Album Recommendation: Liquid Swords – GZA


Zev Green

From skits on Chappelle’s Show to the ubiquitous ‘W’ logo, Wu-Tang Clan has become an indispensable part of American pop culture, even for those who haven’t heard a single song.  Wu-Tang was able to achieve such widespread popularity because of their sheer individuality.  

There was absolutely no one like them.  A massive posse of skilled lyricists and producers – each unique in their own right yet able to work seamlessly as a team – who rapped about philosophy and chess, and peppered their music with samples of obscure martial arts films. C’mon, how could anyone else possibly begin to replicate such a group?  

Gary Grice, more commonly known as GZA, was the driving force behind Wu-Tang’s unique style, and nowhere is that more evident than on his legendary album “Liquid Swords.”  GZA’s complex and thought-provoking lyrics over the eerie and unforgettable production from RZA makes for an album that remains the epitome of the Wu-Tang spirit.

GZA pose for a 1995 portrait in New York City. Photography by ...
GZA poses for a 1995 portrait in New York City. Photography by Chi Modu.

The first thing you notice about this album is the production – in my opinion, this is the best work of RZA’s storied production career that has seen him work with everyone from Kanye West to Quentin Tarantino.  Pulsing, bombastic drums underneath minimalistic instruments channels the gritty energy of Staten Island, home of the Wu.

However, RZA’s masterful beats only serve as the backdrop upon which GZA’s storytelling skills are showcased.  On “Hell’s Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304” for example, GZA paints a vivid portrait of a mafioso story with himself as the main character.  He effortlessly transitions from describing bombs hidden in bottles of champagne destined for a snitch to recalling a worker who underwent surgery in order to smuggle half a kilo of cocaine past U.S. customs.

Liquid Swords is an incredible album that although critically and commercially well-received, has been largely overlooked in favor of “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by today’s listeners.  I highly recommend giving this album a listen if you enjoy anything related to the Wu-Tang Universe.  Additionally, it’s in the running for coolest album art ever, and listening to the album gives you an excuse to stare at its cover.

Gza LIQUID SWORDS Vinyl Record