In 1993, I was 10 years old. I lived in Colorado, and thought the whole world was small towns. I thought the best burger was at McDonalds. I was transitioning out of wearing a fanny pack, and I still enjoyed comic books. Although I had just had my first kiss, which was essentially the death sentence for my comics. The only albums I owned were The Simpsons Sings the Blues, and a compilation of Do Wop classics like “Yakkity Yak.” For my birthday, I was working up the nerve to ask my Mom for Green Day’s Dookie. I remember interrogating my friend Owen on if it had explicit language and what dookie was. These are questions my Mom would inevitably have. Meanwhile, halfway across the country in either direction, two albums would be released that I wouldn’t hear for another 3-6 years, but when I finally did, explaining that dookie was poop to my Mom would be elementary compared to the agony of explaining to her what doggystyle, indo, glock, tricks, da ruckus, and something called a Ghostface Killah was. Headphones would become my best friend. And Doggystyle my hook-up. Enter the 36 Chambers my Sansei.
I can’t speak for youth circles all across the country, but in small rural white towns and neighborhoods there was always one kid who, as if dropped in by some alien observer or Satan himself, as a sort of social experiment, would import and distribute the perverse, the debauchery, and the profane. I call it the Huck Finn principle. Tom Sawyer was your everyday kiddo- curious, well-intentioned, naive. But then there was Huck Finn, the squirrelly deviant who had dead cats, said the n-word a lot, and faked his own death. I think. Most of that knowledge comes from Louis C.K. and the Disney movie. I could look it up, but so could you. Anyways, throughout adolescence, there exists this kid who exposes his friends to things they shouldn’t be exposed to, or wouldn’t otherwise have access to, whether it be pornography, fireworks, cigarettes, faces of death videos, or alcohol. He was basically the human form of the internet before the internet. For my friend John, his friend was Jack, and Jack showed John a video of a guy beheading a cat with an ax, and then kicking the corpse into a fire. For me, my friend was Chaz. Chaz had a tackle box full of cigars and wine coolers. Chaz had a mason jar packed with live snakes. Once he took one out and tried to ollie it, and severed the snake in half. On the door to his bedroom was a poster of Bill Clinton, but it was one of those mosaics, and all the tiny pictures were vaginas. I don’t even think the internet would know where to procure that. I had a theory about the logistics of doggystyle sex, and when I ran it by Chaz, on the spot, he pulled out a folded up magazine page to clarify my misunderstanding. Chaz is the reason Pulp Fiction and Kids were my primary sources for learning about sodomy and AIDS. For the record, I loved Chaz. I still do. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to say I saw real life breasts at the tender age of 12. And lets not forget, I might not be writing this ode to Doggystyle and Enter the 36 Chambers.
Doggystyle was my first introduction into rap. Chaz had secured it somehow. To this day, it really is a mystery how he obtained all these things. I mean shoplifting aside, he still had to have the knowledge of, or taste in gangsta and gritty rap. Granted, it did take three years for the album to get from Long Beach to Idaho Springs, Colorado. Can you imagine an album making an impression three years after its release? I can still remember the actual cd. It was, or is, blue with Snoop’s face looking triumphant on the cover. This was back when we would have case logic cases to carry 10, 25, 50, 200 cds. Initially, you would put the cd in on one side, and then the linear notes on the other side, but that practice quickly dissipated because of the extra effort. Doggystyle might have been the exception though. The linear notes were a comic strip where our protagonist, a cartoon dog, navigated an evening filled with 40s, pot, and sex with dogs. In eighth grade, cartoon dog butts in thongs were still tantalizing. The album itself was epic. It was basically the only thing people were playing at parties. Now granted, we were 12 and 13, so our parties weren’t more than a basement full of boys and girls playing spin the bottle, but when that’s your party, a soundtrack laced with profanity, fornication, and shootouts will really blow the doors off the muthafuckin minivan. Doggystyle was there to usher me through heavy petting, Mickey’s 40oz, apple pipes, throwing golf balls into a fire (if you’ve never done this, imagine a grenade packed with rubber bands), and neighborhood vandalism. I don’t believe it Kurupted us, but it certainly gave the stamp of approval. This is not a Tipper Gore stance that rap begets violence and criminal activity. It doesn’t. Listening to Snoop D O double G was as thrilling as taking a pull from a stolen handle of Jack Daniels deep in the hallows. Before that album, I was unaware of a world where people got drunk, had sex, carried weapons, sold drugs, and rhymed stories around it all. Truthfully, I didn’t think much outside of Tommy Boy, and breasts. But that album genuinely exposed me to an entirely new culture. I don’t think I realized it then, mostly because I’m only realizing it now, but much of music’s appeal at that time, especially rap, was it’s foreignness. Snoop Doggy Dogg, as he was known then, introduced me to a music, a language, a lifestyle that I had no knowledge of, or imagination for. As a kid, you’re sometimes given a writing prompt and asked to write creatively. At my creative best, I was writing about a hat that could take me back in time. I wasn’t making up words, or writing about shooting people, and sharing my girlfriend because it would be more fun. For good reason of course. That type of content would have got me thrown in an asylum. But the point is, in middle school, I thought the craziest thing I could imagine was aliens coming down to play basketball with Michael Jordan. When you grow up listening to “Do the Bartman,” songs about going rat a tat tat with your strap, and turning down old pussy are as mind expansive as it gets. Doggystyle frightened me, and at the same time, enlightened me on the complexity of life outside of cafeterias and waterparks. Go ahead, go back and listen to it. It’s an insane album. “Gin and Juice” and “Lodi Dodi” are obvious hits, party anthems restructuring how white teenagers all across the country imagined and orchestrated hangouts. “Tha Shiznit” is lyrical dexterity at its finest, and it’s twenty years old, and Snoop was 20 at the time. Of course he’s selling Tide and doing reggae. He’s twenty years past his prime. “Ain’t No Fun” was a dirty magazine you flipped through with your ears. Then you got “Serial Killer” and “Pump Pump,” two serious gangster tracks. And I’m sure half the people who read this will be outraged at the songs I left out. It’s so god damn good. I think that’s why it scared people. Among all the obvious reasons of it being riddled with violence, sex and drugs— it’s crisp. Flawless. If it were garbage, no one would have blinked, but as it stands, it’s a tour de force, not since replicated. Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky may have come closest in terms of rap range, but they’re just not as sharp, as fun, and at the same time, menacing. Doggystyle ain’t nothing to fuck with.
The classic album died with the cassette tape. There may be a technically perfect album, but the “next track” function assassinated the supremacy of a single album. Enter the 36 Chambers is paradoxically the grimiest polished rap album of all time, and yet if it was released today, I’d probably never appreciate it as such. Like a David Foster Wallace book, it rewards patience and paced digestion. And for those of you rolling your eyes at that comparison, I’m happy to present my case, but not here. Here, I’ll just refer you to exhibit A: Signifying Rappers
So sure you can jump around and listen to “Ain’t Nothin to Fuck Wit,” and “C.R.E.A.M” and have your reality stomped, but then you miss out on the brilliance buried deep in “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” because it’s two minutes of skits, chops, and roll call before Raekwon gets you open like six-packs. Or the cypher-esque insanity that is M.E.T.H.O.D Man that is preceded by Meth and Rae talking about how they’re going to torture you. Or each other. That part was never clear to me. No way this nut job is going to rap circles around anything you’ve heard for four fucking minutes. Yes. Yes he does. And it’s surprisingly lighthearted for a guy who just said he was going to sew your asshole closed and keep feeding you, and feeding you, and feeding you. With references to Dr. Seuss, Slyvester and Tweety, and Tootsie Rolls, one has to wonder if the torture preface was a deliberate counter balance to the chim chimney and peanut butter playfulness. From “Bring Da Ruckus” to “Tearz,” it’s an album so rich and raw it plays more like a narrative than a rap album. It would be six years after it’s release before I would read the Wu cover to cover over and over. Long live the tape.
By 2000, we had CDs and Discmans with their 2 second skip protection, but that was for solo journeys on foot. Soundtracks on group excursions were dictated by the cassette. The cars we inherited dated back to 1993 and as such, came standard with tape decks. Chaz had a 93 Pathfinder and loaded in the chamber was 36 chambers. Chaz, of course, was the first of us to get his license and get a car, and so he’d carry us like Mariah all over town, and riding shotgun was The Rza, The Gza, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah, and the Method Man. Chaz was dating a runner, so we went to cross country meets to watch his girlfriend for something as little as 500 feet. Then we’d wait at the end, and watch teenagers vomit. We’d roll with groups of ghetto bastards with biscuits to house parties, pop out the tape and plug it into some friend’s parents’ Bose system. We’d ride night train, or whatever cheap obtainable booze, and then we’d vomit. Word is bond. We’d caravan up old jeep paths to go camping. Park the car, leave the key in, open the doors, protect ya neck as we did keg stands, and vomit. We’d go hardcore like porno flick bitches, wearing out this tape of New York rap. That album probably saw more parts of Colorado than any of the rappers on it. It certainly shared in as many coming of age moments as any of my friends. The album was playing when the cops stormed our party and we ran and hid in the woods for four hours. As the Wu blared out a boombox, I watched a fight break out, and a poor sack get domed in the head with a 12inch Maglite. I received and returned oral sex to that album. I was listening to the W while eating at the Y. If Doggystyle was my rap101, 36 Chambers was my capstone seminar. A dude who called himself Ol’ Dirty Bastard, because there was no father to his style, and later Dirt McGirt, Osirus, and Big Baby Jesus slurred
“Rappening is what’s happening
Keep the pockets staked and then, hands clapping, and
At the party when I move my body
Gotta get up and be somebody!
Grab the microphone put strength to the bone
DUH-DUH-DUH…enter the Wu-Tang zone”
And enter that zone I did. Since those days, I don’t know that that album has ever left my rotation. There was a period where I was listening to Pantera and Dropkick Murphys, so there was probably little mystery in Chessboxing, but even then, the Clan can hold it’s own in dark basements and saloons. Every ipod I’ve owned has 100mb or whatever reserved for Killa Beez. I’m 30 now (which makes Method Man like 44?!), and for a while the teenagers I worked with didn’t know who the Wu-Tang was. When asked, they would say things like “Yeah, I think I know him. He does kung fu right?” Thanks to Drake’s new record, I suspect the Shaolin will see a Renaissance. Maybe. Is that song even about the Wu? I barely know who Drake is. But I will always know who the Wu is and who Snoop Doggy Dogg is. Looking back, I realize that those albums didn’t dictate our activity, but they punctuated it. Also, we were probably throwing up more than is healthy. Arguably, Snoop and The Wu were not intended for me. I 100% could not relate, but their stories became jumping off points for my own. They oscillated between outlining and filling in my mishaps and adventures. It was exciting music and it was also cultural relativism. There are thousands of words that could be exchanged over rap’s influence on my cultural lens, but that might take another twenty years to sort out. For now, I just want to bring da motherfucking ruckus.