Wu-Tang Clan is one of the most important rap groups in rap history. Coming out of Staten Island, the crew, which consisted of nine members (some from the Island while others from Brooklyn) the Clan would release their 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and the rest is history. But a big piece of that history is what happened in the years following the group's hostile takeover of the rap game. Expanding outside of the crew, members began recording solo albums of their own, starting with Method Man and Ol' Dirty Bastard.
Wu member GZA's own solo endeavor, Liquid Swords, would touch down on Nov. 7, 1995, and become the soundtrack for the chillier months of the year, heading into 1996. The album was entirely produced by RZA, save for the bonus track, which is credited to Wu in-house producer 4th Disciple, and features an array of bone-chilling soundscapes over which GZA and his Clan brethren pull verbal stunts with the ease of skilled assassins. Despite being devoid of any big hits, Liquid Swords would achieve platinum status, the only release of the rapper's career to reach that plateau.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this undisputed classic, we take a look back at the five choice cuts that exemplify the brilliance of the Genius' magnum opus.
"Investigative Reports"Featuring U-God, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah
Crew love is the theme on "Investigative Reports," a brooding number that finds GZA plying his trade alongside a few of his Wu brethren. Raekwon makes his lone appearance on the album a memorable one, spitting, "Way of life got me thinking, plus I'm analyzing young / Youths on roofs, you know, three time felony brutes / Roll together, tropical trees puff, whatever / Yo we could go run up on, kids for leathers," and examining the ways of the younger generation. GZA follows up with some potent rhymes as well, rapping, "They used to heat up the cipher with a shot that was hyper / Than your average JFK sniper / He just came home from Spofford / Rolling like Kaufman, and laid that ass out like carpet" and runs roughshod over the RZA production. Ghostface Killah and U-God hop on the track and complete the cypher with verses of their own, placing the toe-tag on one of the album's most cinematic offerings.
"Shadowboxin'"Featuring Method Man
In Wu-Tang tradition, Liquid Swords includes a battle of the wits between two of the clansmen, this one pitting GZA against Method Man for a little lyrical sparring. Meth comes out the gate swinging with nifty couplets like, "I breaks it down to the bone gristle / Ill speaking spud missle, heat-seeking, Jhonnie blazin'," before completely spazzing with "Know just what the f--- I'm doing, rap insomniac / Fiend to catch a n---- snoozing / Slip the cardiac, arrest me, exorcist, hip-hop possessed me / Crunch a n---- like a Nestle, you know my steez." GZA then catches some wreck of his own. "Protect ya neck my sword still remains imperial / fore I blast the mic, RZA scratch off the serial / We reign all year round from June to June / While n----a bite immediately, if not soon," he rhymes before Meth polishes off the end of the beat with a few additional bars. Pugilism never sounded so beautiful.
GZA has a bone to pick on the Liquid Swords banger, "Labels," which finds the former industry casualty popping shots at various record companies with abandon. "Tommy ain't my motherf---in' boy / When you fake moves on a n---- you employ," he raps. GZA makes sure to take aim at the label that he was signed to before linking up with the Wu and Loud Records. He doesn't stop there either, going on to include a litany of popular record labels from the '90s throughout the verse. "This so called comedian rap ain't the rough witty / On the reala real, it wasn't been a Tuff City / N----s be game thinking that they lyrical surgeons / Knowing they microphone's a Virgin / And if you ain't boned a mic, you couldn't hurt a bee / That's like going to Venus driving a Mercury," he delivers. One of the more innovative concept songs, "Labels" plays a major part in Liquid Swords being the classic that it is and a quintessential listen for any rap fan.
"Cold World"Featuring Inspectah Deck
The album reaches a crescendo with "Cold World," the second single. GZA teams up with Inspectah Deck for one of the more notable songs in the rapper's discography to date. Vocalist Life tackles the bone-chilling hook, singing, "Babies crying, brothers dying, and brothers getting knocked / S--- is deep on the block and you got me locked down In this cold, cold world" with an unmistakable grit that gives the track a grimy feel. GZA unleashes a flawless opening verse as well. "Gunshots, shatter first-floor window panes / Shells hit the ground and blood stained the dice game / Whether pro-calisthenic, any style you set it / Beat n----s toothless, physically cut up like gooses / But with iron on the sides, thugs took no excuses /Therefore, your fifty-two handblocks was useless," he serves, pummeling the track to bits. Inspectah Deck joins in on the festivities on the second verse, rhyming, "Some n----s in the jet black Gallant / Shot up the Chinese restaurant, for this kid named Lamont / I thought he was dead but instead / He missed the kid And hit a 12-year-old girl in the head, and then fled," he raps, spelling out what is yet another tragic story of life on the streets of New York. While "Cold World" didn't shake up the Billboard charts -- the track peaked at No. 97 on the Hot 100 -- it did earn the GZA a spot at No. 8 on the Hot Rap chart and is as timeless a Wu banger as they come.
"4th Chamber"Featuring Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA
"4th Chamber" showcases GZA tapping Ghostface Killah, RZA and Killah Priest for one of this album's finer selections. Pretty Toney takes the initiative and bats lead-off, dropping zany quotables, like, "Why is the sky blue, why is water wet / Why did Judas grab the Romans while Jesus slept / Stand up, you're out of luck like two dogs stuck / Ironman be sipping rum out of Stanley Cups" and takes the show. Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest also gets off a few rewind-worthy bars, rapping, "I judge wisely, as if nothing ever surprise me / Lounging between two pillars of ivory / I'm lively, my domepiece is like building stones in Greece / A poems are deep from ancient tomes I speak" before RZA and GZA come with some rhymes of their own. "Disciplinary action was a fraction of strength that made me truncate the length one-tenth," GZA rhymes, laying his complex verbiage over the track.