If you woke up today out of a thirty-year coma, you may be tempted to draw some conclusions from the Wu-Tang logo that graces T-shirts, bus stop stickers, and dorm room posters in every major American city from New York to San Diego. It might appear that these are the markings of a cult, signifiers of a hip-hop movement that ran counter to the mainstream and reshuffled the canon in the process. Eventually, you would figure out that this is, in fact, partially true.
The Wu-Tang Clan does have a cult-like following that has remained devoted disciples to this day, decades after RZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, GZA, U-God, and Ol' Dirty Bastard made their 1993 debut. What makes the Masters from Shaolin so unique and so alluring is that, as hyper-specific and uncompromisingly weird as their music was, they were able to dominate rap’s commercial channels with clever wordplay, unforgettable hooks, and a deep roster of rap world legends. Aside from their creative output, they also gained respect on the inside of the music industry, as they are credited with bolstering the agency artists had when negotiating with record executives when each member was given the ability to negotiate their own solo deals apart from the group contract.
That music this cutting-edge became so ubiquitous feels like a happy accident of history, but it really speaks to the determination and resiliency of the group’s nine founding members, a handful of close affiliates, dozens upon dozens of extended family members, and disciples of a number that would be difficult to accurately count.
And while Wu-Tang music has racked up play-counts and record sales that other rappers only dream about, their catalog (both as a group and as solo artists) deserves constant, careful attention, from newcomers and longtime listeners alike. Legends like these artists don’t come around often. What follows is a list of the most important Wu-Tang Clan songs that highlight, for one reason or another, a piece of what makes the Wu so inimitable to this very day.