Searching for the Perfect Beat

The members of Wu-Tang are street-corner scientists, experimenting, theorizing, pushing the limits of what's possible in hip-hop. The phrase experimental music usually suggests that the work in question is somehow hard to enjoy and impossible to understand. Wu-Tang's lyrics and intentions can be perversely oblique, but their music manages to be experimental and populist at the same time. Wu-Tang's songs have the loose but intricate feel of late-night jazz jams--they're artfully crafted but emotionally raw.

The band's 1993 debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was rough and rambling, combining ragged street beats with lyrical imagery and audio samples drawn from...

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