It’s 1997 in a northern European shopping mall and you recall freshly in your mind the album review that you saw in the local newspaper a couple of weeks ago. The group was called Wu-Tang Clan, and for some almost mystical reason, you knew that it was going to be something special. Something out of the ordinary. Something incredibly REAL. You instinctively knew that this was something you were going to check out one day.
You go back home the same day to find the old newspaper with the album review and you note down in your mind that the name of the album is Wu-Tang Forever. The review says that it’s a strong album but it’s a little lengthy and not up to par with their debut. But that’s irrelevant, you are keenly interested in this group regardless of the reviewer’s opinions. You know that the writers in these newspapers aren’t real fans you can sense it because you are a minority in society. You are an even tinier minority in your peer group. You are a rap fan in the late 90s in a city located in northern Europe.
Rap had had its breakthrough on the international scene during the early 80s with groups like Grandmaster Flash and the furious five, and the Sugarhill Gang. Europeans had been fascinated by hip-hop culture, namely the elements that comprise hip-hop which are breakdancing, graffiti, and the accompanying music. But 15 years later in the late 90s, rap music passed just like a fad in Europe. Now in 1997 barely anyone paid any attention to rap music unless some big hit came along like The Fugees “Killing Me Softly” or Coolio’s “Gangsters Paradise”.
The music reviewers in your local newspaper had considered Wu-Tang Clan’s Wu-Tang Forever to be Important enough to write about. But in reality, this album was not going to be listened to by more than the most hard-core of rap fans. And that’s why you were attracted to it even more.
So next time you’re at the local mall go into the music store and you go to the rap section right across from the counter. You look under “W“ and you locate Wu-Tang Clan. They have their own sticker and their own little section. You were surprised when you see how many CDs are in the Wu-Tang section, but you noticed that none of the CDs say Wu-Tang on them. There’s a few from people with names like GZA/Genius, Method Man, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. You look more closely and you see this strange logo on most of the CDs. It says Wu-Tang. You then gather that they are some kind of a collective. Interesting.
But you’re here to listen to the new “Wu-Tang Forever“ CD. So you take a second look through the CDs, but you can’t find it. You become a little dismayed. But you settle for second-best and take the mysterious looking Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers CD to the counter. While talking to the store clerk, you ask if they have the new Wu-Tang Forever CD, he says “they haven’t been able to obtain it again since it’s been sold out”. So you ask if you can listen to this other CD instead.
The clerk takes off the protective plastic alarm from the CD and places it in the player behind the desk. You slip on the large high-quality earphones and push play on the remote controller. The first thing you hear is some kind of kung fu dialogue. You don’t know what to think but it sounds intriguing. And then the music comes in, it’s hard-core, dirty production like nothing you’ve heard before! It’s amazing!
The rapping is of such intensity, that it totally blows you away. You can barely believe what you’re hearing. Looking back now as a seasoned listener you know that the voices are from Ghostface Killer, Raekwon and RZA. You listen to the rest of the tracks and it becomes apparent that this CD is a safe purchase. You’ve just bought enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers.
This experience was likely viscerally similar to many other young teen hip-hop heads growing up in the UK, Germany, or other parts of Europe in the year of 1997. When you were an oddball for liking rap music that wasn’t played on the radio. But there was no rap played on the radio unless it was a crossover hit like The Fugees or a track off a Hollywood movie with black actors. And there were few of those occasions when that did occur. So yeah, you were an odd ball during these days. Although there was a sizable Hip-Hop/Rap section at the music store, I never saw another person looking at it at the same time as me. Those were different times for sure. Nowadays, everybody and their mama listens to rap music (or trap) on the radio (or Spotify) every single day.