Wu-Tang Clan

Disciples of the 36 Chambers

(Sanctuary; 2005)

By Clayton Purdom | 30 October 2007

If you’re like me, your response to the very concept of this album is one of frothing, giddy adulation. Mother of God, you and I would shriek in harmony, a fucking Wu-Tang live album! We’d put the album on, hand in hand, and turn it up loud enough to get us evicted from the murky, kitsch-free apartment we’d share, loaded with Wu flags, vintage kung-fu posters, and dirty, well-worn chess sets. We’d bask in Disciples’ visceral, skin-thrashing intensity together. It’d be boss.

Unfortunately, there’s a 99.8% chance that you’ve got jack shit in common with me. If that’s the case, you will most likely hate this album.

Here’s what I mean: every serious music fan, at this point, at least recognizes that the Wu-Tang Clan are Important, having released one of the most seminal debuts in hip-hop history and about a dozen classic solo joints, give or take a Ghostface album. But the Wu’s impenetrable fortress of in-joke crossbreeding, self-referential mythology and hazy continuity keeps people on the outside. So while everyone knows the Wu are Important, few people actually listen to them. It’s the Zappa Dilemma: with so many 5-star albums, where’s a newbie to start? It’s tempting to wish for a Wu-Tang primer, a disc of entry points, an overview of their bloated, ever-growing catalogue.

Disciples is not that album. The centerpiece of the Wu-Tang’s appeal is RZA’s subterranean, bone-crackling production, but Disciples is muffled — the drums kick without their usual aplomb, the chorus wails on “Ice Cream” come off like mewling kittens, and “C.R.E.A.M.” sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber filled with werewolves. And if you’re looking for a glimpse into the Wu’s lyrical complexities, fuhgeddaboutit: two minutes of “Liquid Swords” or “Criminology” isn’t doing anybody justice. The manic delivery doesn’t help, nor does the presence of a barking, 20-man hype track. And Raekwon appears to be performing without the aid of a microphone. So if you’re looking for a place to start the treacherous, mind-expanding journey to Shaolin, try the same place the rest of us did and pick up Enter the 36 Chambers.

In the meantime, get the fuck outta here so the rest of us can enjoy Disciples. And now that we’re alone, fellow fans, I can get to the point: Disciples is incredible. I mean, look at that track list. This shit has both versions of “Run,” side by side for your listening pleasure, an atrocious, album-trumping “Dog Shit,” and an indecipherable, wild-eyed “Gravel Pit” that crumbles into about three minutes of absolutely incredible show-closing banter. That old chestnut of ignorance that hip-hop shows suck (“But there aren’t any instruments!”) can finally be put to death: open your ears and hear a family united and an audience ravenous for what they have to offer. Yes, the liner notes carefully insist, they all showed up, and Disciples accordingly sounds like Voltron fully-formed and wielding a saber made of fire, snare drums and sweat.

But the bottom line is that either you bought this album the day it came out or you didn’t even know it existed. And that’s fine: you go your way, I’ll go mine. But I’m walking down a path made of wind and dirt, of mysteries and comic books and suffocating intensity. My path has better music. And ninjas. And a song called “Dog Shit.” And now, finally, a live album.