by Stefan Wyeth | 4,1 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 5 Minutes
Sound Like Wu-Tang Clan

Shaolin Island: How To Sound Like Wu-Tang Clan  ·  Source: Wu-Tang Clan

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We explore the saga of the Wu-Tang Clan and check out some of the gear they used in the creation of their abstract and influential sound.

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The legendary abstract Hip-Hop collective was formed in Staten Island, NY, in 1992, and swiftly reached an international audience. with their Kung-Fu cinema and comic book inspired street-style approach to the craft of rhyming and beatmaking.

Besides their grungy collage-like sonic aesthetic, what set them apart immediately from any other group was the fact many of the 9 original members immediately began to put out solo albums alongside the Wu-Tang material.

This allowed them to have multiple recording deals with different labels and empower themselves both creatively and financially for the most part.

The original 9-member lineup included RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and ODB until his passing in 2004, while Cappadonna joined the group in 2007.

Producing in the Wu-Tang Clan style

Since the RZA is Wu-Tang Clan’s musical director and produced much of their early material, as well as their solo debut albums, we’re focussing on some of the instruments that inspired his early efforts.

Casio RZ-1

The RZ-1 is a primitive 20 kHz sampling drum machine from the mid-1980s with only 0.8 seconds of sampling time which could be split over four tracks. With 12 onboard drum sounds, its limitation and lo-fi aesthetic became sought after by a certain sect of hip-hop and house producers.

In his formative pre-Wu-Tang years, RZA used the RZ-1 as his primary beat production tool. Although restricting from a sound-shaping perspective, it does have a funky-sounding sequencer which can also be used to control other instruments via MIDI.

These days it’s hard to compare, as even entry-level samplers have over 2 minutes of sampling time. However, the Korg Electribe sampler offers a similar pad-orientated interface with infinitely more advanced sound manipulation features.

Casio RZ-1

Casio RZ-1

Korg Electribe Sampler Red

Korg Electribe Sampler Red

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(41)

Sequential Circuits Studio 440

One of the last Sequential Circuits products, the 12-bit Studio 440 is another sampler that helped to shape RZA’s production style. Launched in 1987 (pre-MPC60), it had 8-voice polyphony, 8 sequencer tracks, and up to 33.5 seconds of sample time.

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Although it wasn’t a central instrument in his studio, the RZA lists the Studio 440 as one of the instruments on which he learned music production when working with producer Tony Moore in the late-1980s.

Furthermore, he subsequently acquired one a few years later when he found it in a used equipment store. As a modern alternative, the Sonicwave Smpltrek is a great compact sampler and sequencer with a wealth of features.

Sequential Circuits Studio 440

Sequential Circuits Studio 440

Sonicware SmplTrek

Sonicware SmplTrek

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(4)

E-mu SP-1200

As the Wu-Tang Clan formed, new weapons were required for the production of their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and the individual members’ solo albums that followed.

RZA acquired his SP-1200 in 1988 and although his time spent with it was relatively brief, it still had a major influence on his production style. Moreover, he created the beats of some of the early Wu-Tang tracks like Bring The Pain.

Recreations of the SP-1200 have been produced by original manufacturer Dave Rossum, and Isla Instruments. Meanwhile, the Roland SP-404 also provides a great platform for lo-fi beatmaking.

Roland SP-404MKII

Roland SP-404MKII

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Ensoniq EPS

It wasn’t long before The RZA moved onto an Ensoniq EPS, a keyboard-based sampler. This 8-part polyphonic sampler with up to 41 seconds of sampling time allowed him to switch up to using sample loops rather than being limited to one-shots.

You could also load samples in the background while playing the EPS, which was a groundbreaking feature at the time. RZA used the EPS and the EPS 16+ extensively before upgrading to the ASR-10, which combined with the SP-1200, became the platform for most of the early Wu-Tang productions.

With the accessibility of MIDI controllers, keyboard samplers aren’t as popular today, but you can easily connect a keyboard to the Elektron Digitakt sampler and run it in chromatic mode.

Ensoniq EPS 16+

Ensoniq EPS 16+

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron Digitakt

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(355)

AKG C414 EB

During the recording of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), mix engineer Carlos Bess used an AKG C414 EB in studio. This was the 2nd version of the mic, produced in 1976, and the design combined the brass CK-12 capsule with a solid-state amplifier circuit.

The C414 has a major legacy in the recording industry, and although changes were made to the capsule and circuitry over the years, it remains a quality tool for vocal records of almost any kind.

It exists today in two formats the C414 XLS being the darker in character of the two, which would make more sense if you are going for a more lo-fi aesthetic with your recording.

  • More from AKG
AKG C414 EB

AKG C414 EB

AKG C414 XLS

AKG C414 XLS

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Which of your favourite artists would you like to see in our sound-alike series? Please let us know in the comments below!

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Image Sources:
  • Casio RZ-1: Polynomial
  • Sequential Circuits Studio 440: Cyborg Studio
  • rza-wu-tang-e-mu-sp-1200: Sotheby's
  • Ensoniq EPS 16+: Syntaur
  • AKG C414 EB: Recording Hacks
Sound Like Wu-Tang Clan

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