Library Journal Review
Released to rave reviews in 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) remains one of the most highly regarded hip-hop albums of all time. With a broad range of lyrical imagery, a rough sound, and minimalist sampling, it bears repeated listening and analysis. A unique work of this type deserves an unconventional roadmap, and Ashon (Strange Labyrinth) delivers the goods. This is not your conventional song-by-song analysis but a rich and deep collection of explorations-in 36 chapters-that can examine a piece of music in its minutest form, divert to a history of recorded saxophone "honkers and screechers," or discuss how the invention of the player piano shaped the way music royalties are currently paid. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Ashon's approach is marvelously subjective, and one of the beauties of this book is that it leads readers into reevaluating both music criticism and the approach to recordings in general. VERDICT Not just a fascinating take on an important piece of work, this is an eye-opening offering for fans of contemporary music.-Bill Baars, formerly of Lake Oswego P.L., OR © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
This thoughtful yet muddled cultural history takes a deep dive into the Staten Island hiphop group Wu Tang Clan, who hit the music scene in 1993 with Enter the WuTang. That album, Washington Post reporter Ashon (Strange Labyrinth) writes, brought New York's "gritty, grimy hardcore style" back to the fore at a time when the sleeker West Coast sound of Dr. Dre was popular. Ashon admits his book takes "a largely nonlinear, sampleheavy, magpie approach as its template," and indeed he hops from broad historical sketches to discursive ruminations, including on police brutality in the 1980s and '90s and the DEA's Operation Pipeline (a police training program), that often have only tangential relationships to the music group. Ashon's approach does yield some fruit, particularly when digging into WuTang's influence on such things as the quasimystical FivePercenter movement and the Hong Kong wuxia (martial arts) movies. Ashon produces some meaningful background on individual WuTang members, particularly Method Man (Clifford Smith took his name from meth) and the selfdestruction of Ol' Dirty Bastard (Russell Johnson "was strung up on crack" and died of an overdose in 2004). But too often his spirals of research-even into possibly germane topics like the history of early hiphop-never connect back. It's a fascinating book that too often gets tangled in its many narrative threads. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Booklist Review
Published to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ashon's wonderfully rambling, meditative, thoughtful, and provocative pieces all 36 of them shine a shimmering light on the influential hip-hop band's work while at the same time offering a deeply intellectual and wildly entertaining exploration of music, race, and politics in the U.S. Much like Enter the Wu-Tang itself, which critics praised for its free-associative lyrics, Ashon rightfully describes his book as largely non-linear, sample heavy with a magpie approach as its template. He dips and weaves and swoops in and out of time periods as he seeks to contextualize the album and its effect on popular culture. Among the many topics and people he discusses are Amiri Baraka, the Middle Passage, Martin Scorsese, minstrelsy, Ralph Lauren, Eric Garner, kung fu movies, Edward Said's theory of Orientalism, the Nation of Islam, the dozens, Mezz Mezzrow, Jordan Peele's Get Out, cultural appropriation, James Baldwin, and John Winthrop's city upon a hill exhortation, among many others. This is nothing less than a literary tour de force through hundreds of years of American history as seen through one hip-hop band and one landmark album. Mind-blowing!--June Sawyers Copyright 2019 Booklist