Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
The Wu's loose cannon at his wild, witty best
Not so much a rapper as he was a vocal interpreter of his own manic energy, the Wu-Tang Clan court jester’s solo debut is easily the most ramshackle of the Staten Island crew’s first generation of albums. It’s also the most singular and, in its way, confident. ODB doesn’t concern himself with things like structure, choruses, or rhyming words. Instead, he relies on the RZA, at the height of his dank production powers, to handle that. And the legendary producer harnesses his cousin Russell Jones’ antics as best he can, occasionally melding them into beautiful cracked soul-rap, like “Cuttin’ Headz” and “Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie).” Return is typically described as ODB’s party album, mostly because of the electric hits “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brookyn Zoo,” but it is far too strange and wonderful to soundtrack any party. The beats recall the Wu’s monumental debut, bustling with naked snares and muddied melodies, ODB’s voice soaring into off-key warbles — his vibrato on the simmering “Goin’ Down” needs to be heard to be believed. But these are usually just fascinating sketches. It would not be until Dirty’s second album, Nigga Please, an impressionistic reimagining of ’80s R&B, before he’d make a consistent LP. But this stands as one of the most essential must-be-heard-to-be-believed albums ever.