At this point, twenty years to the day after Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) came out, using the word ‘grimy’ to describe that album or anything that the Wu-Tang Clan has done since has become the hoariest of clichés. Yet watching the video for “Protect Ya Neck,” the group’s first single, it’s clear that no other word so perfectly encapsulates what they were doing. Anything resembling professionalism, like proper lighting or good cameras, is nonexistent, everything looks like a first take, and they apparently couldn’t be bothered to remove the camcorder time stamp from most of the color shots. A bunch of the group members’ names are misspelled (Inspektah Deck, Ghost Face Killer, the Jizah). It’s impossible to really tell, but my guess that there are about forty people in the video seems like a conservative estimate, and all but a few of them are completely unrecognizable. Just how many of them are actually in the group? It isn’t clear from the video. A bunch of them have swords, and there are scary-looking guys lurking in project hallways and alleys in the back of most of the shots. The video is five minutes of menace and a dizzying array of lyrical styles over an intoxicated, haphazardly mixed beat the likes of which had not been heard before.
A few months before the “Protect Ya Neck” video started gaining traction on Rap City, the Wu-Tang Clan got their first break in a way that fits the menace that they projected in that first video perfectly. During an episode of the Stretch & Bobbito Show, which aired every Thursday night on WKCR 89.9FM from one to five in the morning, a few members and affiliates of the Clan either snuck or broke into the WKCR offices, unmarked white label 12” in hand. If threats were made they were no more than implied, but the message was clear: it was in Stretch & Bobbito’s best interest to play the song. “Protect Ya Neck” got its first radio play that night, and it earned the group’s members spots as semi-regular presences on the show until 1998 when it went off the air.