Of course people have been lauding this album for a dozen years, dirty is long dead, and there's a rap on the new Wu-Tang album lamenting his death (shoulda taken it easy on the Tramadol and coke, dirty), but for me it's a sudden revelation.
For those who have no idea who Russell Tyrone Jones aka. Ol' Dirty Bastard aka. Ol' Dirty Doggie aka. Dirt McGirt aka. Sweet Baby Jesus aka. Freeloading Rusty aka. a bunch of other things even is, he is one of the rappers of the famous Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most famous rap groups of all kinds.
I've heard him rap before, on Wu Tang albums, but it wasn't until I really started listening to Return to the 36 Chambers that I really got the idea of the explosion of madness he really creates.
Method Man, another Wu Tang rapper, once said that Dirty's style had "no father", but I have to disagree. There is a clear father to his style in the crazy howling and singing of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Even if you're not familiar with Hawkins you've probably at least heard his insane version of "I Put A Spell on You". He sings the standard and deconstructs it into a raw series of howls and growls.
Dirty keeps this tradition, but adds his own strange rapping into the mix. His subject matter is often sexual or mildly, playfully violent, but more often is just his own strange free association on any topic. But no line is ever just spoken straightforwardly. Dirty keeps you guessing with sudden changes of tone, volume and delivery.
In any one song he alternately gurgles, growls, sings like a drunkard, howls in surprise as if the situation he's rapping about is totally new to him, shouts, whispers, makes up new words, does impromptu scat... in short... it's never boring.
That aside, the album itself is great. He sets the tone by pretending to introduce himself on stage, as Russell Jones trying to fauningly introduce Ol' Dirty Bastard, showering him with compliments, but then at the last second forgetting his name and instead introducing James Brown. Finally he remembers who he's introducing, and finally finishes with "I love that guy!"
Then, he takes the stage as ODB himself and begins what sounds like it's going to be a touching ballad with a confessional gone wrong, talking about a girl who gave him gonorrhea twice that he knew for ten minutes. He begins to sing his horrible crooner song about oral sex, and then finally says, "Just kidding, listen to the album, because it's bangin'"
And it is bangin'. RZA is the producer and does it in a simple, amazingly mellow way. ODB clowns and sings in a way that sounds accidental, but with a few repeat listens it's clear that his strange patter and singing is pretty crafted.
Such a strange, confusing, beautiful album. If you ever liked it, give it another listen.