop with this one.
Joseph: The first time I ever heard Wu-Tang Clan was on the first X-Games compilation on Tommy Boy. I was probably in fifth or sixth grade at the time and it was one of my first CDs. Back then, I only had a tape player, so I always had to listen to my CDs on my parents stereo in our living room. This was pretty annoying because they had these full-ear headphones, that in retrospect were really cool, but felt awkward on my little-kid head and I didn’t really have privacy when listening. I had never heard anything like Wu-Tang Clan until that point. (The closest I probably came was seeing Biggie videos on MTV at my friend’s house.) The idea of people rapping in a way that was simultaneously technical and interesting was completely new to me and I’d be hard-pressed to think of more interesting technical rappers than the Wu, even today. I think The RZA’s influence as the Wu-Tang’s resident producer has just as much impact on their sound as his beats do. To be a producer of eight other members and in charge of the creative direction for such notoriously volatile personalities must take incredible skill. As I step back from marveling at the aesthetic splendor of early Wu-Tang, the fact that everything came together enough to birth these songs is amazing.
Download: Gravediggaz – “Diary Of A Madman” featuring Shabazz The Disciple and Killah Priest (off 6 Feet Deep, 1994) (co-produced by RNS and Prince Paul)
DJ Eclipse: The RZArector (along with RNS and Prince Paul) concoct one of the eeriest tracks to date. I remember walking down the street in NYC right after this dropped and bumping into my man Prodigal Son, who was with Priest and introduced me to him. At that point, both Priest and Shabazz were unknowns. Kind of dope when you go back and find people kicking their first verses. FYI — Wildman Steve from WBAU fame played the judge on this joint.
Brandon: “Tical”, the first song on the first solo Wu album — and the start of The RZA’s hyper-productive 1994-1997 production period — was still rugged and raw, but musically, it felt a little more cohesive and musical; even more of a step away from the Marley Marl-style still prevalent in early ’90s New York rap and kinda there on Enter The Wu-Tang. Thick, rolling drums and an oppressive keyboard line dominate this track and perfectly fit Method Man’s weeded persona, while a foggy cloud of voices talk shit in the background for most of the song. A lot of producers would’ve taken the inexplicable success of stuff like “C.R.E.A.M.” and decided to actively court hit singles after that, but RZA and Meth dove further in, trying to sound as dusted as possible and still pull out a hit.
AaronM: The RZA has always been adept at using the less controlled parts of a vocal sample, like grunts or moans, and integrating them into a beat. “Bring The Pain” centers around an amplified murmur that’s looped until it becomes a steady hum. Occasionally the hum slows down, turning into a bassline before coalescing back into the main beat. RZA tops “Bring The Pain” off with a simple drum pattern, and occasionally adds keys and wah-wah guitar to the main loop. But the humming remains the focus for the entirety of the song, until the last 6 seconds, where it drops out and the keys and guitar play it out. Dark, unsettling, and oddly catchy.
Statik: This was my favorite song when I was 12. The low end is just so crazy and sonically off, but yet perfect. Plus all the random sounds through the beat. He was just on some whole other shit.
Kirk: It’s real. Something you can feel. Pain sounds just like this beat. All I hear is “Bring The Pain” whenever I see my own blood.
Aeon: I’m gonna admit it to the world — when this first dropped, Wu as a whole sort of scared me. This didn’t help! A couple snippets from Jerry Butler’s “Mechanical Man” and you’ve got a Hall of Fame Wu joint that people still go nuts over when it comes on. As a beatmaker who generally takes a lot from a song to chop up, The RZA was one of the few who rarely needed more than a few seconds — if that — to get the shit popping for real.
Download: Method Man – “You’re All I Need (Razor Sharp Remix)” featuring Mary J Blige (original version off Tical) (link goes to instrumental)
Khal: The original was cool — I remember when it first dropped, and my homies and I were in D.C. reciting it line for line. The Puff Daddy mix, yea, that won a Grammy and shit, but RZA’s Razor Sharp Remix was the icing on the cake. The track sort of mirrored Meth’s steelo — a grimy nigga who can still seduce the ladies. The track maintains the original’s feel in the hefty, trunk rattling bassline, but that hard snare and those infectious stabs are what really set this one off. While daytime rap radio had the Puffy version on, the nighttime jocks threw this one on, and the head-nodding commenced…
Jerry: If you can take anything as metrosexual as Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and make it appeal to the hood, genius you are young Jedi. Yes, I was amongst the high and ambitious in my dorm who incorrectly thought he sampled the theme to Rocky for this. Hey, SOMEBODY had to get their ass-kicked after hearing this shit for the first time.
Joseph: My favorite thing about this beat is the breaking glass sample that introduces the first chorus after the intro. It’s something that can be heard more often nowadays but (I’m assuming) at the time it was a pretty inspired choice. It’s also pretty funny that the breaking glass sample is preceded by a missile-taking-off sample. I feel like a lot of the time, The RZA’s work takes on a sound design-ish quality, where he’s creating environments and moods as opposed to narrative-based backing tracks. I think this song is a good example as it’s able to sonically represent the chaos behind Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s verses and evoke an appropriate landscape in the listener’s head.
DJ01: Such a bizarre beat, but it worked. At the center of it was a very low bassline with nice crisp drums. All around the rest of the beat were weird bumble-bee buzzing noise patterns, and random horns. You couldn’t really figure shit out — maybe that’s how it got the name.
Kirk: Listen to these drums and you’ll understand that this beat is very necessary. Classic RZA. Samples come in sounding almost random at their entrance, but his composition is flawless.
Jerry: Wait for it, wait for it… yeah, 52 seconds of yammering and crow squawking before the beat dropped, but it was worth it. The drums knocked like the landlord on the 5th of the month (yeah, I’ve been late before, what?), and those angelic strings weaved around what could have been squeaky brakes on the cross town bus for all I care. What brings rain, hail, snow and earth quakes to beat breaks? The RZA…
Eric: Do you still have your Purple Tape? This track starts off in deep meditation, but as the beat goes on you slowly begin to be brought out. It hits you but doesn’t knock you over. Something you put on during a shitty day and put one in the air. It just puts you in the zone.
Enigmatik: This beat is like crack cocaine mixed with heroin rolled into a joint. Rae and Ghost spit hot fire over a perfectly cinematic track that is absolutely timeless.
DaddyL: One of my friends once formulated an argument that this is the most perfect hip hop song ever created. It went something like, “Dude, when you’re high… it’s like… you don’t even know… seriously.” I found it a little dubious, but I think I’ve listened to the song every day since. Coincidence? Probably.
Download: Raekwon – “Guillotine (Swordz)” featuring Inspectah Deck, Ghostface and GZA (off Only Built 4 Cuban Linx)
AaronM: “Poisonous… poisonous…” From the moment you hear the kung-fu sound effects, the beat grabs you and shakes you. Pounding, repetitive drums are accompanied by ominous, minor key strings. No hook, no bullshit, and it sounds like the soundtrack to filmed assassination. I love the way the looped strings vibrate and hang on the last note for a few extra seconds. Also, how could I not pick a song where Ghost says, “My career is based on guns, throwin’ cats in wheelchairs”? [Personally, I always enjoyed Rae’s (mis-)pronunciation of “stamina.” — Buhizzle]
Buhizzle: Long-time followers of these Beat Drops probably don’t may remember on the DJ Premier post, I said that this was my second favorite use of a vocal sample in a hip hop beat (Gang Starr’s “JFK 2 LAX” being #1). This is like pleasant alarm clock music — the type of shit that makes you want to rise out of bed and take on the day.
Download: Raekwon – “Glaciers Of Ice” featuring Masta Killa and Ghostface (off Only Built 4 Cuban Linx)
Khal: What is being sampled in this track? In various states of my weed smoking days, I’ve tried to dissect what was going on in this track, and can’t pin down each and every sample. Sometimes, I’m just hearing that 4-note loop, but those hurried strings, sounding like a swarm of bees in the ghetto — that shit throws me off. Then you’re ducking the fierce snares, literal gunshots and bomb blasts. What the fuck? The RZA just created a companion to wars in Beirut or something. And you could STILL throw this down in a set and get the crowd hyped. This track alone is one of the reasons why Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is one of the greatest examples of that classic Wu sound.
Ben: Had The RZA never created another track after “Glaciers of Ice”, his legacy as one of the most influential and unique producers in hip hop would have been firmly cemented based on it alone. I’ll confess that it’s ridiculously impossible for me to choose my top five favorite RZA tracks, but I can state with certainty that “Glaciers of Ice” would be in there somewhere. A long time ago I recorded the instrumental version from the B-side of the “Criminology” 12″, put it on an infinite loop, and cleaned the house for 45 minutes. Or cooked dinner. Or installed a ceiling fan. In other words, “Glaciers of Ice” used to soundtrack whatever I was doing. I still can’t get enough of its claustrophobic atmosphere (which rivals “Welcome to the Terrordome” for sheer sonic density), the distant gunshots, that staccato violin, and Blue Raspberry’s atonal wailing.
88-Keys: The very first time I heard this beat, my best friend from high school — Dr. Andres Jiminez — was teaching me how to drive in his brother’s Jeep Wrangler… stick shift… no doors… on the Southern State Highway. “Glaciers of Ice” came on and the beat/song was so charged and full of high octane that I automatically started putting the pedal to the metal. I think I damn near floored it. We did about a buck that day before my boy snapped me out of the zone. A couple of years later, I got my own (first) car — ’79 Mazda RX-7 — and I used to do a buck 20 going to the city. Every single time I wanted to drive fast I had my “Purple Tape” nearby and ALWAYS played “Glaciers of Ice”. Now I have a wife and two baby daughters so that song’s out!
Marco Polo: Dope chop and three N.Y. Giants on it. Classic. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx defined a whole summer for me.
Kirk: It’s so awkward, it fits. Somehow, The RZA has the perfect sound for good lyricism accompanied with fly style. Nas, Rae and Ghost = 3 flyest rappers ever. This song was a supergroup waiting to happen.
DJ Eclipse: A perfect example of The RZA’s slightly-off production style which came into play many times after. Also a good example of a vocal sample loop that Kanye and Just Blaze get most credit for popularizing. And the “Marvel Team-Up” of Wu-meets-Nas made it that much more classic.
Aeon: This is probably one of my favorites for the wrong reasons, but, to me, this shit just made everybody on it sound good, with Nas being no small exception. Classic RZA. That repetitive “I wanna love him, but what if he…” from The Emotions’ 1971 “If You Think It (You May As Well Do It)” pitched down is a perfect example of The RZA’s particular genius. There are only a few producers who were as good at picking out obscure splices of samples, and turning them into monsters — like he is.
Statik: Another one that defined his sound. The voices in the background are so evil. The drums were different than anything anyone heard at that time, too. The intro is so long but it makes the anticipation of the rhymes build. Genius.
Download: Raekwon – “Ice Cream” featuring Ghostface, Cappadonna and Method Man (off Only Built 4 Cuban Linx)
Kirk: This is the best hip hop joint ever. I mean, The RZA just put together a sample so vicious, it sounds like something you can touch with your hands, but refuse to. This is the reason why everybody on the internet is still talking about the Purple Tape. RZA was at his best on the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album.
Aeon: Probably in my top-5 Wu joints of all time. Don’t know where the drums came from. Let’s not even discuss the sample. But think back to September 1995 — The RZA had shorties dancing to THIS! This is something you could commit a murder to. Incredibly dark loop, but for some reason that ill juxtaposition of lyrics about fine ladies in the hood spelled instant classic. The drop when Cappadonna spits “Politic ’til ya deficit, step, gimme ya number” — fantastic. Big drums, beautiful loop, GENIUS hook — definitely one of his greatest cuts ever.
Knobbz: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx saw The RZA using fuller melodies to create more cinematic beats. The spooky production on Cuban Linx creates a more vivid picture of New York than any other hip hop album, except for maybe Illmatic. “Ice Cream” starts off with a man wailing “The ice cream man is coming!” and then rides on a heavy bassline and a dope piano loop. Rae, Ghost and Meth rap just as aggressive as always and the result is a sex anthem that’s as filthy as it is hardbody.
Eric: Everyone’s had those days. The ones where you want to be locked in a room and let all the stresses of life just escape from your brain. This is the track that eases that pain for me. Whether its losing a homie or losing a job, the struggles of life are on full display from start to finish. I don’t think this song can ever get old for me. It relates to yesterday, today, and the promise of tomorrow that we all hope for. Who knew the Wu could be this deep. So, what do you believe in?
Brandon: The cinematic, end-of-the-movie type track that an album like Cuban Linx needs, but still done like in the Wu-Tang style. It’s weird how much great movie music The RZA made before he did middling scores for Ghost Dog and Kill Bill. An exercise in production that isn’t beat-making, but production in the traditional sense of mixing and balancing a mess of sounds. RZA has always used voices as a kind of atmospheric instrument — those classic interludes and skits, or often filling out the background of a track with a bunch of Wu-Tangers talking and laughing — and here, Poppa Wu’s speech wanders around on the same level as those Barry White strings or lightly knocking drums. When Raekwon comes in, RZA puts a quick pause in the beat and then drops it again with a huge volume increase and switches those strings to the forefront, lowers Poppa’s voice to the background, and lets Raekwon go wild.
Khal: First off, not only is this the best intro song to any album I’ve ever owned, but it’s one of the illest intros to any album the Wu has ever put it out. In any case, the fact that this track is built on this skankin’ beat flipped to some solid drums, it just has a crazy swing to it that GZA coasts effortlessly over. Plus, that classic hook (I wonder how long ago they wrote it) is the perfect addition. RZA’s hypeman antics (“weeeeeeeed”) kill me.
Statik: One of my favorites of all time. Just the way he EQ’d it and looped it so crispy yet dirty. Play it loud with the windows down and your good. It defined his sound. That beat screams Wu-Tang. No one else would have down it the same justice.
DJ01: Most of it is so simple. No one does kung-fu samples better than The RZA — this track was a prime of example of that. Sort-of-high tempo drums set the tone for GZA, Killa and Deck to pretty much run all over the beat.
Marco Polo: Sounds like Halloween meets hip hop. It should be played yearly to frighten children.
Marco Polo: The whole fuckin’ album is a masterpiece — the vibe, the themes. Dark and sinister sounding. Possibly my favorite Wu-Tang solo album… I know I just the LP a whole shout, but this is my favorite RZA beat of all time.
Buhizzle: Among the first wave of Wu-Tang releases, Liquid Swords always felt like the riskiest collection of RZA beats. The high- and low-pitched screechs that lay underneath the thick bass sound like a combination of fingernails on a chalkboard, rusty machinery, and screaming cats, but when it’s all put together, it’s something wildly captivating.
Aeon: Maybe my wannabe-rapper clothes are showing. This and “Verbal Intercourse” were tracks that, when they dropped, made me wanna spit. Nothing spectacular except a banging ass loop and boom bap on the drums. It’s a straight lift of Willie Mitchell’s “Groovin’”, but the shit’s so sinister that you owe RZA an act of obeisance ANYWAY.
Zilla Rocca: The whiny West Coast synthesizer bends and cries like a man hanging off a rooftop with one hand. The pounding, fuzzy guitar riff spoonfeeds you broken glass, dirt, and bones. The main melody, lifted from Willie Mitchell’s “Groovin’”, pokes its head out sparingly only to get wacked by the kick drum and the 4-inch thick sub bass. The video for “4th Chamber” showed clips of a battle scene in the woods, but this beat by itself sounds like you’re being chased through the forest in Evil Dead, and your arm is broken, and you’re high on mescaline, and your feet aren’t moving as fast as they normally do. Terrible things will happen.
AaronM: There’s so much going on in “Gold” — the ghostly chorus vocals, the foreboding strings, the raucous horns every few bars. This beat is so damn dense that it takes several listens to parse all of the different musical elements The RZA integrated into the song. The skeletal drums hold “Gold” together until the end of the song, where RZA pulls the beat apart and puts it back together again, just in time for the fadeout.
DJ Eclipse: It’s safe to say that this is one of the best RZA-produced albums following the Wu’s debut release. Before Bobby went Digital, his analog loops and hard drums had heads boppin’ violently while Meth gave us “You know my steez”. Slang, style and music all derived from the Abbot’s master plan.
Ben: Is there another track in the Wu oeuvre more frightening than “Swordsman”? Listen to it through a decent pair of headphones with the lights out to see what I mean. The drums tumble like concrete blocks, the bass lurks somewhere at the edge of darkness, and various atonal sounds hover above the mix like a spectre. Respect to any DJ who can seamlessly blend this track into another cut during their set — its clunky rhythm makes it nearly impossible.
Download: RZA – “Wu-Wear (The Garment Renaissance)” featuring Cappadonna and Method Man (off High School High OST, 1996)
Buhizzle: Being a soundtrack cut/clothing line promotion, this track may have been forgotten by many, but it’s a great cross between a gritty Wu-Tang production and an infectious upbeat head-nodder (thanks in large part to Method Man’s hook). The doorbell sound that pops up here and there adds a nice touch.
Enigmatik: The perfect soundtrack to a kick-door robbery. The RZA provides the soundscape while Rae and Ghost take us a on run throughout the track that leaves the listener anticipating the next turn.
Download: Ghostface – “Assassination Day” featuring Inspectah Deck, RZA, Raekwon and Masta Killa (off Ironman)
Ben: I still don’t understand why “Assassination Day” works as well as it does. None of its individual components have any business interacting with each other whatsoever — those dry 8-bit drums, a synthetic guitar motif, the thick scratching of a kick drum, an out-of-tune bass hit, and what sounds like the “siren” button from one of those cheap, shitty keychains from a gag gift store that makes various sound effects. Somehow RZA makes it sound as menacing as a rabid wolf and as serious as a national plague outbreak. It took me years to appreciate the unassuming brilliance of this cut.
Marco Polo: Cappadonna probably kicked his best verse ever on this shit.
Aeon: In my humble opinion, top-3 usage of Bob James’ “Nautilus”. What made it more crazy was the incorporation of Wu vocal samples scratched in and around the verses that made it probably one of Ghost’s most classic songs.
Khal: Ironman is one of my top 20 favorite albums ever, and this is one of the reasons why. Those Middle Eastern sounds always worked over straight-up bangers, but The RZA flips some interesting shit in here — from the droning bass that sounds like he sampled someone humming into the mic, to that scattered beat, with the hits dropping on different counts for no reason other than to keep it funky. The real treat, though, is the switch-up around 2:39 (accented by The Force MD’s singing, “A change gonna come”). Forgive me, I’m a sucker for producers who flip dope beats into even DOPER beats while the fucking beat is still playing. Classic.
Eric: This record took me by surprise simply because it sounded like something I had never heard from the Wu before. The violins and guitars blew my mind. At the same time, however, key elements were still kept in not straying too far from what people like myself had grown to love and admire.
Brandon: A sharp tangle of avant sounds — free-jazz horns, stabs of descending bassline, squeaking maybe vaguely synthesized violins, even some sound effects — over surprisingly clean (clean for The RZA, at least!) programmed drums, “Reunited” was an effective reinvention of the Wu-Tang sound. In one way, RZA probably could’ve rode that ominous Wu-Tang sound for two more decades, but his earlier beats did lose some of their “Oh shit!”-appeal once you dug up the samples. Back to those violins, though, which are on some 20th Century classical shit. I’m reminded of plenty of string-oriented rap beats, but the stinging strings and violin squeaks also recall stuff like Penderecki’s “Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima” or Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8″ (which was dedicated to all the victims of fascism and war). Wu-Tang Forever is certainly going for that same end-of-days feeling as those dudes’ music and that apocalyptic feeling is established by the one-two punch of Poppa Wu’s intro and “Reunited”, the first proper track.
Khal: What was ill about Wu-Tang Forever was that The RZA blended his styles, from that really dirty, dusty analog shit he bashed us in the dome with on 36 Chambers with that more synthesized sound he started teasing with Ghostface’s Ironman. This track marries both styles, with that deep, fuzzy bassline played underneath that piano loop that just gets shorter and shorter, but still maintains its freshness. That string loop adds a sick element to the track. This cut also contains my second favorite Cappadonna verse, ever.
Ben: During the first week following my purchase of Wu-Tang Forever upon its release, I rarely played any other track besides “For Heavens Sake”, such was my conviction that nothing else on the record could stand in its shadow. Attempt, for a moment, to ignore Deck’s jaw-dropping verse and focus squarely on The RZA’s production, a beautiful maelstrom of fuzz bass, chalky piano comping, disembodied chipmunk vocals, and the urgent “Wu–Tang!” mantra. There simply isn’t another producer in hip hop warped enough to conjure up a track like this.
DJ01: Do I really have to explain this one? I think the beat alone had yours truly writing “WU-TANG FOREVER” all over his suburban elementary school 5th grade folders. It really sounds like some theme you’d use to motivate troops for a war.
Enigmatik: Five minutes and thirty-eight seconds of one of the top posse cuts of all time. Everyone knows the opening verses and everyone knows the thunderous beat that is purely triumphant from beginning to end. From the little bells and chimes in the song to the pounding drums, the organs and anything else you can think of, this is easily one of hip hop’s masterpieces.
Kirk: I refuse to give any reasons as to why I’ve chosen this beat. This is the reason why The RZA is one of the best producers ever.
DaddyL: It’s not every day that Bjork gets shine in the hip hop world. Maybe that’s a good thing because a lot of her songs sound like something concocted in an Icelandic lab with hopes of making your brains melt out of your ears. But the strings in “Bachelorette” are wonderfully tripped out and soar in a way that seems perfect for a grandiose hip hop beat. Props to The RZA for branching out and respecting good music, wherever it may be.
Buhizzle: Mentioning a RZA-produced track called “Run” probably brings to mind the more-popular Ghostface and Jadakiss collabo from The Pretty Toney Album (in fact, see below). It’s too bad that this cut usually gets overlooked as a result. Both tracks are great cinematic-sounding “chase scene” music, but while the Ghost/Jada version sounds more fit for a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, Cappa’s version is more on some independent film type-shit. I love how the violins linger on for so long — it reminds me of Madlib’s production on “The Mission” from Champion Sound. (Dope video, too.)
Download: Funkmaster Flex – “Put Your Hammer Down” featuring Wu-Tang Clan (off The Mix Tape, Vol. 3: 60 Minutes Of Funk, The Final Chapter, 1998)
Zilla Rocca: This outtake from Wu-Tang Forever was extremely out of place on Funk Flex’s 60 Minutes Of Funk, Vol. 3, but Loud Records, home of both Flex and the Wu, didn’t care — we want more Wu-Tang, dammit! A stripped down 2-bar loop taken from a cheesy Vegas funk band was all the Clan needed in ’97. The RZA employed the same strategy of looping two bars and adding almost nothing on Cappadonna’s “’97 Mentality” and Tony Touch’s “Rock Steady”, but “Put Your Hammer Down” is most notable because it’s really — what’s the word — happy! A great contrast to the vicious and hardcore rhymes of Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and co., this beat would be right at home on an early ’90s Diamond D or Prince Paul album.
Download: Big Pun – “Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)” featuring Prodigy, Inspectah Deck and Roc Raida (off Capital Punishment, 1998)
Jerry: All you homophobes take note — a gay vibraphonist can make some of the illest hip hop! Along with Organized Konfusion’s “Stress”, Gary Burton’s “Las Vegas Tango” helped make this triboro trilogy one of the sickest beats on Pun’s album. It was so dark and crusty I thought it was Havoc at first, but Roc Raida scratches in RZA’s ID around 3:30. Way less annoying than a Diddy adlib.
Joseph: I first heard “Domestic Violence” in work a few summers ago. I was working this clerical job that required a lot of filing and mind-numbingly repetitive tasks, so I could afford to listen to my iPod and actually concentrate on and think about whatever I was listening to. So I would fill my iPod with music I hadn’t listened to yet, so I could half-assedly educate myself while doing these mind-numbing tasks. I preferred to listen to music with an aggressive bent because it seemed to make time go faster than wimpy-sounding music. (Aggressive music also helps keep you awake when you’re running on two hours of sleep and hungover.) At the time, I was listening to a lot of hardcore, metal and New York rap, which hit the spot perfectly. Anyway, I always notice that there are a lot of hardcore and metal band members who wear those black Wu-Tang shirts with the yellow W logo. Anyone questioning their motives for donning the shirts need only hear this song (even if the shirts are really cliché and lame at this point). “Domestic Violence” hits harder than a floor punch at a Hatebreed show (and Hatebreed are exactly the sort of assholes who would wear Wu-Tang shirts).
Ben: I’m not an aggressive or even athletic person by any means, but when the beat drops on “RZA #7″ from the Ghost Dog original soundtrack, I immediately want to start dismembering foes with a series of swiftly-executed jumping lunge kicks. This cut would eventually provide the backing track for “16th Chamber (ODB Special)” that closed out 8 Diagrams last year, leading one to suspect that it’s been a back-burner weapon in The RZA’s beat arsenal for ages. God knows what kind of shit he was on when the beat somehow falls out of synch with itself two-thirds of the way through the track. It’s one of those timeless productions that would make any MC sound like fire spitting on top of it, regardless of talent.
Zilla Rocca: Few random singles from throwaway rap chicks have made more of an impression on me than Charli Baltimore’s “Stand Up”. Sure, her shelved album Cold As Ice had a remake of “Ice Ice Baby” featuring Ma$e, but it also featured one of The RZA’s most dazzling beats of the late ’90s, a time when he should’ve been getting more calls for beat tapes from rappers not named after a Gina Davis/Samuel L. Jackson vehicle. Combining a cold classical piano score with adlids swiped from a crackling vinyl soul sires, The RZA added a crossing guard’s whistle and an ominous Rhodes pattern to bring it all back home. On paper, this formula has no business being good on a hip hop song, yet it’s right next to Big Pun’s “Tres Leches” as one of The RZA’s rare outside productions that knocks just as hard as anything on a Wu record. And bonus points to Ghostface for bragging about getting his “balls licked in hell”. Umm… yeah!
DaddyL: This whole album is a Wu head’s wet dream. But I always liked this song in particular because it is not overly obtrusive, but it’s funky enough to let the dream duo tear shit up. Plus “The Rub” (by George & Gwen McCrae) is a superb track, and I always appreciate a great sample.
88-Keys: This was just a straight raw-ass hip hop beat to rap to. This beat should be used when people battle each other with lyrics… or swords.
88-Keys: ANYONE who’s used this sample has yet to go wrong — from Q-Tip’s remix to “Scenario” (which was the first time I heard it), to this song Kanye West produced years ago for some R&B group that got dropped from Def Jam (and I only know this because ‘Ye borrowed my Kool & The Gang this sample came from) to the Just Blaze-produced super smash hit “Pump It Up” by Joe Budden. Shit… come to think of it, now I want to do something with this sample. Oh wait! ‘Ye never gave me my record back. There goes my Grammy. **frowns**
Download: Ghostface – “Stroke Of Death” featuring Solomon Childs and The RZA (off Supreme Clientele)
Knobbz: What I love about this beat is how so many people would think it’s broken. The constant scratching makes it sound like the track has gone haywire, but it’s just The RZA being the maverick producer that he
is. On paper, this beat sounds like it would be really irritating, but it’s just not. Very few producers could make a beat like this and have it sound so good.
Zilla Rocca: The weirdest song from the weirdest major label rap album released this decade, “Stroke Of Death” works perfectly in conjunction with the rest of Ghostface’s dada-inspired Supreme Clientele — it’s the sonic equivalent of Ghost’s “disease breath, elephant skin, black Boy George” rhymes. I remember the first time I played this song, I thought my CD was damaged. By shanking the sample with a vinyl cartridge, RZA made a percussive element out of a truly ear-splitting sound. This beat today would work on an album released by Def Jux, Stones Throw, Edan, or MF Doom. “Stroke Of Death” is the kind of beat most consumers skip over and most producers call each other at about 2:00 a.m. like, “YO DIDYOUHEARTHATSHITRZADIDONTHENEWGHOSTFACESHIT??? Yo fam… shit… is… CRAAAAAY-ZEEEEE!”
Knobbz: I think The RZA may have been having a bad day when he made “Careful”; it’s probably his darkest work. Aside from the gunshots and the Clan’s murderous rhymes, the lack of a main melody is what makes this song so unsettling. The melody in the beginning dies out right away and in comes that odd little chime that stands out so much. “Careful” gives you the feeling that there’s someone unfriendly waiting around the
corner. Great song to scare the neighbors with.
Brandon: In Joseph Schloss’s really great book Making Beats, there’s a part — on page 141, if you want to look it up — where The RZA’s tendency to not “quantify” his beats is discussed and it’s ultimately cited as one of his biggest “strength[s]“. A good example of that would be the original “Protect Ya Neck”, which kinda clunks along drum-wise, while “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” is kind of the antithesis, all ordered and quantified. That intro stir of strings come in at the right time, while the guitar scronk from Lowell Fulsom’s “Tramp” and what sounds like a bird crowing bounce between one another in a way that’s easy to anticipate. Not that there’s anything wrong with being predictable. When the track’s as good as this, it gets a pass. In some ways, “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” is the most representative Wu-Tang single because it plays the game of sounding clean and radio-ready, but it doesn’t compromise the Wu sound at all. If radio didn’t grow more corrupt every year, this song could probably be a hit even in today’s rap climate. Start with the first posse cut “Protect Ya Neck” off Enter The Wu-Tang and end with “The Jump Off” — the last great Wu posse cut that doesn’t sound like an approximation — and you’ve pretty much got a history of the part of the Wu’s career that really matters.
DJ01: I just love the horns at the start that set off the beat. I really dig the way fast tempo of the beat with some sci-fi mysterious sounds hovering in the background.
Knobbz: The Bobby Digital albums have always given The RZA room to go off the deep end. The beats are always exotic and somewhat atypical of traditional Wu, whereas the lyrics are usually completely lacking subtlety (“I ain’t know she suck dick like that”). “Bong Bong” features outlandish percussion and a very simple two note melody. The song relies mostly on the weird ass sounds and the vocals — something fairly uncommon.
Download: Ghostface – “Flowers (Original)” featuring Raekwon, Method Man and Superb (alternate version off Bulletproof Wallets, 2001)
Jerry: Just when you thought Bob James’s “Take Me To the Mardi Gras” couldn’t be flipped anymore, The RZA slides past the oft-used intro percussion and disembowels the track somewhere around 1:07 seconds. By lifting the bassline out and focusing on the more subdued drums, he makes it hard to believe this beat is in the same family tree as “Peter Piper” and “Rock The Bells”. The final version that appeared on Bulletproof Wallets was a hollow attempt to save the song when the sample couldn’t be cleared… which makes no sense since they still ended up sampling (or replaying?) James.
Download: Tony Touch – “Rock Steady” featuring Raekwon, Method Man and U-God (off The Piece Maker 2, 2004)
AaronM: Sometimes you don’t need more than a 2-bar loop.
AaronM: Much like his beat for Ghost’s “Stroke Of Death”, “Run” consists of a scratched-in loop and a simple drum pattern. The blaring horns are broken up by a short guitar figure that plays before and after each verse. The instrumental is claustrophobic and seemingly endless, and Ghostface’s frantic, breathless delivery matches its intensity. “Run” is a rare and welcome return to The RZA’s pre-”digital orchestra” sound that he began to favor after Wu-Tang Forever. The sound effects accompanying Jada and Ghost’s verses are a nice touch.
88-Keys: I remember liking this not only because it sounds raw as hell, but also because this sample was on the late/great J Dilla’s beat CD from a while back and I always wanted to hear SOMEBODY rap on it. Ghost and J-To-The-Muah thug’d it out, too. Kudos!
Joseph: I wouldn’t have guessed that The RZA did this beat if I didn’t see it on Wikipedia. It must be because there’s an obvious record-rewind sound in the song. That’s not something I’m used to hearing from RZA, who usually masks whatever clarity his samples have in a thick cloud of dust. As the main loop is only one measure long, it needs to be rewound right before every fourth beat. This constant repetition gives the record-rewind sound the feel of being a musical part of the pick-up, as opposed to some abstract, non-musical sound. It’s so seamless that before I gave the song a close listen, I thought the sound was just overdubbed record-scratching.
Eric: I feel an instant desire to cause some serious chaos whenever this comes on. Bank robbery, looting, or even a high-speed chase — it’s all fair game! The beat comes full steam ahead through the speakers and doesn’t slow down one bit. The horns are on some Dirty Harry shit, and mid way through it seems to revert back to the beginning of the track only to have Jadakiss run (no pun intended) rampant to close out. This track is simply devastating and shouldn’t be listened to by the faint of heart. Next time you have a power outage, just hook up this track up and let it generate the energy needed. It’s that powerful!
Brandon: Underneath the prominent back-and-forth strings and shuffling drums, there’s this casually-rising low-end hum of like cello or something that never goes anywhere, but adds to the gravity of Masta Killa’s verse. It’s the sort of sound that The RZA, a decade earlier, would’ve put to the forefront, but sticks in the background here because he’s constantly on some other shit, for better and worse. It must be hard to be The RZA, smart enough to know it’s a real bad look to tumble into elder statesman status and just make kinda-good, vaguely wack Wu approximations for the rest of his life, but not entirely sure where to go with his more forward-thinking production either. “No Said Date” nails it, though, and has some of that inexplicable catchy, pop appeal Wu can possess, Bobby Digital-style production touches, and a palpable analog hardness that connects all RZA touches to those earliest Wu beats.
DaddyL: The Quincy Jones sample on this track is just too good to be true. “The Streetbeater” is an epic song, if you haven’t checked it out, and The RZA utilizes it to perfection. The way he flipped the Outkast strings (from “Skew It On The Bar-B”) on the title track is also worth noting, but that’s another day. [See above. Needless to say, there’s no time for our contributors to compare picks. — Buhizzle] What I really love about this song is how bright and fresh it sounds. RZA doesn’t get pigeonholed by the grimy darkness of his earlier production (even though that’s arguably his best). In the end, this song makes me bop in a different way than Enter The Wu-Tang, and I like it.
DJ01: My favorite “recent” RZA beat. It really has to do with the symphony sample and the way he looped it. He somehow made it perfect to rhyme over and yet you can barely make out a bassline on this.
Zilla Rocca: Take some Hitchcock strings, a bass guitar having a seizure, and a drum break that could appease any b-boy, and you have the newest incarnate of The RZA sound. His years of scoring films are realized on this beat from Wu-Tang’s 8 Diagrams LP. Unlike his efforts on Ghost Dog and Kill Bill, “Unpredictable” is cinematic, striking, focused, and most importantly full of boom-bap, practically begging to get bodied by Inspectah Deck’s 30 bar killing spree. Unlike the over-indulgent “The Heart Gently Weeps”, “Unpredictable” is the perfect blend of “hip hop hippie” and “punch you in your shit” (word to Shallah Raekwon).