100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s #62 GZA – Shadowboxin’

Released : 1995

Weed smoke, cable TV, Kung Fu..and chess. Some of the Wu-Tang Clan’s trappings were archetypal, but GZA’s second solo album Liquid Swords not only featured a gory chess related cover (Inked by one of America’s black pioneers in mainstream comics, Denys Cowan) but the deluxe version even came with a board and pieces. Whether it was mowing down other MC’s one-one-one or dominating blocks, for the Clan’s oldest member there were cold parrallels between the street game and the one Bobby Fischer once described as “A war over the board.”

The Clan’s rewiring of East Coast hip-hop on their debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) led to a subsequent glut of solo efforts by crew members, all produced by RZA, of which Liquid Swords was the episode over which arguably he had the most direct influence. This worked – the duo had originally started out together with fellow cousin Ol’ Dirty Bastard as Force of the Imperial Master – but GZA’s hectic growl and straight up delivery – Complex once described him as an “80s rapper at heart who just happened to blow up in the ’90s” – fused perfectly with the precision beats and Shaolin undertow.

There were other instant classics on Swords (4th Chamber, Cold World, Living In The World Today), but Shadowboxin’, with it’s clipped lift from Ann Peebles ‘Trouble, Heartache and Sadness’ and a verse from Method Man, was where simplicity met ability. Eager, GZA opens with a battle-ready “f*ck that” and from then on there was hardly a breath spare, the lyrics an onslaught by a thinking man moving his rhyme pieces against you, the result inevitable. Clinical and cold, it revealed a truth which was obvious: pawns who came at the king knew they better not miss.