Like Quentin Tarantino, RZA sliced and diced seemingly the sum of pop culture’s past to come up with something radically new, yet seductively old. (Fittingly, RZA later scored Tarantino’s Kill Bill.) More than a decade before Kanye West and Just Blaze made sampling soul records trendy again, RZA was chopping up vocal samples to create haunting productions where dead voices shared space with sirens, soaring strings, and sound bites from half-forgotten martial-arts movies.


Next steps: You can’t go wrong with any of the early Wu-Tang solo albums, all of which were produced by RZA in one of the greatest spurts of creativity in the history of pop music. But 1995’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is rightly revered as the best of a magnificent bunch. It’s technically a Raekwon solo album, but it’s really a vehicle for the chemistry between the Clan’s most dynamic duo: Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. Think of them as Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci: Raekwon is the cool, collected kingpin to Ghostface’s perpetually apoplectic loose cannon. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx introduced a new element to an already heady mix by fetishizing the trappings of mob movies and giving Raekwon a mob-derived alter-ego in the form of Lex Diamond. Cuban Linx was such a milestone that its sequel inspired fevered anticipation even after years of delays and label changes. It did not disappoint.

2006’s masterful Fishscale similarly banked on the chemistry between Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, only this time, Ghostface was the excitable leading man to Raekwon’s laid-back sidekick. On Fishscale, Ghostface Killah embraced a new generation of hip-hop super-producers like Just Blaze, who produced the ferocious “The Champ”; J Dilla, whose posthumous contributions include “Big Girl” and “Whip You With A Strap”; and MF Doom. It’s the greatest Wu-Tang solo album of the decade, a kaleidoscopic, surreal, and inspired magnum opus featuring a revitalized Ghostface Killah.

Where not to start: It has its moments, but 1997’s two-disc Wu-Tang Forever is the quintessential bloated, overreaching follow-up, scattering an EP worth of highs like the infectious single “Triumph” across a whole lot of bleary excess and self-indulgence.