Written By Shugabooga
I am a big fan of food. Picking my favorite food is tough. I love cheeseburgers off the grill in the summer time and as I eat them, I think “There can be no better food than this burger right here”. Then I go out for a good steak and I think “There can be no better food than this.” Then I drink too much cheap beer and hit Taco Bell at 3:00am and think “There can be no better food than this!”.
Picking a favorite thing when you have lots of choices is tough.
My brother was my mother’s favorite. #FACTS. I’m comfortable with that. She only had two to choose from. There could only be one- he was it. He was my favorite too, so I understand where she was coming from. But with only two choices, she had a 50/50 shot at picking the right one. Easy for her, right?
Now you’ve got 9 Wu babies, and dozens of Wu Grandbabies to pick from. That is more like picking out your favorite food than favorite kid. They are so different. Think about other groups along the way. First of all, they usually had one or two “Varsity” players and then other people that just saw spot minutes. I think of BDP. Outside of KRS One, Miss Melody and D Nice I don’t remember too many other key players (I’ll accept Mad Lion I suppose- who else am I missing?).
On top of that, most of the time there are more similarities than differences between the members of the group. Outside of Flav and Chuck and Andre and Big Boi- most groups have a more common thread. NWA for example, while varied in skill and vocal talent, where much closer in scope than ODB and GZA. EPMD resembled each other much more in music and fashion than Meth and RZA.
Wu Tang was just different.
So when it comes to narrowing down your favorite Wu Family member it’s tough. Much like the clothes in your closet, different members fit different days and emotions. When I had a long drive to the University Of Toledo, the GZA was the equivalent of a book on tape for me. But on a sunny day, drinking a cold beer on the beach- that Purple Tape made me feel like I was Tony in Miami. Tical had the best freestyle session beats. ODB would get me hyped before my own performances. How could I just pick three?
I asked this same question of my BubbleHedz on line and got some GREAT responses, which we will get to in just a minute. But for now- here is where I settle on my top three favorite Wu affiliates of all time!
Ghostface Killa- My Favorite Killa Bee of All Time
For a long time, Method Man was my favorite rapper period. But Meth didn’t change with the game. While some would say that was a great attribute, I considered it a detriment. Starks didn’t change either. But the game adapted to him. And he never got dated for some reason.
My position of him changed on a very unlikely track. I loved the Ironman album and his work on the Purple Tape, but believe it or not, it’s when I heard him on the G Dep “Special Delivery” Remix that I realized he was driving hip hop. Other rappers looked up to him. It wasn’t just his style and his jewelry. It was the fact that he sounded so real. He lent instant credibility to every track he was on. I wasn’t always sure what he meant on every song. But I knew if he said it, it meant something.
My favorite Starks project was the “Pretty Tony” album. He had just laced a Beyoncé feature that made him a guest on the most unlikely stage ever: The Jay Z “Fade to Black” show at the Garden. Here was Tony, in his bathrobe and Tims, full Slick Rick jewelry kit on, in front of a HUGE crowd, rapping with the biggest star in pop music. Still sounding the same- but still sounding fresh. And that swagger carried over to the album. He was so confident that he did things you aren’t supposed to do. Rather than Sampling the Chi-Lites “La La Means I Love You”, he just let the whole song play and rapped on it. It was genius. He could have used that Def Jam money to get fancy radio beats (Alright, he tried to sneak in a hit with Missy Elliot and it didn’t work- but I digress), but instead he (again for the most part) did the opposite. He got grimier.
I am also an Action Bronson head. I know it’s hard to be both. Bronson made a point when, after being questioned time and time again about the uncanny vocal resemblance he bears to Ghost, he said Ghost doesn’t make relevant music anymore. It’s been a while since he popped. Producers that would make him great like Apollo Brown and 9th Wonder seem to be gravitating towards fresh meat- and I wonder at this point if there is any hope that he can find a way to recapture that wave. It happens. Our favorites give way to new blood. But the legacy is in tact. Starks is the Wu Goat to me, hands down!
GZA- The One Who Got Me Through
I am going to be straight up honest. “Liquid Swords” was the only GZA project I loved. And that’s all I needed. I enjoyed “Beneath the Surface” and “Legend of the Liquid Sword” was a dope project. But again, I invested TIME with Liquid swords.
I think it’s more of a “The First Time I Heard” kind of moment with “Swords”. I would get in my little Ford Ranger truck, pop in that tape, light a Black and Mild and set forth down US RT 2 to the Ohio Turnpike, and vibe out the whole way with that album. It matched what I saw. You talk about a bleak terrain- drive that route in the fall and winter. There is nothing. It is a wasteland. Barren farms dot the sides of the highway and in Ohio, it’s usually overcast from October until April- so every trip I made was dark and gloomy. The production on that album fit that mood so well. And the GZA was a perfect accompaniment and companion because if you really listened, you could learn. Although he still spoke in abstracts- you needed a little less “Rosetta Stone” to decipher him than you did the others. While Ghost was spitting rhimes you needed the decoder ring from “A Christmas Story” to discern, GZA was spitting hieroglyphics. And once you mastered the code, you were unlocking parts of your mind you hadn’t been able to access previous.
I don’t claim to know his whole catalog. But what I knew of his work remained with me, almost 20 years later. I can still put that project on and rock all the way through it, and there aren’t many albums I can say that for.
Method Man- The One Who Made Me Wu
I mentioned in my article “The First Time I Heard: Wu Tang Clan”, that “Protect Ya Neck” wasn’t my favorite song on that original, generic looking cassette single back in ’93. It was that B Side. It was that hungry, raspy Method Man freestlying over that sparse piano drop that made me want to hear more. During that formative run for the Wu, Meth was the prohibitive break out star, and years later he is still the most visible crew member.
He was divisive, as evidenced in the movie “The Show”. Other members like U-God (still reeling from the fact that as you’ll see below, some people put him top three) felt left out in the after glow of the Meth hysteria that accompanied the group wherever they went. But he was a force. He was charismatic. He was the bridge between the lyricism of the the RZA and GZA and the energy and antics of ODB. You could see him building with the Abbot, makin’ runs with the Chef, or jumping off of a stage with McGirt. He was the talented glue that made it all work.
His cadence was so amazing, and it was unlike anything you ever heard. It was impossible to listen to him and then not try to rap like him when you were done. He was so raw- and I would argue vehemently that when he matched up with the other young buck who was getting the most pub at the time, one Christopher Wallace on the all time classic “The What”, he outshone his contemporary on his own track.
So Tical came out and it was amazing. Dirty and yet shiny. It was the next level- the evolution of that Wu sound. “All I Need” is the one song that everyone who loves hip hop can agree would be the perfect wedding song. “Bring The Pain” was an undeniable hit and “Release Yo Delf” sent producers scrambling to rethink the way they sampled horn riffs.
But Meth did something so unique that it at once cemented his legacy and tarnished it at once. He was an undisputed singles champ. No need for him to partner with anyone else. And then he joined a tag team. Not only that- but he went outside the family to find his tag mate. His work with Redman was great. And over time Red became an honorary Killer Bee. But Meth seemed to stop advancing the flag in a way. Couple that with the fact that the world’s most underground champion started popping up in movie after movie and it kind of led to the old “Ice Cube Effect”.
But what hurt Meth more than anything was that cadence that he became famous for. It was beautiful and unique on Tical. But as time marched on and he remained steadfast, it lost it’s luster. It became trite. It was predictable. And it suffered the worst fate a rap cadence can suffer: it became boring.
So Meth withered in the sun. Still a legend- that never changes. He edges out ODB for me because for a time, he was my favorite rapper ever- which I can also say for GKF and GZA. While I loved ODB the entertainer, he was never my favorite listen. Maybe my favorite artist to watch of all time- but not always my favorite to listen to!
So what say the BubbleHedz?
In a very informal survey- here’s how the ranking played out:
I asked followers to rank their top 3 Wu artists, with the disclaimer that they didn’t have to come from the original crew. That opened it up for other acts like Cap and Judah Priest, for example to make an appearance. I assigned 3 points for a first place vote, 2 points for second place, and 1 point for a 3rd place vote. (Ed. Note: Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa were the only original Wu members not receiving any votes. Yo Poly Rob, New York native and DJ Mustard collaborator included Killarmy and Killah Priest.)
Rankings went as follows, with commentary from the Hedz:
- Ghostface Killa:
Thomas Threat says: “GHOST, GHOST, GHOST! Lyrically and creativity wise, Ghost is the best out the clan. Look at his catalog it says it all. He has easily stayed the most consistent. Never disappoints!”
2. Ol’ Dirty Bastard:
Christ Robinson Says: “Chances are if you never listen to hip hop and never heard of Wu- Tang there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Old Dirty Bastard. Whether it’s his eclectic take on something, unique one of a kind voice and delivery, or his insanely successful commercial collabs, he ascended from the gutter to “cult” icon. I was sick when he passed!”
Tiffany Zupka Adds: “Even though RZA and GZA wrote most of Baby Jesus…I mean ODB…I mean Old Dirty Bastard’s lyrics, he had a style that is unmatched by anyone else. His personality and his ridiculous persona made him an entertaining artist to watch and listen to. “
3. Method Man
Jamar Deanes Says: “Method Man- from the start he always stuck out to me. With every song that he was on you couldn’t wait for his part to come up. Even if he had a feature of another rappers project, I would always be like “Can’t wait for Mef!!” Hell, and fun fact, He was the only person to get a feature on Biggie’s “Ready to Die” That right there speaks volumes alone!”
4. (TIE) Raekwon The Chef/GZA
Franco “Stick Figure” Lacey says: “GZA- his INTELLECT. He was in the pioneering class of the “hood scholar” with Rakim, KRS, Chuck D, Tragedy Khadafi, etc (which is the precursor to Lupe, Kendrick, ect). I KNEW he would eventually give lectures at the Ivy Leagues once I heard Liquid Swords in high school!”
He also adds:
” Raekwon – the most STYLISH MC possibly EVER! Creates his own slang,best dressed (that “SNOW BEACH” Ralph Lauren jacket in “Can It Be…”). The way he walks, talks and narrates stories. His haircuts (made the crescent moon part popular with Nas….made 360 waves popular) And in terms of HipHop style (not high fashion like Pharrell, A$AP, and them) he is the DOPEST.! Only Hov set more trends because he is more popular!”
Tiff says: “RZA is my favorite lyricist. His structure is unique. There is no Wu-Tang without RZA. He has influenced and created an entire genre of hip hop.”
Chris checks back in: “Anytime you have such an incredible movement, you have an incredible leader andlyricism that hits you after the song is over. He had the majority of the production credits and the whole concept (martial arts) and assembly of arguably the greatest hip hop group of all time! He created a sound that will go down in the books!”
6. U God
9. Killa Priest
BubbleHedz “Wu Week” culminates Thursday, May 18th with a special interview with 4th Disciple, Live on BUBBLE N’ BLOW RADIO. 8PM EST. Tune in at http://www.voiceitradio.com