Wu-Tang Clan’s The W (2000)

The W

Album: The W
Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Year: 2000
Reason Featured:  #46 on The Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop Poll for 2000, #9 Album for Rolling Stone’s Top Ten Albums of 2000, #21 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Careful (Click, Click), One Blood Under W, I Can’t Go to Sleep
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (4/5), NME (8/10), Robert Christgau (A-)
My Grade: 78%

I can’t see my hesitancy over writing on hip-hop disappearing anytime soon. It’s something for which I feel underqualified and unprepared. The genre is still new to me as I was just too caught up with what was on the oldies station when I was younger to take in all the rap that was popular. After my younger brother got me into spinning Kanye’s discography, Enter the Wu-Tang was one of the first hip-hop records I really got into by my own discretion. So the group is pretty near and dear to my heart. I was infatuated with their cinematic horn-and-sound-effects samples, their emphasis on propping each individual rapper up and giving them their time to shine and the way the beats laid down there can be found pounding as a foundation through most other rap records I’ve enjoyed. When it comes to The W, though, I can’t say I found as many places to hang my hat.

“Careful (Click, Click)” possesses the strength of Enter’s singsong and street-side hooks, as does “Gravel Pit.” The spy-movie trumpets, squeaky clean guitar strums and reggae intonations during “One Blood Under W” are highlights as is GZA’s minor-key rant after Snoop Dogg’s somewhat lackadaisical appearance on “Conditioner.” The song which I really gravitated to on here were the more slowed down ones which divorce themselves from “the mothafuckin’ ruckus” of their first album. The standout here is “I Can’t Go to Sleep,” inflected as it is with hints of Marvin Gaye’s socially and soulfully conscious What’s Going On while also, in turn, a template for what would come about on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D. city and Kanye West’s early albums and later tracks like “Blood on the Leaves” and “Bound 2.” So much soul here. Isaac Hayes contributes a verse for God’s sake!

Ironically, what I see as a strength on that track is something I see as an occasional weakness for the rest of the album. It sounds like a bridge between the charming, nostalgic hip-hop soul of the nineties and further on backward and the progressive, exploratory to come. This transitoriness is nice and intriguing but it mostly makes me want to turn back and head back home or forward into the genre’s destination. I wish they could’ve made a third record which sounded more like its own statement in hindsight that a mere passageway between worlds. It’s a recapitulation of what was great about hip-hop in the past and a prophecy of great things to come. Still, it has its inspired moments which make it important as a destination in itself rather than just as a prediction or recollection.

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