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By now many humans living in the world today are wise to the early Wu-Tang aesthetic. RZA’s decidedly lo-fi, ultra grimy, un-quantized beats and the Clan’s righteous yet rugged (and very often twisted and bugged) rhyming won instant adoration of critics still command attention years after their peak in sales and visibility. In retrospect, the Clan and especially RZA deserves the their eternal praise. While RZA is often noted for his strategic marketing acumen, the way that he crafted his maddeningly murky and messy beats to fit the viciously abstracted lyrics of his brethren is no less ingenius. For the avid fan, listening to early Wu demos in 2005 need not constitute a shallow exclusive indulgence. Think of it instead as the studied appreciation of a beautifully original style (some might say sub-genre) of rap that rose out of its humble stomping grounds and traveled the globe in record time. Although the initial critical blurbs that describe the Wu phenomenon as a kind of Black grunge movement seem quaintly heavy-handed, they are nearly vindicated by these demo recordings, which strain the ears but reward our efforts with plenty of “oh shit!” moments and a free ticket to the dusty, eerie, point of origin for the this signature sound.
Fortunately, these noisy, crackly scraps and outtakes transcend the simple novelty of their obscurity.The unfinished, fragmentary quality of “After The Laughter” (which eventually becomes “Tearz” on 36 Chambers) helps one to further appreciate the subtly distinctive vocal styling that accentuates the LP version’s poignantly emotional atmosphere. “Bring Da Ruckus” feels so spare and improvisational that the officialversion we hear on 36 Chambers is refined and complex in comparison. It’s a treat to hear the Wu’s idiosyncratic emcees, RZA included, attack the mic as if searching for the precise voices that could transform them from local legends and posse cut wreckers to world famous solo artists. On tracks like “It’s All About Me” and “Wu-Tang Master” the rhyming is unpolished yet original as can be: glass shard-gargling rhymes/threats brim with strange pop culture allusions. The Gravediggaz demo similarly captures an embryonic moment in the long and critically acclaimed careers of its members, accentuating the zany, grass-roots, anything-goes approach shared by RZA and Prince Paul. Listening to both demos back-to-back will prove worthwhile to fans of both groups: many of RZA’s rhymes and some of his sample choices on the Wu-Tang demo later surface on the official debut LP of the Gravediggaz, Six Feet Deep. Complete the cipher and add both demos to your growing pile of Wu memorabilia.