GZA’s Liquid Swords: Twenty Years Later

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In 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which took the hip-hop world by storm. It was an incredible phenomenon to experience; eight of the most talented lyricists and producers that hip-hop had to offer formed a collective group and conceived of one of the greatest albums of all time, regardless of genre. The entire album is coated in a general cohesive theme of Kung Fu and is largely meant to be, for lack of a better word, fun; the songs seem more like rap battles than actual conscious raps. This album launched the members of the Wu-Tang Clan into superstardom, particularly GZA, who had one of the more successful solo careers which launched from Wu-Tang. On September 15, 2015, GZA’s monumental solo album Liquid Swords went platinum, an achievement which many hip-hop fans claim is years overdue; and no less, just in time for the 20th anniversary of its release, November 7, 1995. I would like to point out now that this is not an album review; to put a number on this album would be unfair to its legacy. Instead, I would like to discuss its importance with respect to 36 Chambers and the Wu-Tang Clan as a whole.

Liquid Swords performs much better not as a standalone album, but as a direct continuation of Enter the Wu-Tang; although Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard released his own solo album titled Return to the 36 Chambers, Liquid Swords feels much more like an actual follow-up. The Kung Fu theme is still alive and strong; the album starts with an 80 second monologue skit from the movie Shogun Assassin, and is laced with various dialogue from that film and others when relevant to the themes. Furthermore, many Wu-Tang members make guest appearances on the album, which are often considered to be the greatest guest appearances on any hip-hop album, even considered to be the best verses on the album as a whole, most notably Ghostface Killah’s verse on 4th Chamber (“Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet?/Why did Judas rat to Romans while Jesus slept?”).

This isn’t to say that the album only operates as a continuation of Enter the Wu-Tang. RZA’s production on Liquid Swords is one of the most unique production jobs on any hip-hop album, especially within the context of 1995. The production is dense, complex, and bass-heavy, and quite honestly very difficult to describe over text; it is one of those things that is much easier to hear than to put into words. What’s important is that no song feels out of place; the entire album is cohesive in production, cohesive in theme, and dare I say it, perfect.

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