Quick and Dirty Edition
1. GZA - Liquid Swords
Everything weird and spooky about 36 Chambers is amplified and distorted, from the horrific kung-fu movie samples to the genuine religious fervor bubbling under it all. ("B.I.B.L.E." is still one of the all-time greats.) RZA's beats have never been more shambling or crazed. From here to Portishead in one E-Z step.
2. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Come for the facile crack rap, stay for the brutal and definitive autopsy of the crack epidemic's slow-burn holocaust across America's inner cities. Demerit points for the creep-tastic "Ice Cream," however.
3. Ghostface Killa - Supreme Clientele
At this late date there is no controversy whatsoever in saying that Ghostface is the most consistent as well as the most prolific of all the solo Clan members - a deadly combo, and certainly not what anyone could have expected given his relatively low profile on the earliest Clan recordings. Supreme Clientele was the first Wu-Tang album of the new millennium (Feb '00), and maybe still the best of the last ten ten years, OB4CLII notwithstanding. Ghost hit the ground running and never looked back - with the sole exception of a bizarre R&B detour last year, he has been untouchable ever since.
4. RZA - Bobby Digital In Stereo
What do you do after almost single-handedly creating one of the most influential sounds of the decade? If you're the RZA and you're plotting your first solo album, you blow it all up and start counting backwards from the future. From the candy-coated computer rhythms to the strange alter-alter-ego head games, this is blueprint for the next decade - everything from Kanye to Dilla to MF Doom to electroclash and Daft Punk's DIscovery. And as if that weren't enough. RZA remains a criminally underrated MC, one of the most intense performers in the history of rap. If this were released tomorrow, it'd still be five years ahead of its time.
4. Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return to the 36 Chambers: The DIrty Version
ODB played the fool until it killed him. In hindsight, were we complicit in his undoing? We laughed when he took the limo to pick up his welfare check, but we were fooling ourselves if we didn't know all along there was real pain and illness behind the indefatigable clowning. If only he had had the wherewithal to keep his public alter-ego distinct from his real ego, we might still have Russell Jones with us today. As it is we will have to be content with the records he has left us: weird, demented and unique even in the company of some of the most idiosyncratic MCs in the history of hip-hop, this album is singularly joyful in its anarchy, blissfully happy in its commitment to the liberating power of noise and creative scatology.