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Article Oct 17 2017 Written by

The Most Perfect Rap Song Written: Shadowboxin’

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This summer marked the 20th anniversary of the Wu-Tang Forever album dropping; pushing the nine member Hip Hop collective out into the musical mainstream. Up until that point, the group were celebrated cult figures among the hard core heads; relatively underground figures picking up steam with each Wu member’s solo release.

I was fortunate enough to have been hipped to the Wu-Tang Clan by a kid in my physical science early into my junior year. He’d been singing Chef Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” and when I saw the video on BET later that week I’d lost my mind. I went back and did my research and saw that I had some catching up to do.

By the end of that semester I’d bought everything from Enter the 36 Chambers on up to Liquid Swords, and soon my friends and I were trading Wu-Tang lines all day during baseball practice. Back then I listened to so much Wu back that a girl I was hanging out with requested that we listen to anything but Wu-Tang when I picked her up for what would be our last date.

Everyone had their favorite Wu-Tang member, and favorite solo album. While I noticed that most people I knew gravitated towards the ever gregarious Method Man, I found myself most stimulated by the GZA’s verses–throwing his cassette in my tape deck more than any other.

Liquid Swords is a dark, fierce and beautiful album that encapsulates an experience that music fans don’t get today with new releases. For one, the album cover has some of the illest artwork ever produced for a Hip Hop album–especially of that time period.

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

Secondly, that album was the third of an unprecedented production run by the Clan’s leader, the RZA. I’ve often jokingly referred to as the Duke Ellington of hip-hop because of his impeccable placement of snares and film samples, in addition to his ability to lead a “big band” (the last we’ve probably seen of the big rap groups unlike what we once saw in the 80’s)–his work sounded more like cinema scores than Hip Hop beats. In 1995 alone, he’d produced Ol Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords before his production duties on Ghostface’s Ironman album.

Many would argue that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was the best solo project, and I wouldn’t fight them on it, but Liquid Swords at the time resonated on a deeper level for me. GZA’s low key style and lyrics were more accessible and digestible, and as an aspiring poet, felt more visual and less abstract than Chef’s penwork. There are so many standout cuts on this album, “Duel of the Iron Mic”, “I Gotcha Back”, “Swordsman”, “Investigative Reports”, and “4th Chamber” are all pretty nasty, but if I were introducing someone to Wu-Tang Clan for the first time, Shadowboxin’ would be the song I played for them. Incidentally, this song satisfies fans of both the Method Man and the GZA (as well as beat fiends who like to geek out on the production work of the RZA).

Method Man’s “Fuck that” seems to signal that the album is going to take a turn for the sinister (and it does–partially due to the way it interrupts the eerily combative sounding 4th Chamber), on a track that sounds like it was recorded at 3 in the morning. RZA sped up high pitched,sample of Ann Peebles’ “Trouble, Heartaches, and Sadness” and timely scratches fill a densely layered and murky track.

Method Man (now know for his acting chops just as much for his legendary freestyle skills) had made a name for himself for his own album, Tical (which according to Wu folklore sounds completely different from the original version that died in the infamous basement flood in RZA’s studio) and he stood out alone on “M-E-T-H-O-D man”. Historically, however; he seems to save his best heat for guest appearances (I’ll refer you to “The What”, “Rawhide”, “Box in Hand”, “Ice Cream”, and “Wu-Gambinos” for other great examples of said heat) and this feature lays waste to anything and everything in its path.

[Verse 1: Method Man/Johnny Blaze]

I breaks it down to the bone gristle

Ill speaking scud missile heat seeking

Johnny Blazing, nightmares like Wes Craven

Niggas gunning, my third eye seen it coming before it happen

You know about them fucking Staten kids, they smashing

Everything huh in any shape form or fashion

Now everybody talking bout they blasting, hmmm

Is you busting steel or is you flashing? Hmmm

Talking out your asshole

You should have learnt about the flow and peasy afro

Ticallion stallion, chinky-eye and snot-nosed

From my naps to the bunion on my big toe

I keeps it moving, know just what the fuck I’m doing

Rap insomniac, fiend to catch a nigga snoozing

Slip the cardiac arrest me, exorcist Hip Hop possess me

Crunch a nigga like a Nestle, you know my STEEZ

Burning to the third degree, sneaky ass alley cat top pedigree

The head toucher, industry party bum rusher

You don’t like it? Dick up in you, fuck ya!

Allow me to demonstrate

That’s right, you corny-ass

The skill of Shaolin, rap motherfuckers

The special technique, better go back and check

Of shadowboxing, your fucking stacks

Shadowboxing, cause your naps ain’t nappy enough

And your beats ain’t rugged enough, bitch

[Verse 2: GZA]

I slayed MCs back in the rec room era

My style broke motherfucking backs like Ken Patera

Most rap niggas came loud but unheard

Once I pulled out, round ’em off to the nearest third

Check these non-visual niggas, with tapes and a portrait

Flood the seminar trying to orbit this corporate

Industry, but what them niggas can’t see

Must break through like the Wu, unexpectedly

Protect Ya Neck, my sword still remain imperial

Before I blast the mic, RZA scratch off the serial

We reign all year round from June to June

While niggas bite immediately if not soon

Set the lynching and form the execution date

As this two thousand beyond slang suffocate

Amplify sample through vacuum tubes compressions

Cause RZA to charge niggas twenty Gs a session

[Verse 3: Method Man]

When my mind start to clicking and the strategy

Is mastered the plot thickens

This be that Wu shit

I don’t give a cotton-pickin’ FUCK

About a brother tryna size a nigga up, I hold my own

Hard-hat protect your dome

Look at Mama baby boy acting like he grown

No time for sleep, I gets deep as a baritone

Killa bee, that be holding down his honeycomb, lounging son

Wu brother number one, protect your neck

Flying guillotines here they come, bloody bastards

Hard times and killer tactics, spitting words plus

Semi-automatic slurs, peep the graphic

Novel from the genie bottle, hit the clutch

Shift the gear now, full throttle, time to bungee

To the next episode, I keeps it grungy

Hand on my nut sack and spitting lunghies

At a wack nigga dat, don’t understand the fact

When it come to RZA tracks I don’t know how to act

Real rap from the Stat, Killa Hill Projects

How to be exact, break it down

All in together now

Things are getting good looking better now

…And some other shit

His verses on this track almost sound like spoken word, as he takes his time laying things out in a matter of fact fashion. While his first line ( I breaks it down to the bone gristle)  sets the tone for the song, calling out fake tough guys and corny emcees; his final verse bookends (and overshadows some of GZA’s most sharp and clinical lyrics) one of the nastiest songs ever put together. Method Man even plays the prognosticator,saying “All in together now, things are getting good looking better now.”–a line alluding to not only his life and career, but the whole Wu-Tang family–as they went on to take the Hip Hop world by storm. A sample of the Shaolin vs Lama punctuates Meth’s vocals before some expert scratching serves as a coda as the beat rides out until the end of the song.

There is a lot to chew on with this track. As 19 year-olds, my friend Rick and I would drive around Dallas late at night, stoned and full of questions, playing the song repeatedly; in complete awe at what we were hearing. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times since I first heard it in ‘95, and I still manage to pick up something new with each listen. Not only does this make “Shadowboxin'” a classic, but the most perfect Hip Hop song ever written.

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Written by

Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be f…

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