The most challenging aspect of the creative process is figuring out what’s next—seeing through your first idea, no matter how daunting. With that, the arduous creative process doesn’t truly begin until an artist explores what else it is they have to say.
In hip-hop, following the debut album, a rapper’s next idea must take on a level of daring experimentation, an idea that requires the artist to separate themselves from their introduction while also being able to connect back to the broader thesis of who they are. They must present a salient idea of who they would like to be going forward.
Identity was the dilemma both Method Man and RZA faced 25 years ago when they set out to craft Method Man’s solo debut album, Tical. Released on November 15, 1994, Tical served as the first solo Wu-Tang Clan project after their group’s 1993 breakout debut, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Talk about pressure.
RZA’s master plan for Wu-Tang Clan, in concept, was straightforward: Upon releasing Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, one of the most iconic, brash, strange, and brilliant rap records in hip-hop history, each member of the Wu would deliver a solo album under RZA’s watchful eye. Of course, expanding the Wu universe would require a potential star to serve as its flagship emcee.
Method Man’s persona felt like a centrifugal force capable of being that figurehead for RZA’s brainchild. Meth was funny, near technically perfect, and bursting with charisma. His versatile talent made him the only member of the group at the time who seemed capable of producing whether as the star (“Method Man”) or the role player (“C.R.E.A.M.”).
Without Method Man’s stability and confidence, it’s hard to say whether the more technically proficient but understated members of Wu-Tang, like GZA or Raekwon, would have been able to craft their own iconic albums (Liquid Swords and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., respectively). Without Tical acting as the bridge between Wu-Tang as a collective and as individual emcees each with their own perspective and style, subsequent releases like Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version would have felt less accessible. Tical’s ultimate impact on the following Wu solo albums remains its most endearing quality. From that big-picture standpoint, Tical was a resounding success.
However, impact and execution are two very different beasts. Meaning, Tical, 25 years later, sounds like an experiment for both Wu-Tang’s star emcee and figurehead producer. The record doesn’t hold unimpeachable production nor the fully realized tracks of a rapper on the precipice of full-blown superstardom. Instead, Tical is an album full of trial and error, veering from the strangely uninteresting (“Biscuits”) to the hauntingly brilliant (“Mr. Sandman”). Regardless, this discord makes Tical as interesting as it is necessary.
There’s notable disorganization throughout Tical in both style and structure. Although the Wu collective thrived on such chaos throughout Enter the Wu-Tang, the lack of vision on Tical is awkward. Outside of its lead singles, “All I Need,” “Bring The Pain,” and “Release Yo’ Delf,” Tical’s body is comprised mostly of closed-looped concepts and tracks doing little to establish who exactly it is at the forefront of the project.
Even the album’s title, an acronym meaning Taking Into Consideration All Lives, doesn’t conceptualize or connect any idea or aspect of Wu-Tang and Method Man that fans didn’t already know. That we finally learned the meaning behind Tical in recent years feels less like a purposeful secret, and more like a concept Method Man never treated with the care it deserved.
Sure, records like the haunting, eponymous track, and head-nodding gems like “P.L.O. Style” and “What the Blood Clot” are all interesting and entertaining. However, far too much of the album is spent doubling over the same ideas, phrases, and signature moments of Enter The Wu-Tang. Several notable lines on the album are word-for-word recitals of Method Man lyrics from the group album. Too frequently, Tical relies heavily on the sheer force of Method Man’s charisma to carry it home (“Stimulation”).
Behind the boards, RZA’s production doesn’t accentuate the headlining artist the way it does for other Wu solo releases. A large swath of sounds on Tical is unnerving and weird, occasionally paired with shinier tracks and faster tempos. In the midst of that soundscape, there’s a conflict of setting and character between the music and Method Man. For every moment on the album where the spookiness of RZA’s sampling meshes perfectly with Method Man’s pulpy punchlines, like on “Bring the Pain” or “I Get My Thang In Action,” Tical continually pigeonholes a rapper who clearly could do more.
Hearing a larger-than-life persona like Method Man’s paired with wonky, slogged production on “Sub-Crazy” feels like watching Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes play in a wildcat offense. While the result might be successful, we aren’t delivered the same jolt. Even the original version of “All I Need,” a track Method Man wrote on a whim one night after his girlfriend visited him on the road, took a nearly complete reworking and the assistance of Mary J. Blige to reach its full potential.
To get a real taste of Meth’s abilities, we must step outside of Tical and into the remix for “All I Need,” or Method Man’s appearances on GZA’s “Shadowboxin” and Raekwon’s “Ice Cream.” On “Shadowboxin,” specifically, a slick-sampled, immaculately sequenced track from GZA’s debut, Liquid Swords, Method Man dominates. With his mixture of verbally punishing lyrics and a voice so calm it could stake out a timeslot on NPR, we are forced to take note of how even RZA’s recognition of Method Man’s true capabilities wouldn’t fully develop until after Tical.
There also remains the paradox of Tical’s existence; without the album leading the way for the subsequent, and ultimately more successful, Wu solo albums, RZA may have never developed an ability to fit his ideas with the uniqueness of each emcee better. As such, RZA had to make Tical through imperfect experimentation. The blemishes are what make Tical so fascinating. The album isn’t the mafioso masterpiece that is Raekwon’s 1995 debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the chilling album noir that is Liquid Swords, nor does it contain the hydraulic-fueled energy of Ghostface Killah’s Ironman or Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. Tical is something less cohesive artistically, but even more essential in what it brought about.
For the expanded Wu universe to have existed at all, the noticeable missteps of Tical had to come first. Tical reminds us that the uniqueness of Wu-Tang wasn’t built on a sense of perfection, but by the daring and creative sacrifices that each of its members was willing to make.