For the majority of my second year in university I was on a real high for the Wu-Tang Clan. I listened to 36 Chambers for I think the second time ever in my life – if you haven’t heard it whilst reading this you probably should because it’s one of the best hip-hop releases of all time, get on it now – appreciated it for what it was, listened to ‘Method Man’ a bunch of times, watched its music video and then proceeded to fall down a rabbit hole that had appeared in the ground.
The nine original members of the Clan all had their own individual styles, something that they very much made clear on 36 Chambers and various interviews they carried out for the album’s promotion. To me it was clear that they all shared a mutual respect for GZA. He’s the oldest in the group, he had released his own solo album before they released their debut, the other members seemed to keep quiet whenever he said his bit in interviews. But there was nowhere else where he showed his wisdom more than in his rapping. He has a flair for incredible uses of metaphor, wordplay and smooth flow in his delivery. He also has a thing for science, the constellations and chess which usually appears in his lyrics too.
So where to begin if you want to get what GZA is all about? Probably Liquid Swords, his second studio album released in 1995. It’s a classic, and part of that run from ’93-’96 where whatever the RZA laid his producing hands upon turned to gold. It’s also the album where today’s track ‘I Gotcha Back’ can be heard as the penultimate song on its tracklisting. GZA – with RZA backing him up throughout – details the violent lifestyle of inner city youth in ’90s Brooklyn, from kids dealing drugs to make some dough to those being killed by stray bullets when trying to make their way home. It’s a grimy production with a strong kick drum and descending minor key piano key that is juxtaposed with air-raid siren-like horns throughout GZA’s verse, creating an anxious and intense atmosphere that very much matches its lyrical content. The track is a warning, sounds like one too. Watch out for what and who’s in front of you; one misstep and you’re in a bad situation.
In terms of the structure of Liquid Swords, ‘I Gotcha Back’ is meant to be the true closer. Whilst showcasing GZA at his strongest in one sole verse, the album is bookended by two tracks with GZA and RZA both sharing vocal duties. However the CD version closes out with ‘B.I.B.L.E (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)‘, a track written and performed by Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest. That one’s a lot more hopeful in its outlook.
Below is the video for ‘I Gotcha Back’ which contains less explicit lyrics. Didn’t know this version existed until now. Have to say it doesn’t hit as hard.