Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) vs. De La Soul’s De La Soul Is Dead. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
The next two competing works helped make “the Rap album” an institution. Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and De La Soul’s De La Soul Is Dead are two LPs that completely defied mainstream convention or expectation. Instead, these authentic voices used coded language, inventive music sources, and an air-tight, inward bond to make statements. Not surprisingly, the two album producers, RZA and Prince Paul, would join forces in the mid-1990s to form The Gravediggaz. But with plaques, hits, five-mic accolades, and game-changing themes spread about the table, which is the better album (click one then click “vote”)?
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan
In late 1993, Wu-Tang Clan bum-rushed the show when they brought their own menacing cacophonous raucous. Enter The Wu-Tang is a tour de force of rugged raps, filthy beats, and a style that made Hip-Hop’s early ’90s elite get out of the way, handing over the mic. RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa, Method Man, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were against the odds when they brought nine bodies to a Loud/RCA Records-backed album, and made all seem as organized as a rank-and-file military branch. With every MC offering something different, each vocalist distinguished himself with skill, vocal tone, and flow. From acts like The Rebel I.N.S. taking on lion’s share roles to M.K.’s lone verse, the family did no favors to each other—and showed its own agitated quarrels in the interludes. Although they had their own internal dynamics, the Wu brought an unrivaled sense of family pride to outsiders. Songs like smash single “C.R.E.A.M.” and follow-up “Can It All Be Simple” proved that the common theme of hardships made this unit a pack of hungry wolves who resented aristocratic peers. Save for GZA and RZA, all the MCs were burgeoning to wax since 1992’s “Protect Ya Neck.” However, from O.D.B.’s “Shame On A Nigga” timing, to the “Method Man” routine all presented styles that felt like they were bottled in 1988, but fermenting, and getting all the more intoxicating while waiting for their chance. On one hand, Wu-Tang was futuristic in their dismissal of conventions. On the other, this was a head-trip back to the days of the late ’80s underground—battling in a smoke-filled train car.
36 Chambers, as the album is often affectionately called, is a beautiful testament to RZA’s visionary gift. In addition to delivering the most lucid, razor-sharp verses of his career, Robert Diggs made an album that sounded electric, alive, and dangerous. Break-beat arrangements on songs like “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II” were accentuated with organs, special effects, and muted horns. While Dr. Dre was out in Los Angeles, setting chronic highs to three-wheel motion, RZA laced his jagged basslines with audio angel dust. With its rough texture, the album is incredibly cohesive, making skipping implausible if not impossible. Enter The Wu-Tang captivated Hip-Hop. It restored the comparative nature of over-stuffed Rap crews. It made every minute of an album feel precious internally and externally. The LP also made the Hip-Hop act feel like a militia, an outlaw posse, or a flash mob of witty, unpredictable voices with natural game. This LP not only served its nine creators with plush careers that followed, it made the industry take closer notice of what was really going on in the streets. For 15 years, Staten Island was the ignored borough. Also with MCs from the Bronx and Brooklyn, the Clan made the short-sighted Manhattan labels not only scared, but surrounded.
Album Number: 1 (as a group)
Released: November 9, 1993
Label: Loud/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #41 (certified gold, March 1994; certified platinum, May 1995)
Song Guests: 4th Disciple
Song Producers: (self)
De La Soul Is Dead by De La Soul
Two years removed from its gold-certified debut, 3 Feet High And Rising, De La Soul emerged with one of the most reactive albums in Rap history. De La Soul Is Dead made light of the industry’s interpretation of the Amityville, Long Island trio. Producer Prince Paul, a master of dark undertones and translating attitude to album, joined Posdnuos, Maseo and Trugoy (now known as “Dave”) for a merry-go-ride of showing everybody who had an opinion, what De La was, and what De La was not. Above all else, D.L.S. refused to wear the “Hip-Hop Hippies” jacket. Instead, they used the wax on their second Tommy Boy album to offer a sonic intervention to addicts in the family (“My Brother’s A Basehead”), make a danceable anthem about abstinence (“Keepin’ The Faith”), and give the world the grooviest answering machine greeting recorded in history (“Ring Ring Ring”). Like “Seinfeld,” De La Soul Is Dead may have seemed like an album about nothing—but it had themes, moods, and inspiration to which everybody could relate. At a deeper listen, the band may have been as whimsical as any in Rap, but they were always saying something refreshing.
Dismissing “Da.I.S.Y. Age” gimmicks, Hip-House, and haters making Whopper sandwiches, this album refused to be skipped. Like a Jazz work, it had pockets, movements, and unpredictable moments that lurked around every spin of the cassette wheel, turntable, or compact disc. Prince Paul made an LP with De La that did have (mostly remixed) video singles, but only excerpt passages from a larger work. Following a 1980s that had just started establishing the possibility of the Rap album, De La Soul Is Dead arguably took the baton the farthest by its early ’91 release. With a chip on its shoulder and innocent themes side by side, the LP signaled just what was happening to Rap. The highs were turning to hangovers—but it was still the best party. The album seamlessly wove in popular Children’s music, ’60s Pop, ’70s Jazz-Funk, and ’80s Hip-Hop to a complex curry. Paul and Mase channeled the lyricists feeling to a music that matched. It was never monochromatic, but a dynamic kaleidoscope of life, love, and music. De La Soul Is Dead may be when Hip-Hop was most alive.
Album Number: 2
Released: May 14, 1991
Label: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #41 (certified gold, July 1991)
Song Guests: Q-Tip, Jungle Brothers (Mike Gee & Afrika Baby Bam), Vinia Mojica, Divine Styler, Jeff, Cat Jackson, Lisle Leete, Bobby Simmons, Kim Carter, Ronald Chavalier, Almond Joy, Tesha Mills, Ann Roberts
Song Producers: (self), Prince Paul
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.