A 1990’s hip-hop masterwork will be on display this month, when GZA of Wu-Tang Clan celebrates twenty-five years of his seminal debut solo album Liquid Swords at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe on January 19th. Originally released on November 7th, 1995, the album–riddled with kung fu imagery and GZA’s signature cerebral rhymes–is considered by many the greatest of the Wu-Tang solo projects.
The Clan Fans Out
Liquid Swords was the fourth solo album from a Wu-Tang member in the wake of their groundbreaking debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Like the others before it, production was handled by pointman and de facto group leader, RZA. RZA’s early work was highly cinematic and heavily-sampled, featuring ominous, piercing keyboards and hard-hitting drums.
In 1995 GZA–whose given name is Gary Grice–was already carrying ‘The Genius’ as an alias. This is due to the airtight precision in his rhymes, and his knack for complicated lyrics about mathematics, philosophy, and the physical world. This lyrical style, paired with the presence of kung-fu references drawn heavily from the 1980 film, Shogun Assassin, form the foundation of Liquid Swords. The movie tells the story of a medieval samurai seeking revenge against the Lords who murdered his wife. Accordingly, dark, vengeful tone infuses the songs with a sense of violence and creeping death.
Reception, Impact Of Liquid Swords
Following its release, Liquid Swords rose to #9 on the Billboard 200 chart, and peaked at #2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. This is no small feat for a hip-hop release in the pre-streaming era. It was awarded 4 out of 5 mics by Source Magazine. Their review referred to GZA as “…a highly focused master-craftsman…he maintains a clear, precise flow, one that reflects deadly-sharp purpose and skilled execution.” The album achieved Gold status, reaching the Platinum sales mark some years later. Many critics ranked it as 1995’s Album of the Year. Some others refer to it as the greatest hip-hop album of all time.
GZA went on to record a solid follow-up project, 1999’s Beneath The Surface. The album is a strong, logical extension of the Wu-Tang universe, and contains hit single “Breaker, Breaker.” But it pales in comparison to the impact of Liquid Swords. Its release helped cement Wu-Tang’s 1993-1997 legacy. Additionally, it serves as a testament to the prodigious output of the RZA during this period; he not only helmed the group’s debut smash, he had a heavy hand in producing all subsequent solo projects. Above all, it is perhaps the best solo expression of the ‘hip-hop mythology’ that Wu-Tang Clan helped create.
GZA performs “Liquid Swords” in its entirety at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe Sunday, January 19th. Openers include Bruce Leroy, Def Dee & La, DJ B.Two. Times. Tickets are $32.50 plus fees. More info can be found here.