11) Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, Raekwon, 2009
To give a sense of just how much time passed between Cuban Linxes, Raekwon released Part 1 three years before Google was invented, and released Part 2 a year into Obama’s first term. (Granted, he released two albums and a ton of mixtapes in between, but still.) It proved worth the wait, though, and the Elton John-sampling “Kiss the Ring” is magnificent.
12) No Said Date, Masta Killa, 2004
Masta Killa and Cappadonna are the are-they-or-aren’t-they members of the Wu. I chose to disqualify Cappadonna from this list because he doesn’t appear on 36 Chambers. (Cappachino’s solo discography admittedly made this a pretty painless decision, even if his guest spots on “Ice Cream” and Ironman’s “Winter Warz” are indispensable contributions to the Wu oeuvre). Masta Killa, on the other hand, does, if only on one track (“Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ ”). His solo debut, No Said Date, appeared a cool 11 years after 36 Chambers, and despite only modest commercial success the album was surprisingly excellent, a welcome burst of Shaolin hip-hop at a generally fallow time for the Empire.
13) The W, Wu-Tang Clan, 2000
The Clan’s third album felt a little like “Wu-Tang Clan and Friends,” featuring guest spots from the likes of Nas, Isaac Hayes, Snoop Dogg, and Redman. That said, it was still awfully good, and the album’s closer, the massive, sobbing, reggae’d-out Junior Reed feature “Jah World,” is stunning.
14) Blackout!, Method Man and Redman, 1999
I would rank the first Method Man/Redman collaboration several spots higher except for the fact that even including it is probably cheating. Weed rap is an admittedly limiting genre, but this is about as good as that genre gets. It also includes a nominal remix of “How High,” Meth and Redman’s 1995 smash collaboration from the Show soundtrack and one of the best songs about drugs ever written.
15) Bobby Digital in Stereo, RZA, 1998
The kind of album you politely refer to as “interesting,” this might be the most elaborately weird thing anyone involved with the Wu has ever done, which is saying something. A work that RZA freely admits sprung from a weed-induced vision, Bobby Digital in Stereo vacillates between ridiculously brilliant and ridiculously pretentious, often within seconds. An acquired taste but a worthwhile one.
16) Pro Tools, GZA, 2008
GZA is a phenomenal lyricist and an incredibly interesting and likeable dude, which is probably why we don’t dwell on the fact that he’s never made another solo album nearly as good as Liquid Swords. One reason for this is that he seems to lack the ear for (or perhaps just the access to) the top-shelf beats that, say, Ghostface has snatched up over the years, and the production on much of his solo work has been forgettable. Pro Tools is a welcome exception to this, an album of off-kilter, vaguely futuristic-sounding beats that mostly live up to GZA’s razor-sharp rhymes.
17) Twelve Reasons to Die, Ghostface Killah with Adrian Younge, 2013
A concept album about a comic book that’s probably itself about a concept album, this is one of the most fascinating and ambitious works of Ghostface’s career. Younge’s film-score chops make a vivid pairing with Ghostface’s cinematic rhyming sensibility. Released earlier this year, the album wasn’t a hit, but I’m not sure it was supposed to be.
18) Cocainism, Vol. 2, Raekwon, 2010
An irrational selection that’s a personal favorite and probably shouldn’t count, as it’s a mixtape and not an official album. But still: the translation of cocaine from a recreational drug to an ideology, the fact that this is “Vol. 2” of a series that boasts no “Vol. 1” to speak of—it’s all just great, as is the music. “Piss in the Shark Tank” is everything you could possibly hope for.
19) Nigga Please, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, 1999
A controversial work in every sense, from its title (reportedly chosen only after The Black Man Is God, the White Man Is the Devil was rejected) to its disconcerting position in the career of ODB. Depending on one’s disposition, this album can either sound like a transgressive work of genius or a disturbing document of self-destruction.
20) The Keynote Speaker, U-God, 2013
Better than you’d think.