Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9: Wu-Tang Clan, "Protect Ya Neck"

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Song: "Protect Ya Neck"
Album: Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Year: 1993

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There are few genres in music history that have taken on as many unspoken rules as those found within the world of hip-hop music.  From the necessity of certain aspects of the musical background to the overall ego that runs throughout most emcees, one can see more similarities within hip-hop than nearly any other genre.  As the years have passed, the overall world of hip-hop has become more homogeneous, and many see the current hip-hop scene as one of the most bland and predictable eras in music history.  However, there was a time when hip-hop was splintering off in a number of different directions and some of the most unique and monumental hip-hop albums were released.  It was during this era that one album was introduced to the masses that defied nearly every trend in hip-hop and redefined the genre.  Standing in stark contrast to the idea of one emcee taking all the praise, there are few albums in history that can compare to Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 classic, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.  From the completely unique musical backgrounds to the wide range of name drops and lyrical themes to the distinctive delivery style of each of the nine emcees, there has simply never been anything else quite like the debut record from Wu-Tang Clan.  Quite literally, every track on the album is a classic, yet there may be no other song in the history of the group that better defines Wu-Tang Clan than their 1993 track, "Protect Ya Neck."

The moment "Protect Ya Neck" begins, the music brings with it a high energy sound that has a mood almost as if the song itself is stalking the listener.  The music seems to sway slightly back and forth, and it is this movement and presence that shows the unrivaled talents of Wu-Tang's primary producer, RZA.  Though he proved throughout Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers that he could mix virtually any sound or genre, on "Protect Ya Neck," RZA keeps things traditional, and yet is able to make the song sound like no other track.  Creating the base of the sound on The J.B.'s song "The Grunt" and Lowell Fulson's "Tramp," the song features a great amount of musical depth whilst still leaving more than enough space for each of the emcees to shine.  This balance is rarely achieved anywhere in hip-hop music, yet RZA constant proves what a master of this skill he is.  Mixing in pieces of Sly & The Family Stone's "Sing A Simple Song" and Albert King's "Cold Feet," the overall musical landscape is nothing short of superb, and the sounds remain fresh and original to this day.  In many ways, this is the key to the music of Wu-Tang Clan, as their songs seem to never age, and the phenomenal musical constructs of RZA have been copied and envied by nearly every hip-hop group since.  The way in which he balances the melodic and the hard-hitting has rarely been displayed as perfectly as one finds on "Protect Ya Neck."

Yet the most distinctive aspect of Wu-Tang Clan steals the stage on "Protect Ya Neck," as there are no other groups in history that share the music as perfectly or as widely as one finds here.  Each of the nine members of the group takes at least a few lines on the song, and this makes "Protect Ya Neck" one of the most unique and diverse songs in history.  With each member bringing their own sound and delivery style, it is amazing how they are able to all meld together a single unit, and the song never sounds disjointed or forced.  The fact that each member is able to so easily pass the sound to the next is a testament to the way in which Wu-Tang Clan were able to work with one another, and this group effort is without question the key to their songs sounding so fantastic.  Yet as one might expect, a few verses rise above the others, and on "Protect Ya Neck," Method Man and 'Ol Dirty Bastard prove why they were perhaps the most successful members of the group in the solo arena.  However, looking at the song lyrically, it is GZA (AKA The Genius) who steals the song with the final verse, as it contains some of the most brutal shots ever recorded.  Bringing a laid-back, somewhat unassuming sound, GZA destroys the "corporate" hip-hop groups when he rhymes, "...this goes on in some companies with majors they're scared to death to pump these...first of all, who's your A & R? A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?  But he don't know the meaning of dope, when he's lookin' for a suit and tie rap that's cleaner than a bar of soap..."  It is this ability to attack in creative and brilliant fashion in so many different styles that makes "Protect Ya Neck" the crowning achievement of Wu-Tang Clan's career.

Whether it was due to the massive number of emcees they have pushed to the forefront of hip-hop over the years, the unique musical arrangements and approach they innovated, or simply the brutal rhymes they brought to their tracks, there is simply no other group in the history of hip-hop that has had a similar amount of impact compared to that of Wu-Tang Clan.  Standing as a stark contrast to Dr. Dre's "West Coast" sound, it was Wu-Tang Clan that set the standard for the darker, gritty style that would define the East Coast hip-hop scene for years.  With RZA clearly understanding how to make a hard, unforgettable background without overpowering the emcee, the songs found on their debut record remain today some of the greatest hip-hop tracks in history, and most hit just as hard now as they did nearly twenty years ago.  Bringing nine different emcees to the table, the groups' sound is far more diverse than any other in history, and the unique style of each member receives ample time to shine, as the group as a whole are willing to share the spotlight, which in turn creates a musical work far greater than the sum of its parts.  Whether it is the odd rhymes of 'Ol Dirty Bastard, the smoother sounds of Method Man, or the more raw, almost intimidating sounds of the other emcees, no group brings the complete package quite like Wu-Tang Clan, and everything that makes them such icons can be found on their phenomenal 1993 track, "Protect Ya Neck."

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