Of course, being called the “worst” Wu emcee is like sitting the bench on an all-star team. It can be argued that for the most part, each of the core members will have a legacy as an individual emcee as well as for being a member of one of the greatest hip-hop groups in history. So it wasn’t easy to come up with a list ranking them in terms of microphone skills from bottom to top — and, admittedly, there are myriad other defensible permutations. But think of this not as a definitive statement but as a starting point for an argument with no answer.
Born: Lamont Hawkins
Best-known aliases: Golden Arms
We can all agree that this is one decision that needs no justification.
08. Masta Killa
Born: Elgin Turner
Best-known aliases: High Chief, Noodles
It really pains me to put a guy with two near-classic albums — No Said Date (2004), Made in Brooklyn (2006) — so low on this list. But Masta Killa doesn’t have the jaw-dropping moments or breadth of work that other members have. Think of him as a poor man’s GZA (who purportedly mentored him early on). His rhymes are consistently good and straightforward, but he didn’t have the advantage of dropping his album during the peak of RZA’s production career.
Born: Robert Diggs
Best-known aliases: Abbott, Prince Rakeem, the Rzarector, Bobby Steels, Bobby Digital
RZA is no slouch on the microphone, so it says something when six other guys from the same crew have put out work that places them ahead of the Wise Abbott. RZA set the tone for Wu with his opening verse on "Ain’t Nothin’ ta Fuck Wit": Aggressive, raw and powerful, it’s a lyrical contribution that ranks up there with his best production moments.
06. Method Man
Born: Clifford Smith
Best-known aliases: Meth, Johnny Blaze, Iron Lung, Hot Nickels, MZA, Tical, Ticallion Stallion, Shakwon, Methtical
Meth never really dropped that classic album everyone expected from him, but he still had the biggest hits and most crossover appeal of any Wu member. "All I Need" was accessible, mainstream Wu at its finest; his collaboration with Redman on 1999’s Blackout, despite much praise and success, still hasn’t been fully appreciated. If not for Meth, it’s entirely possible the Wu would have disappeared entirely from the spotlight in the time between Wu Tang Forever (1997) and Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele (2000).
05. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Born: Russell Tyrone Jones
Best-known aliases: ODB, Ason Unique, Big Baby Jesus, Osirus, Dirt Dog, Dirt McGirt, Joe Bananas
Arguably the most avant-garde member of the Wu (whether that was intentional or not is a whole conversation on its own), ODB was the Hunter S. Thompson of hip-hop. Like Thompson, he had a style and persona that was so much his own that I doubt we’ll ever see it imitated in our lifetime. It’s easy to look at his classic albums (his 1995 debut, Return to the 36 Chambers) and hit singles ("Got Your Money"), but the track that always comes to mind when ODB’s name comes up is "Dog Shit" off Wu Tang Forever. It made no sense within the context of the album, but it’s so entertaining and different that the song’s ramblings are still easy to recall today.
04. Inspectah Deck
Born: Jason Hunter
Best-known aliases: Rebel INS
Deck never got a lot of shine as a prime time Wu emcee, which is a shame because some of his verses are the best the Wu has to offer. "Protect Ya Neck" or "Triumph" wouldn’t have been so memorable and immediate if not for his opening verses. Just look at some of the imagery from "Triumph": “Bomb atomically/ Socrates’ philosophies/ Lyrically performed armed robbery/ Battle-scarred shoguns/ Ultra-violet shine blind forensics.”
Born: Corey Woods
Best-known aliases: the Chef, Lex Diamonds,
Unlike GZA, who’s lauded here based on consistency alone, Raekwon has had as many ups as he has had downs. That said, his ups are undeniable. His contributions to Ironman (1996) and Wu Tang Forever are awe-inspiring, and his 1995 debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, was a defining album for ’90s hip-hop. Do we even need to discuss the significance of his opening verse on "C.R.E.A.M."? And the fact that he’s at number three with offerings like Immobilarity (1999) and The Lex Diamonds Story (2003) on his resume only emphasizes how good his aforementioned highlights really were.
Born: Gary Grice
Aliases: Genius, Maximillion, Justice
01. Ghostface Killah
Born: Dennis Coles
Aliases: Ghost, Tony Starks, Pretty Tony, Ironman, Ghost Deini
Matthew Gasteier [Prefix contributor]: I mean, there’s a case for GZA at one.
Adrian Covert: Definitely.
Gasteier: But I think Ghost has been so revolutionary.
Covert: My gut instinct is always GFK. I love GZA, but when I think of GFK rhyming, I get all excited.
Gasteier: It’s like, GZA is the consistent workhorse, but Ghost is the flashy superstar.