At the time Wu-Tang Clan first appeared on the national stage, it was thanks to a hit 12″ single titled “Protect Ya Neck”/“Method Man”, released by Loud Records. The year before the group independently released “Protect Ya Neck” with a different B-side (“After The Laughter Comes Tears”) which built up enough of a buzz on the underground circuit to draw the attention of Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind.
While Staten Island had representatives from that borough to contribute to Hip-Hop in previous years like the Force MC’s/MD’s and The UMC’s, neither succeeded in bringing it the level of notoriety the Wu did following the release of their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), on November 9, 1993. In order to put their success in its proper context we have to be mindful of the climate of the rap game at the time the Wu-Tang Clan first burst onto the scene.
The rap world was still captivated by and under the shadow of Dr. Dre’s magnum opus The Chronic in the fall of 1993. Even though The Chronic was a Gangsta Rap album that featured a ton of newcomers, it was helmed by N.W.A’s production maestro who mastered how to make hardcore Hip-Hop music that appealed to a wide audience. Dre’s albums sounded clean and were the height of sonic mastery and song construction at the time. What the Wu Tang Clan did was go in the complete opposite direction with their sound and aesthetic, thus making them stand out from the jump.
“Protect Ya Neck” featured seven verses tied together by a bridge and an improvised break in the middle in lieu of a chorus. The beat sounded frenetic and raw, exactly like the kind of songs that blew up on college radio Rap shows like Stretch & Bobbito’s on NYC’s WKCR. Just when rap was in danger of becoming super professional sounding and clean, Wu-Tang Clan showed up and dragged it right back down into the mud again and made it grimy.
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Photo: Loud Records