"A Real Breath of Fresh Air": Wu-Tang Clan's "Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers" Turns 20

The Wu's classic debut came out 20 years ago today.

Written by Sacha Jenkins

Mike McDonald was really good friends with a good friend of mine, Michael “Kaves” Mcleer from the rap group the Lordz of Brooklyn. Mike was a brother from Staten Island who wrote Lask—when I say “wrote” I mean he was a graffiti writer. Mike came of age with the Wu-Tang dudes, and in 1993, Mike was working in the recording industry. He was a promotions man—be it street promo or radio promo, Mike had all bases covered because he came up in the culture of writing. Writers know how to promote; writers know how to get their names popping off in heavily trafficked areas.

At the time, I was publishing a hip-hop newspaper called Beat Down—a.k.a. the “Visual drum of urban music.” My Beat Down partner was a gentleman named Haji; we came of age together in Astoria, Queens. Wrote graffiti. Became skateboarders. Haji also produced tracks. He’d worked with Marley Marl and other notable folks in the hip-hop arena. There was a lot of excitement because we had no idea what we were doing. Each step was brand new, and you never knew what you were going to step into. Kinda like the Nas line, “kidnap the president’s wife without a plan.”

We used to go to newsstands with a little hand truck. We’d throw the homies a few extra copies—an incentive device. “Keep that extra money, Hassan. And THANK YOU for selling Beat Down.” But I remember one time, we rented a car. We were movin’ on up! We were in the city—downtown, on 4th and Broadway—and we ran into Mike McDonald, who was chilling in front of Tower Records. He was working for StepSun records at the time—home of the Troubleneck Brothers (more on them later). Mike handed us a cassette and vinyl copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s "Protect Ya Neck.”

Said Mike: “These are my boys from Staten Island. This shit is a real breath of fresh air. I’m going real hard with this. The Wu is a whole movement. WATCH! Tell me what you think.”

We gave Mike pounds and hopped back in the whip.

One of my favorite songs in in life, besides the unmolested flow of a happy bird lamping in a tree, is LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells.”(I’m not talking about the concert series, you young bucks.) Rick Rubin produced said track. It is the perfect combination of heavy rock n' roll slice and lyrical boom-bap. The energy is crazy and Uncle L’s performance is like a giant megaphone alerting the whole world that there's a new sheriff in town. When I heard “Protect Ya neck” in the car with Haji for the first time, the same goose bumps that stood at attention for “Rock the Bells” got up and saluted this bananas Wu-Tang cut.

When I heard 'Protect Ya neck' in the car with Haji for the first time, the same goose bumps that stood at attention for 'Rock the Bells' got up and saluted this bananas Wu-Tang cut. And the rapping wouldn’t stop! Like, how many dudes are on this record? What happened to the hook?

And the rapping wouldn’t stop! Like, how many dudes are on this record? What happened to the hook? People talk about the the Sex Pistols and punk rock and yes, they deserve props…as the second (and a half) wave of punk. The Ramones were before them and the STOOGES from the mother fuckin’ Motor City came before them and kicked in the doors. To me, Wu-Tang be the next wave of punk after the Sex Pistols. Enter the 36 Chambers is a punk record. It is the blues on crack and Private Stock malt liquor. It is kung-fu flicks reimagined through the eyes of kids from the projects who aren’t interested in being like everybody else. That’s where the hip-hop spark comes in: No biting allowed, step up with word play that makes you feel like you’re walking on the moon, even though you’re only doing backflips on a pissy mattress in an abandoned lot.

This is what I think of the Wu-Tang, Lask. THANK YOU for helping to bring the Wu to the world. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Neil Young but I’ve had the opportunity to interact with Ghost a few times. I think he’s one of my favorite writers. Every time I listen to one of his joints I hear something brand new that went over my head the listen prior.

As for the Troubleneck Brothers, I believe they too were an amalgamation of Staten Island and BK cats (the Wu’s ODB was from Crooklyn). They rapped. There was like ten of them and they would bully the fuck outta a track. They had skills and flow and hi-performance-type energy and hard-knock lives like the Wu. I wonder where the TB’s are now. The Wu collective overcame a lot in their personal lives. “Life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough” cried Inspectah Deck. “Shooting that that’s that shit in his bloodstream” screamed Raekwon, in reference to his father’s heroin habit. The Wu said it best: After the laughter comes Tearz. Today, the Wu can shed some laughs after the Tearz—because the royalties behind that set of blues can help keep the roaches out of Ghost’s cereal today.

Lask: Why didn’t the Troubleneck Brothers pop?

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