December 2, 2023

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Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) Album Review

On August 11, 1973, at a back-to-school party in the Bronx, a local DJ named Kool Herc used two copies of a James Brown LP to create a blockbuster dance number from the breakbeat of “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” that shook the party to its core. Just over a week later, Enter the Dragon—the story of martial artists Lee (played by an ascendent Bruce Lee), Roper (John Saxon), and Williams (Jim Kelly) infiltrating a fighting tournament—hit movie theaters. The film capitalized on the emerging kung fu craze, but Lee, Saxon, and Kelly kicking ass together had a stronger impact: the sight of a Chinese, white, and Black actor coming together to fight a common enemy was a sign of racial unity that also happened to appeal to as many ticket buyers as possible.

These converging movements—hip-hop, kung fu, and the unabashed culture mixing—would come to define the life and life’s work of Robert Diggs, who turned 4 years old in 1973. Diggs spent much of his early years traveling across the United States, but when he first heard rap music at a block party, his life found a new purpose. By 11, he was cutting up in rap battles across the East Coast, and whenever he was in New York, crashing with his family in the Stapleton Houses projects on Staten Island, he’d kill time seeing kung fu films with his cousin Russell Jones at the scuzzy Times Square theaters. The duo quickly adopted a regular weekend habit: They’d go to the movies, leave, fight each other with the moves they learned, hop the train back home, fight some more, run into other MCs, fight them, and then get into rap battles with said MCs.

But it was Enter The Dragon in particular—and another movie by director Lau Kar-leung, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin—that changed Diggs’ life. “It was through these films that I was able to see and feel from a non-Western point of view,” he explained. He also took the implicit message of the multicultural trio to heart, as he later told Andscape: “[Lee, Saxon, & Kelly] were all working together against the oppressor who was poisoning the people. If you add in a few other elements, that’s our country, bro!” The dual philosophies of martial arts films and the Five-Percenter Muslim teachings of his native New York were what pushed Diggs, in 1984, to corral Jones and fellow cousin Gary Grice to form their own rap group Force of the Imperial Master, which was changed to the less distinct All In Together Now less than a year later. At the same time, Diggs formed another group, D.M.D. Posse, with friends he’d made in his Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island: Clifford Smith Jr., Lamont Hawkins, Jason Hunter, and Corey Woods. During a brief solo stint at Tommy Boy Records that involved a chintzy single titled “Ooh I Love You Rakeem,” Diggs relocated to Steubenville, Ohio to live with his mother for a brief period.

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