Wu-Week: RZA’s best beats

    Actually, calling these the RZA’s “best” beats is a little less than accurate: Trying to narrow that list down to a reasonable number is just impossible. This is more a list of favorites — some that are undeniably great, some that are under-appreciated gems — that help to define RZA’s sound, and the effect is still the same. Together or apart, they show Robert Diggs to be worthy of his status as one of hip-hop’s best producers.


    Wu-Tang Clan
    Enter the Wu
    The piano keys are haunting, the drums are weary, and the guitar adds a dreamy haze to the whole thing. It’s the greatest beat RZA’s ever made. 


    “Ain’t Nothin ta Fuck Wit”

    Wu-Tang Clan
    Enter the Wu
    When a friend first described Enter the Wu to me when I was ten, he told me it was "RZA and ODB bouncing the fuck off the walls for the whole album." This beat perfectly embodies that sentiment. The aggressiveness of the track comes through in the "tiger style" sample, wind-instrument melody, and high-hat that’s reminiscent of a blade. It has that classic "Wu-Tang" sound.



    Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

    The heart of the beat is so dusty and drum heavy, and then the horns come in during the chorus and totally transform the track. And it just has a bounce to it that makes you nod your head.


    Wu-Tang Clan
    Wu-Tang Forever

    What makes the beat for “Reunited” so special is that RZA sounds like he’s moving into new production territory with the overlapping, continuous violins and guitars. At the same time, he sticks to his dusty drums and samurai-flick inspirations. A perfect way to kick off Wu-Tang Forever.



    Ghostface Killah
    The Pretty Toney Album

    Every bit as chaotic as Ghost’s rapping, it’s all about the horn. It sounds like it came straight from an old western film, and it’s the first thing that grabs you while listening. Then it loops, sounding like a record skipping back to the start. Then the funk-inspired drums slap you in the face and the ride cymbal hits you over the head.  


    “4th Chamber”

    Liquid Swords

    Generally Enter the Wu gets all the credit for having the rawest sounds, but it’s possible that none of those tracks touch “4th Chamber” when it comes to griminess. Squealing synths, thrashy guitars, and a deliberate drum loop make this track the musical equivalent of the guy who will walk up to anyone and hit him in the face.

    “Daytona 500”

    Ghostface Killah

    The drums on this walk the fine line between bouncy and sloppy, and I can’t help but move from side to side every time I hear the beat. And the guitar sample is so sinister sounding. The real brilliance, however, is the use of scratching throughout the song. Never taking focus away from the beats and rhymes, it is reminiscent of deejays and emcees of old, and it brings the track to life.

    “Samurai Showdown (Raise Your Sword)”

    Ghost Dog soundtrack

    This beat, with its simple, off-kilter organ sample, didn’t grab me right away, but the melody was undeniable. With more listens I began to hear the way it played off the taiko-sounding drums, which are subtle and fantastic, and it soon made sense why Jim Jarmusch featured it so prominently in his film.



    Masta Killa
    No Said Date
    Some call this RZA’s greatest beat of the decade, and it’s hard to argue. It has all the makings of a successful Wu beat: short repetitive samples, drums with pep, a requisite amount of griminess. But the foggy piano at the beginning makes you wonder what kind of drugs RZA was on while he made this track. It’s just that dark.