Over the past few years, it’s become trendy to label the New York Yankees as an empire. However, in the early 1990’s, before the Yankees renewed their franchise’s commitment to winning championships, another empire was being formed in a different borough of New York City. And no, I’m not talking about the Mets. I’m talking about the incomparable hip-hop group: the Wu-Tang Clan.
The Wu-Tang Clan has achieved success in a variety of different arenas, but comparing them to the Yankees begs the obvious question: if the nine members featured on the Wu’s iconic debut album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers were a baseball team, what would their lineup card look like?
(1) SS- INSPECTAH DECK
“I smoke on the mic like smokin’ Joe Frazier
The hell-raiser, raising hell with the flavor”
When the Wu-Tang Clan emerged out of Staten Island in 1993, the first person the world heard was Inspectah Deck leading off the single “Protect Ya Neck” with one of the tightest, most vocally acrobatic flows in rap history. (He immediately follows up an allusion to fundamentalist terrorism in the Middle East with a reference to Spider-Man.) One of Wu’s most agile performers, Deck gets the Shaolin out to a quick start by connecting on rhyme after rhyme, and his skilled lyrics provide a transition between verses that’s smoother than a 4-6-3 double play.
(2) C- RZA
“Me fear no one, oh no, here come,
The Wu-Tang shogun, killer to the eardrum.”
It may be surprising for the baseball purists to see a Catcher in the 2-spot, and it’s probably even more shocking to the Wu-fanatics to see RZA in a position of relatively little influence. Strategically speaking however, the second batter is the guy who makes contact and is willing to sacrifice himself in order to move the leadoff man over. RZA has some great lines on 36 Chambers, but he is more than content to hand over the microphone to the group’s heavier hitters on the album’s strongest songs. (Note: he does not have a verse on “C.R.E.A.M.” or “Da Mystery of Chessboxin.”) Furthermore, there’s no denying who’s the field general of this crew; whether it’s producing platinum records or communicating pitches to the man on the mound, the RZA calls all the shots.
(3) CF- METHOD MAN
“Hey, you, get off my cloud
You don’t know me and you don’t know my style.”
Commercially, Method Man is the most successful member of the Wu-Tang Clan. His status as the group’s most popular member can be attributed to the fact that his lyrics deliver almost every single time. Furthermore, all the best centerfielders have charismatic personalities, and his certainly shines through on his eponymously titled solo track on 36 Chambers. As the group’s best performer (if not lyricist) he bats third. He mans centerfield because his commitment to the Wu, his solo projects, and his budding (pun most certainly intended) acting career ensure that Method Man covers a lot of ground.
(4) LF- OL’ DIRTY BASTARD
“At the party when I move my body
Gotta get up and be somebody!”
Unfortunately, ODB is remembered more for his controversial antics and his early demise rather than his eccentric and completely original style. His rhymes, performed in that trademark gruff mumble, epitomized his era’s version of experimental rap. He would constantly change up his delivery style (mid-verse, mid-line, mid-word); coin new words (“Rappining”); and reference academia and the funnies in the same breath (“Or Alex Haley I’ma Mi-…Beetle Bailey.”) His penchant for rhyming outside the batter’s box didn’t always deliver instant home runs, but when he was at the top of his game, he etched his lyrics directly into the rap record books.
(5) 3B- GHOSTFACE KILLAH
“For crying out loud, my style is wild, so book me
Not long is how long that this rhyme took me”
If it weren’t for Method Man and ODB, Ghostface would be the Wu-Tang Clan’s power player. Over the years, he has developed into the Wu-Tang Clan’s best overall rapper, but at the time of 36 Chambers, his verses take a backseat to those of other members. Yet every time he enters the track, he comes in hot and deftly handles even the most difficult beats and rhythms. He might not have the flash of a defensive-minded shortstop or the power of a cleanup hitter, but Ghostface is a key cornerstone of the Wu’s legendary album.
(6) 1B- RAEKWON
“Rae got it going on pal, call me the rap assassinator
Rhymes rugged and built like Schwarzenegger”
Raekwon is a first-basemen in the model of Prince Fielder (though considering it was 1993, Cecil Fielder would probably be a more apt comparison.) Physically squat and stocky, Raekwon nevertheless displays some surprising dexterity and versatility. He can hit you over the head with one of his profanity-laced tirades or he can pick you off with a skillfully delivered rhyme on social injustice. And on a purely aesthetic note, it just seems right to have the two guys (Ghostface and Raekwon) who performed one of the album’s more powerful tracks (“Can It Be All So Simple”) batting back-to-back and manning the corners of the infield.
(7) 2B- U-GOD
“Raw, I’mma give it to ya, with no trivia
Raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia.”
Despite having one of the album’s most memorable opening verses on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” U-God doesn’t feature heavily on 36 Chambers. His rough-yet-smooth style proves he belongs, and had he not been incarcerated during the album’s production, U-God would certainly have gotten more chances to display his power and ability. His bridge connecting Meth’s and ODB’s verses on “Protect Ya Neck” perfectly embodies the role of the relay man, but his limited appearance on the record relegates him to the bottom of the order.
(8) RF- MASTA KILLA
“This technique attacks the immune system
Disguised like a lie, paralyzing the victim”
On 36 Chambers, Masta Killa remains primarily in obscurity, treated like the uncoordinated kid little league coaches try to hide in right field and at the bottom of their lineup card. He may not have been ready for the show in 1993 (he has said that 36 Chambers was the first time he ever tried being an MC), but his verse at the end of “Protect Ya Neck” highlights his potential. In subsequent years, Masta Killa spent countless hours in the rhyming cage of the recording studio, honing and improving his craft. Now, he continues to remain a prolific contributor to the Wu-Tang Clan.
(9) P- GZA
“How you sound B? You’re better off a quitter.
I’m on the mound, G, and it’s a no-hitter”
If there’s any argument about who should be pitching, check out the last seven lines of “Clan in Da Front” where GZA compares being a rapper to a major league pitcher. The Wu’s most cerebral member, The Genius seems like the quirky Ace of the Rotation who can strike a batter out with a variety of pitches and rhymes, but he could also be the closer whose stuff completely overpowers would-be MCs. GZA could probably get away with batting seventh or eighth since he is arguably Wu-Tang’s most talented lyricist, but as the ultimate team player, he lets U-God and Masta Killa take those spots.
The rest of the roster would be filled by the plethora of Wu disciples that have appeared throughout the group’s career (I’m sure Cappadonna would be a popular pinch hitter), but the Opening Day lineup for the Shaolin Nine would no doubt get Wu-Tang Clan that critical first victory and lay the foundation for winning the World MCeries (most likely over the St. Lunatics.)