Of all the hip-hop icons who have died well before their time (and there are far too many), perhaps nobody is missed more deeply than Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The clown prince of the Wu-Tang Clan delivered a playful, unhinged energy that was both hilarious and dangerous, and personalities like that are far too rare in the current rap climate. Though his recorded output is by far the smallest among the core members of the Wu, his first two solo albums are both stone cold classics. On this day in 1995, ODB dropped Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, his first solo album, the second solo joint from a Wu member following the release of Return to the 36 Chambers and one of the greatest rap collections of the ’90s (and of all time).
ODB’s delivery was uniquely unhinged, and he stood out among his Wu-Tang brethren because he was not a technical mastermind like Raekwon nor a math-obsessed wizard like RZA. ODB’s raps were full of absurd imagery, strange boasts, gritty street details and plenty of junk culture references. When juxtaposed with RZA’s sparse, jagged beats, the result was a sound that was constantly at odds with itself. The whole thing was held together by ODB’s boundless charisma, which overflows from Return to the 36 Chambers.
Just about all of the tracks on Return to the 36 Chambers are keepers in some way, from the eerie “Don’t U Know” to the playful “Raw Hide” to the claustrophobic “Brooklyn Zoo.” But the key track also happens to be the album’s biggest single, as “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” happens to capture everything that was wonderful about ODB in the span of three minutes.