Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
Liquid Swords, GZA
Release Date: November 7. 1995
Good For: Top-tier lyricism, classic Wu-Tang beats, karate movie samples, setting vicious vibes
Standout Tracks: “Duel of the Iron Mic”, “Shadowboxin”, “Hell’s Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304”, “Liquid Swords”
Two years after the group’s iconic debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Clan member GZA “The Genius” released his 1995 solo debut album Liquid Swords. Through and through it’s an incredible rap album; it’s one of those records that makes old fans say “back in my day, rappers could really rap.” Of course, it features several features from other Wu-Tang members, but Liquid Swords is distinctly GZA’s. it’s sinister, clever, poignant and gritty all at once.
Liquid Swords begins with a lengthy monologue sampled from 1980 martial arts film Shogun Assassin. “When I was little, my father was famous,” the young narrator says. “He was the greatest samurai in the empire, and he was the Shogun’s decapitator.” Karate movie samples are nothing new for the Wu-Tang Clan, but this intro stands out as one of the most ominous tone-setting hip-hop tracks ever recorded. The album is full of sampled excerpts like this, all heightening the ferocity of the album.
GZA has one of the largest vocabularies in rap, and it’s on full display all over Liquid Swords. 20 years later, his bars still seem like incredibly calculated and vicious lyricism. “Picture bloodbaths and elevator shafts/ Like these murderous rhymes tight from genuine craft/ Check the print, it’s where veterans spark the letterings/ Slow moving MCs is waiting for the editing,” he raps on “Duel of the Iron Mic.” Liquid Swords is stuffed with killer lyrics like this, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single weak verse on the whole album.
Ultimately, Liquid Swords is an exceptionally unique album. It’s the product of one of the most skilled lyricists of the 90s in his prime. 20 years later, it still holds up as a phenomenal album and an incredibly entertaining listen.