In July, members of Vinyl Me, Please Rap & Hip Hop will receive an exclusive new edition of Method Man’s solo debut, Tical (you can sign up here). The album was the first solo LP from a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, and as our staff writer writes here, it cemented the group in the mainstream, where they’d stay for the rest of the 1990s.
“It’s real, ’94 rugged-raw / Kickin’ down your goddamn door…”
1994: one year after the Wu-Tang Clan welcomed the world into the 36 Chambers, RZA slotted Method Man as the first-in-line for the Clan’s excursion into an untouchable era of solo records. The reasons begged rather obvious to anyone acquainted with the raucous euphoria of the early period: Meth’s slick-tongued grit sliced through the Wu-Tang records with an unmistakable suave that proved an invaluable weapon in further permeating the mainstream. He raps like the razorblade’s forever tucked under the tongue, fearing no adversary on the mic or the block. His outlandishness waded closer to the center, maintaining the rugged underground edge of the era with no need to prime the masses for the flavor.
The Wu’s solo albums would start arriving at a multiple-classics-a-year clip, as 1995 alone featured the arrival of ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and GZA’s Liquid Swords. But in the final breaths of ’94, bubbling up from the back alleyways of Shaolin, Tical snuck onto the scene: Taking Into Consideration All Lives (which Meth never revealed until decades later, on the Desus & Mero couch). Alternately, the title references the laced weed Meth partook in. One casual listen makes this reasoning immediately clear: the album burns on in a haze of darkness, never lifting the clouds from the skyline.
As the Wu-Tang Clan collectively swung for the glass ceiling to become mainstream mainstays, Method Man’s self-contained universe remained gravely unconcerned with whichever fruits a pop star lifestyle may bear. Tical doesn’t exist to be on some crossover shit; no, this is Meth and the RZA designing purgatory in tandem. From the opening kung-fu kicks, this album sounds like a thunderstorm contained in a glass 40 bottle: RZA’s beats chug along the grays of the boom-bap style, often interrupted by eerie lo-fi synths, gloomy piano, and even a faint police siren. Even the upbeat moments don’t break the clouds: the original version of “All I Need” breathes light into a sparse drumline with a robotic whine alternating with the bare lead synth. (The obligatory love song is as bleak as the block it happens on.) There’s no grand modus operandi or extended narrative like the albums of its era: RZA’s only concerned with lifting his darkest intuitions to power, and Meth’s focused on punishing any and all sucker MCs in his radius from the antihero vantage. It makes the album’s acronym feel wildly ironic: Meth takes pride in making light work of the competition, but he also just told you he’d stab his own mother in the back. And what exactly did Meth lace the blunt with?
In context, even Method Man himself later admitted his failing to realize the severity of his positioning in the Wu blueprint: his cross-eyed madness in the “Bring the Pain” video isn’t (cough) Method acting… he actually showed up wild blunted off the angel dust. Let him tell it, some Tical sessions were spent the same way, Meth reveling in his talent while taking little stock in the gravity of what could come next.
Yet, from the darkness of Shaolin emerged a silver lining: Once “All I Need” caught the remix treatment with Mary J. Blige, Meth and RZA won his first Grammy from the re-envisioning. Despite being the first of its ilk, and netting two Hot 100 singles in “Bring the Pain” and “ Release Yo’ Delf,” Tical’s often gone underappreciated in the seminal Wu-Tang solo album discussions. A thorough re-examination places Tical as a brisk showcase of the kind of rapping about rapping that ages like fine cognac more than a common malt. It calls back to an oft-romanticized period when rockin’ the mic was more than enough, with no filler in sight. Even as the clouds don’t part, it’s impossible to take one’s ears off Meth’s agility as he narrates the gutter with formidable finesse. Any knock to his authenticity would be greeted with the fury of a borderline maniac who’d make your final hour sound gorgeous as he moved to silence you once and for all. It’s hip-hop as hell: from the way Meth and Rae spar with battle bars, to the near-indistinguishable cover of Meth exhaling the blunt smoke into oblivion.
The only mission was to deliver raw shit — the first blow, further kicking the door down for the Wu domination to commence.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.