Tidal Catalog #8: Wu-Tang Clan (Six Degrees)

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank the albums from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m moving them all over here, in order to expand (“remaster”) them out a bit more.

Note: This one is my first “Six Degrees” catalog. A catalog with this label branches out from the group and into the other works from each member.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)
  • DVD releases are not considered.

Entrance Point: Not really sure exactly what I had heard before doing this. I grew up a hip-hop fan and knew the major records already but the only album I had on regular rotation was Method Man and Redman’s Blackout album.

Included: In order to be included here, a Wu-Tang member had to be on 80% of the tracks on a given record. I really started this rule because of the Wu-Tang Clan and their 9 million affiliate records. But all the group albums as well as projects from all 10 members (RZA, GZA, ODB, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Capadonna)

Not Included: Hard to pinpoint as there are so many releases but I didn’t go deep into the “Wu-Tang affiliate” records. These are the artists and albums from pretty much unknown New Yorkers under the Wu-Tang stable but don’t contain many or any contributions from actual Wu members. There are what seems like hundreds of these. And I haven’t included Once Upon a Time in Shaolin – the Wu-Tang record that exists in only one copy that sold for 2M in auction.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale.

As an intro, this surely was an ambitious catalog and it’s grown over time as well. These catalogs are living documents, meaning as the artist releases more material, I will update the catalogs to keep them current. As of June 28th, 2019, there are 100 damn records in this. Even when I first completed it, I think there were 80 some which took me months to listen to and try to put in some kind of order. And just so everyone understands, I don’t take shortcuts. I literally listen to every track on every record, not just snippets here and there. I have always felt that I don’t want to half ass anything I do and lose what little credibility I might have. So I’ve listened to every moment of every Wu-Tang disc from the great ones all the way to every shitty Cappadonna and U-God record. Since this was an early one, all I did was rank the albums so remastering this one for this site is going to be interesting.

  • Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (10)

Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is widely considered one of the best and most influential rap albums of all time. This was the debut album for “The Chef” and really marks one of the solo records that everyone points to as the pinnacle of RZA’s production career. Every member of the Wu-Tang Clan is on this record but it features Ghostface on almost every track. It also marks the very first time that there was a guest on the record that wasn’t an affiliate (Nas was on “Verbal Intercourse”).

The record has sold over a million copies due to the continued praise of it by hip-hop artists across the globe but it certainly wasn’t the biggest seller when it came out. Method Man has the personality and fun beats to make him accessible to so many people. Raekwon surely isn’t as accessible but both him and Ghostface are true lyricists. So it’s no wonder that an album that prominently features both of them would be at the top of the list.

There should have been a movie made out of this record as it was basically created like it was a film about the mafia and organized crime with Raekwon as the boss and Ghostface as the mafia member. Anytime you hear about “Wu-Gambinos” in records, it’s because of this album. And while Wu-Tang records are known for their clips from Kung-Fu movies, this one features mafia dialog, so it stands out in the catalog. RZA’s beats are on point here, still pretty fresh having only worked on four Wu-Tang related before this.

This (as well as so many other Wu records) needs to be listened to, not just heard and while there are so many concept records that just don’t work over the course of an entire record, this feels and sounds as authentic as it gets, like you are part of a NY crime syndicate. Gritty. Masterful. Easily one of the best records ever made.

“Verbal Intercourse”
  • GZA – Liquid Swords (10)

If you put this record as #1 on the list, I wouldn’t argue either. Out of the 10 members of the Clan, six of them have a recognizable style and GZA is really known with having the purest rhymes and the best flow of any of the members. His lyrics tend to focus on science more than any other topic but Liquid Swords really focused on philosophy, crime and chess (the latter two being common themes on Wu records). Throughout the record there are many samples from the movie Shogun Assassin and RZA’s keyboard work is his best on this record. (Not sure that most people know that a lot of the keyboards you hear on Wu records are made live by RZA and are not samples).

GZA himself doesn’t think he’s at his best lyrically but just like Only Built…the stories that GZA tells from start to finish are consistent and lyrically sharp. And his style flows like butter. This album is pretty gritty and dark and at the same time, so smooth that it’s an incredibly easy listen. It also has one of the best 1-2 punches on any Wu record (not the best – we’ll get to that soon) in “4th Chamber” which contains one of Ghostface’s best rhymes and “Shadowboxin'” with Method Man.

  • Ghostface Killah – The Lost Tapes (10)

So Raekwon is the tight, visual storyteller, GZA has the smooth, easy flow and now Ghostface Killah (aka Ghostface, aka Ghostdini, aka Ironman, aka Tony Starks, aka Starky Love, aka Pretty Toney…phew…) is the guy that yells all the insane shit in his brain at you.

Overall, I think Ghostface’s overall body of work is the best of the ten Wu-Tang members. His in your face storytelling is pretty addicting but he also has a remarkable ear for the beats that really work for him. Throughout his career he’s had a knack for rapping over orchestral R&B from the 70s and recently, his albums consistently sound like a throw back to the 90s golden era of hip hop. I can’t even count what number record this is for him as he releases so much music with so many different people but it’s pretty amazing that at least 20 albums in, released in Oct. 2018, The Lost Tapes is fresher than anything he’s ever done. Every beat is a throwback to the 90s, which actually is everything Ghostface should always be and his flow is as good as it’s ever been on this album. Despite the name of the album, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing actually lost about these songs. As far as I know these are not outtakes (and if they are, then count this as the best outside record ever), it’s simply a new record produced by “Big Ghost Ltd.” which is him. So what makes this record even better is that over the course of a few decades, he’s learned from all his various producers and actually created this one on his own as a perfect example of his career arc.

There are plenty of great Ghostface records but this is as smooth and on point record as he’s ever done.

“Constant Struggle”
  • DJ Muggs vs GZA – Grandmasters (10)

So GZA is the only one of the Wu-Tang members that has two 10/10 in the catalog though technically I guess it’s not even his record. DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill fame has a whole series of Muggs vs… albums where he produces all the tracks for an MC and this was his first in the series.

Muggs is an extremely underrated DJ in my opinion. His work with Cypress Hill was great and he has an awesome ear for incredible beats. This record comes across as a mix of the Cypress Hill style and the 70’s gospel tinged R&B that fits the Wu-Tang style perfectly. GZA goes back to the lyrical theme of chess again, hence the “Grandmasters” title which is the highest rank of chess player and MC. And when you look at an album like this and see tracks like “Advance Pawns” “Unprotected Pieces” and “Illusory Protection,” you quickly realize this isn’t a normal hip-hop record. GZA may be from the street but he’s also a damn intelligent dude. But the thing that really draws me into this record is that it’s not from RZA. Listen, after going through weeks and weeks of releases with RZA productions, it’s nice to hear something different. Maybe that’s why it strikes a chord with me, or maybe it’s just that good.

“Advance Pawns”
  • Method Man & Redman – Blackout (9.5)

Redman is one of the most underrated rappers of all time and while he was on many Wu-Tang records, he was never actually a member of the group. But he has a long standing friendship with Method Man, collaborating on records and movies for ages now. And despite the praises I laid out for Raekwon, Ghost and GZA – Method Man is my favorite rapper in the clan. While not quite the lyricist that other members are, he’s also no slouch and his record are the fun ones in this catalog.

Meth has always been pretty cool but his music moved to another level once he moved on from RZA productions. Most of this record is produced by Erick Sermon who seemed to be the best producer for the sound Method Man excelled at, which is fun, upbeat thumpers. The other producer that worked really well for Method Man was Rockwilder. It’s funny in reality that I remember Rockwilder the most on this record even though he only produced one track. But that track was “Da Rockwilder” which is my second favorite tune in this entire catalog (even though at just over 2 minutes it could seriously use like two more verses). That’s the first half of a 1-2 punch that is as good as anything I’ve ever heard, with “Tear It Off” being the backend of that knockout jab and one of my favorite rap songs of all time.

Those two with the title track, “Y.O.U” which sounds very similar to “Tear It Off” and the album closer “Fire Ina Hole” make this album stand out as the most easily accessible of any set in the catalog.

“Da Rockwilder”
“Tear It Off”
  • Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (9.5)
  • Ghostface Killah – Ghost Files: Propane Tape (9.5)
  • RZA – The World According to RZA (9.5)

This album is a unique exception in the catalog as RZA doesn’t rap on 80% of the tracks (see intro) but RZA produced everything on this record and it’s undoubtedly a RZA record, so I included it.

The World According to RZA is a collaborative album with rappers from around the globe, with RZA traveling to many different countries, bringing beats to some of his favorite foreign rappers and recording all of them in the span of what must have been a whirlwind month or so.

RZA hits Sweden first and records with Fever and Petter (with the latter recording in Swedish), then moved to Norway for a rapper named Diaz. The he headed to France and recorded with the Saïan Supa Crew, Bams and others. Following that, he went to Germany, Italy and London for new tracks. While RZA’s beats aren’t a lot different from what he gave to his own clan, what makes this stand out is that you get some of the best-of-the-best from around the world and you get to see just how well his beats fit universally. While I’ve never been a real fan of RZA as a rapper, he certainly shows how great of a producer he is on this one. To make me like an album that’s only partially in English is an accomplishment unto itself.

  • Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx…Part II (9)
  • Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die (9)
  • Badbadnotgood – Sour Soul (9)

You might notice that I’m stopping at some of the more unique albums in the catalog because as we move down the list and the quality drops, there’s not really that much I can say that you wouldn’t already know even if you were a casual fan. But a group like Badbadnotgood is one of those entities that just stand out from the crowd not only because it’s great but because it’s something you wouldn’t quite expect.

Badbadnotgood (or BBNG for short) is a Canadian instrumental jazz outfit. Their first couple records are a combo of original material and hip-hop covers. The had one album of all original material before releasing Sour Soul, which is a full collaboration with Ghostface Killah. At first, the thought of jazz behind Ghostface seemed weird but when you listen to the album, you see just how much this really fits. Ghostface likes to use beats that are very theatrical, filled with horns, strings and keyboards and/or tunes that seem to be belong to 70’s movie soundtracks. And thus, jazzy hip-hop really isn’t that far fetched. What BBNG did here is make an album for Ghostface rather than having Ghostface rap over music designed to be jazz instrumentals. With that, the pieces fit together perfectly and make for an adventurous record.

“Six Degrees”
  • Wu-Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow (9)
  • Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons (9)
  • Ghostface Killah – Ironman (9)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Chamber Music (9)
  • Czarface – Czarface Meets Ghostface (9)

I mentioned above that I’m stopping at a lot of the more unique records in the catalog and it certainly seems like Ghostface is the one that is willing to take the most chances with his music. Now it’s not that much of a leap for Ghostface to collaborate on a Czarface record as the band is 7L & Esoteric and Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck but Czarface themselves are a bit different.

Czarface now have seven records in their eight years of being a group with 7L handling most of the production work as the DJ, providing pretty straight forward 90s inspired beats, while Esoteric and Inspectah Deck handlr most of the rapping with some guests. And all albums contain themes, mostly around comic books with a lot of wrestling thrown in the mix. The amount of spoken samples and or unique spoken narratives to tie the story together can be overwhelming at times but not on this record. Those spoken passages are present but limited which lets the music and rhymes shine through. This record ends up being the best of the Czarface catalog because of that, not really due to Ghostface’s present (though that doesn’t hurt) as it’s a lot more subtle and less in-your-face than a lot of Wu-Tang records.

“Iron Claw”
  • Ghostface Killah – Ghost Files: Bronze Tape (9)
  • Ghostface Killah – Bulletproof Wallets (8.5)
  • Ghostface Killah – Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City (8.5)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (8.5)

In my initial Facebook post, many people were pretty cool with my order aside from this record and one other. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is understandably loved by almost everyone and it is a good record but does actually have a few clunkers here and there which causes it to be so low.

This is the album that started it all, introducing the world to the group. Really the first time you hear RZA beats and the place where we kind of learn who’s important in the clan and who’s not (U-God has just two verses). We also get introduced to the insane Ol’ Dirty Bastard, with a rhyme style like no other and quickly get to see that he’s going to need beats that are mighty different than most of the members.

The reason I have 36 Chambers this low is that I don’t find the first third of the record very exciting. “Bring Da Ruckus” “Clan in the Front” and “Wu Tang: 7th Chamber” aren’t really up to par with what came later. When this was released, it was mind blowing but I don’t think a lot of the tracks have help up well over time. That said though, it’s still got classics on it.

The disc picks up big time starting with the 6th track, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” which is followed by a classic lineup of ” Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit” “C.R.E.A.M.” “Method Man” and “Protect Ya Neck” – the latter three being the singles from the record. “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” has become the iconic Wu-Tang song and used in all kind of variations in pop culture from other tunes, to commercials and then people adjusting the first word to indicate everything else that rules around me. It runs as deep as the Burley Oak brewery in Berlin, MD creating a series of beers called J.R.E.A.M. (Juice Rules Everything Around Me).

Overall, the classics certainly outweigh the clunkers and without this record, I highly doubt the Wu-Tang clan members would be where they are today.

  • Method Man – Tical (8.5)
  • Ghostface Killah – The Big Doe Rehab (8.5)
  • Method Man & Redman – Blackout 2 (8.5)
  • GZA – Legends of the Liquid Sword (8.5)
  • Masta Killa – Loyalty is Royalty (8.5)
  • Czarface – A Fistful of Peril (8.5)
  • Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (8)

The Gravediggaz were one of the most influential groups in the niche horrorcore genre, which was pretty much started by the Geto Boys and now really is represented by Juggalos everywhere.

The group was started by Prince Paul and Frukwan from Stetsasonic, who then brought on a rapper named Poetic and RZA. At the time, RZA and Prince Paul were two of the premiere producers of their time.

Their first album was called N*ggamortis everywhere but in the US where it was called 6 Feet Deep. It helped push Horrorcore forward as a genre, which in a nutshell are pretty grimey, gritty beats and horror filled lyrics. Death and the Grim Reaper are top topics throughout the disc. The group and this album in particular show a much darker side of both RZA and Prince Paul and while they weren’t able to capture this level of success on the next record, 6 Feet Deep is definitely one of the best albums in the genre.

“Bang Your Head”
  • Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (8)
  • Ghostface Killah – More Fish (8)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – The W (8)
  • Ghostface Killah – The Pretty Toney Album (8)
  • Ghostface Killah – Ghostdeini the Great (8)
  • Raekwon – The Wild (8)
  • Method Man – 4:21…the Day After (8)
  • Czarface – Czarface (7.5)
  • Method Man – Meth Lab Season 2: The Lithium (7.5)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – The Saga Continues (7.5)
  • Masta Killa – No Said Date (7.5)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Legendary Weapons (7.5)
  • GZA – Pro Tools (7.5)
  • Method Man – Tical 2000 (7.5)
  • Czarface – Every Hero Needs a Villain (7)
  • GZA – Beneath the Surface (7)
  • Raekwon – The Lex Diamond Story (7)
  • Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids (7)
  • Ghostface Killah & Trife Da God – Put It on the Line (7)

Over the years Ghostface has really tried to pass his success on down the line to some smaller rappers from New York as he formed some groups with Wu-Tang affiliates, with Trife Da God being part of the Theodore Unit. Very few of these artists ever really made any name for themselves and I haven’t heard anything from the vast majority of them but Put it On the Line is likely the best of them all. It doesn’t hurt that Ghostface is on most of the tracks but Trife is a solid rapper on his own accord. This doesn’t sound much like a Wu record overall but it’s not necessarily supposed to either. “Gangsta Shit” and “Milk ‘Em” are pretty great tracks though.

“Milk ‘Em”
  • Inspectah Deck – Uncontrolled Substance (7)
  • Ghostface Killah & Sleek Louch – Wu-Block (7)
  • Masta Killa – Made in Brooklyn (6.5)
  • GZA – Words from the Genius (6.5)

I stop here not for the quality of the record but because this is one of two records released by Wu-Tang members before the group existed. GZA’s in full force lyrically and with his flow with this debut, but it’s so incredibly far from a Wu-Tang record that it’s pretty amazing to hear this. This was released in 1991 and sounds very much like what was on the radio in that era. You could put this next to Biz Markie, Pharcyde and others in that realm and it would have fit right in.

“Phony As Ya Wanna Be”
  • Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams (6.5)
  • Method Man – Tical 0 (6.5)
  • Method Man / Ghostface Killah / Raekwon – Wu-Massacre (6.5)
  • Raekwon – Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang (6.5)
  • RZA – The RZA Instrumental Experience (6)
  • Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die II (6)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever (6)
  • Method Man – The Meth Lab (6)
  • RZA – Bobby Digital in Stereo (6)
  • Theodore Unit – 718 (6)
  • Cappadonna – The Pillage (6)
  • Inspectah Deck – The Movement (6)
  • U-God – Golden Arms Redemption (6)
  • Czarface – Double Dose of Danger (6)
  • Ol’ Dirty Bastard – N*gga Please (6)

Well, ODB’s two albums are way down my list and were the other albums that many people originally though I put way too low. And maybe they are but while I love how unique he was and some of his tunes are unmistakable classics, I simply feel like he was best in small doses.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard was as different a rapper as has ever existed. Dude was insane, pretty much screaming into the mic, constantly seeming like he’s out of control with his rhymes while always somehow maintaining control of his verses. I really didn’t like his first record, though jeez, “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” are ridiculously great tunes. For his second and final album, “N*gga Please” he starts off by saying he’s not making commercial music but also has the Neptunes all over his record – so you know, as usual, typical tongue-in-cheek ODB. This record has the crazy cover of “Cold Blooded” by Rick James and then one of the greatest tunes of all times in “Got Your Money” which starts out with one of the best rhymes ever – “You give me your number, I call you up / you act like your pussy don’t interrupt / I don’t have no problem with you fucking me / but I have a little problem with you not fucking me.” Only ODB comes up with that.

Overall, his sheer level of insanity was hard for me to listen to over the course of a full record but props to this motherfucker for standing out in a sea of generic rappers.

“Got Your Money”
  • Czarface – First Weapon Drawn (6)
  • Banks & Steelz – Anything but Words (6)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Chronicals (6)
  • RZA – Digital Bullet (6)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Iron Flag (6)
  • Cappadonna – Hook Off (6)
  • Cappadonna – Wu South VI.1 (5.5)
  • Cappadonna – The Pillage 2 (5.5)
  • Cappadonna – Eyrth, Wynd and Fyre (5.5)
  • Raekwon – Dope on the Table (5)
  • Inspectah Deck – Manifesto (5)
  • RZA – Ooh I Love You Rakeem (5)
  • Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – The Brown Tape (5)
  • Canibus & Cappadonna – The 2nd Coming (5)
  • Cappadonna – The Yin and the Yang (5)
  • Raekwon – Immobiliarity (5)
  • U-God – The Keynote Speaker (5)
  • Masta Killa – Selling My Soul (5)
  • U-God – Dopium (5)
  • Ghostface Killah – The Wallabee Champ (5)
  • Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (5)
  • RZA – Birth of a Prince (5)
  • Cappadonna – The Pilgrimage (5)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Of Mics and Men (4.5)
  • Ghostface Killah – Hidden Darts (4)
  • RZA – Digi Snacks (4)
  • Cappadonna – The Struggle (4)
  • U-God – Mr. Xcitement (4)
  • Raekwon – The Tonite Show EP (4)
  • Gravediggaz – The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel (4)
  • Cappadonna – Wu South VI.2 (4)
  • Cappadonna – Ear Candy (4)
  • Cappadonna – Slang Prostitution (3.5)
  • Raekwon – Fly International Luxurious Art (3)

The Trusty Steed stops here on his trek as he needs some water and then likely to be put out to pasture having listened to a lot of really sad records to get to this level. The bottom of this list has a bunch almost all of Cappadonna’s works, a lot from U-God, Master Killah and surprisingly Raekwon. Rae’s had more than a few missteps in his career which actually doesn’t contain all that many albums compared to others in the clan.

The reason that F.I.L.A. is down here is two fold. The lack of substance in his rhymes are pretty evident here. This is a record about how much money he has an what he does with it. Not really the unique content we’ve come to known Wu to put out. And secondly, the number of popular guest stars on this, from Snoop Dogg, to Busta Rhymes, to 2 Chainz and Rick Ross, says he was out to make a radio ready disc of hits, which really is quite contradictory to what the clan was really about.

In the end, if this was a standalone record by another artist, it might be a bit better but in the Wu-Tang stable, this is just about as low as you go with “F.I.L.A. World” leading that charge.

“F.I.L.A. World”
  • Cappadonna – The Cappatilize Project (3)

Summary: 100 Albums, Average: 6.7

Adjusted Summary after Update #2: 102 albums, Average 6.7

2 thoughts on “Tidal Catalog #8: Wu-Tang Clan (Six Degrees)

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