Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Rap music has developed an obsession with money more than any other genre, both lyrically and aesthetically. It has provided an avenue to fantastic wealth for many young men from America's poverty-stricken urban projects, and the golden carrot it dangles continues to inspire hopeful rappers to pick up a mic and pen rhymes of their own.
Apart from the ostentatious bling sported by many of the game's biggest stars, references to money abound in the song titles. Most famously, there's P. Diddy's All About the Benjamins, Money, Cash, Hoes from Jay-Z and DMX, 50 Cent's I Get Money, and For tha Love of $ from Bone Thugs-N Harmony featuring Eazy-E. But the best-known ode to the almighty dollar in the world of rap would arguably be C.R.E.A.M. by the influential New York City collective the Wu-Tang Clan.
C.R.E.A.M. - the acronym stands for 'cash rules everything around me' - is the standout track on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the debut album from the group of about 10 rappers, DJs and producers. On it, rappers Raekwon and Inspector Deck drop rhymes about their rise from drug dealers to cashed-up rap stars, and the video shows the group members starting off at the projects on Staten Island and moving on to luxury lifestyles of champagne and sports cars.
Raekwon later said: 'The word 'cream' was used [as a synonym] for money, because it was a way in which you wanted to get your money... it's like putting butter on bread. You got your bread, it may not be a lot, but when you put that little bit of butter on it, it'll seem like a lot more bread. So that butter, we would call it 'cream'. Basically you'd be hearing brothers saying 'Yo, get that cream'.'
The album not only bought the cream for Wu-Tang Clan - it went platinum in the US - but established the group as a creative force in 1990s hip hop and helped return New York rap music to prominence, paving the way for the success of other east coast artists including The Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep, Nas and Jay-Z.
As with many of rap's biggest stars, the members of Wu-Tang Clan came from humble beginnings. Cousins Robert Diggs (RZA), Gary Grice (GZA) and Russell Jones (Ol' Dirty Bastard) first came together in the projects of Staten Island as Force of the Imperial Master in the early 1990s. After failing to secure a record deal, they regrouped as the Wu-Tang Clan - the name was inspired by the 1981 Hong Kong martial arts film Shaolin and Wu Tang - and developed a spooky, beat-heavy sound largely composed of samples from kung fu films and soul classics.
At the time, nothing else sounded like Enter the Wu-Tang. According to Pitchfork writer Rollie Pemberton, the album was 'the sound of accidental fame ... its sloppy drum programming, bizarre song structures, and unpolished sound quality disturbed commercial rap purists, but the talent was so inherent and obvious, and the charisma so undeniable, that it propelled the Wu-Tang Clan to the height of the rap game, and today stands not just as a hip-hop classic ... but the one that bridged the gap between traditional old-school sensibilities and the technical lyricism of today'.