buzzing off

Liquid Swords

Liquid Swords is the second solo album by Wu-Tang Clan member GZA, a.k.a. The Genius, widely regarded as a masterpiece of the East Coast hip hop renaissance. It was released on November 7, 1995 through Geffen Records.

Album information

"It has great songs, it's not an ignorant album, it doesn't sound dated. If you listen to it and compare it to what's out now, it's timeless. I think artists should really write more. People say Wu-Tang makes you think too much. What's wrong with thinking? A lot of dudes write these street tales and they're so gory, 'cause they think gory is visual ... they're so literal, and so street level. You know, like crack spots and whatever. I wanted to write something and take it to a level where nobody's done it. "Cold World" was done in RZA's house, in his basement in Staten Island. I remember being there, and some of the beats were running for like two days nonstop. 'Cold World' was one of them. Lyrically, it's not my best work. Not at all. But the chemistry? Production? Overall, I mean, c'mon! RZA's atmospheric production? Yes. It's my best album."

Though the album was credited to GZA alone, there are numerous guest appearances from the entire Wu-Tang Clan, like all their earlier solo albums. Liquid Swords is characteristic of the Wu-Tang Clan in its minimalist, menacing and ominous beats by producer RZA, and its cinematic themes relating to Asian cinema, particularly Samurai cinema. GZA also explores many motifs and themes, such as chess, crime and philosophy. The album begins with a monologue from a little boy; his monologue, and many of the other vocal samples scattered throughout the album, are from the cult film Shogun Assassin. These samples, along with eerie beats gives Liquid Swords a distinctive sound, proving influential to many subsequent East Coast hip hop artists.

Cover Art

The album is also known for its distinctive cover, designed by DC-Milestone Comics chief artist Denys Cowan who was commissioned by GZA's personal manager Geoffrey L. Garfield, an avid comic book fan under the auspices of GZA Grafx, a subsidiary company of GZA Entertainment owned by Genius and Garfield. The concept of the chessboard with its sword-wielding warriors was conceived by Genius, an avid chess player. The Genius version of the Wu-Tang Clan logo, the "G" using the logo iconography, was rendered by Wu-Tang Clan DJ Mathematics.


Genius also enjoyed a successful side career as a music video director, and with Garfield as writer and producer, created all four videos for the Liquid Swords album ("Liquid Swords", "Cold World", "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber","I Gotcha Back"), and also did videos for Sunz of Man, Ghostface Killah's song on the Sunset Park film soundtrack, Shabazz the Disciple (Penalty Records) and Case (Def Jam). The Source magazine recognized their video "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber" as one of the Top Five Videos of 1995.


Critical response was almost universally positive. Steve Huey of Allmusic remarked that Liquid Swords is often referred to as "the best Wu-Tang solo project of all" and "Liquid Swords cemented the Genius/GZA's reputation as the best pure lyricist in the group -- and one of the best of the '90s." Steve Juon of wrote that Liquid Swords was "the purest representation of the Wu-Tang sound and style at a time when they truly reigned over all others in hip-hop in the mid-90's". Liquid Swords is ranked #1 for the year 1995 on, and currently the third-highest rated hip hop album of all time on the site.

The public and critical reception of Wu-Tang was so positive and pervasive that the album's marketing campaign for its November 1995 release read "Finally...In the Year of the Wu" to commemorate an astounding year-long run of hit Wu-Tang Clan solo albums.

In 1998, Liquid Swords was named as one of rap magazine The Source's 100 Best Rap Albums.

Chris Rock ranked Liquid Swords 13th on his list of the Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums ever , but in one of his concerts, he said that is one of his top 3 favorite albums.

The album was performed in its entirety on July 13, 2007 at the Pitchfork Music Festival and again in England, on December 9 at All Tomorrow's Parties and on December 10 at KOKO (venue) in London, as part of the ATP-curated Don't Look Back series. After the cancellation of an appearance in Brooklyn, New York, the performance was rescheduled for December 13 and 14 at the Knitting Factory in New York.

Professional reviews:

  • Rolling Stone (11/30/95, pp.66-67) - 3 Stars — Good - "It's probably the heaviest Wu-Tang production to date....Genius pulls you into his chamber headfirst....Liquid Swords cuts to the bone, another deadly efficient Wu-banger."
  • Entertainment Weekly (12/22/95, p.70) - " intriguing paradox of wordplay and profanity, juvenilia and wisdom." - Rating: B+
  • Q magazine (2/96, p.96) - 4 Stars — Excellent - "...inventively laid-back sample collage of hip hop that offsets his biting messages...the result is dramatic and hypnotic..."
  • The Wire (10/01, p.46) - "Genius trades 'romance' for 'crime'...and his icy skills certainly work better with darker scenarios."
  • Option (3-4/96, pp.104-105) - "Genius' verbalistics evoke that creepy feeling you get negotiating certain inner-city neighborhoods on pitch black nights."
  • Melody Maker (11/25/95, p.36) - "...the keywords...are synthetic and cinematic....the narrator of these ghostly/ghastly horrorcore tales is on the outside looking in, a voyeur...buzzing off the ghetto misery, wondering how to of the dozen or so best (G-Funk) albums of the year."
  • Rap Pages (1/96, p.31) - 8 (out of 10) - "Liquid Swords presents the Gza as sword-style rhyme originator, holding court over his young disciples....reverential guest appearances from the rest of the Clan...inject the album with some of its most memorable moments....Wu-Tang continue to challenge and confound all expectations of what their music is about."
  • NME (11/11/95, p.46) - 9 (out of 10) - "The best hip-hop album for years. Fact...The Rza's spooked, creaky, incredibly dense....The tricks he's practised on previous Clan albums...reach their apogee here....Genius' quite brilliant lyrics [have] a complexity, a rush of imagery, a strangely poetic drama of brutality."

Track listing

All songs produced by RZA unless otherwise noted.

# Title Time Performer(s) Sample(s)
1 "Liquid Swords" 4:31

  • Intro & chorus backing vocals by RZA
  • Verses: GZA
  • "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Willie Mitchell
  • "Groovin'" by Willie Mitchell
  • "That's the Way it Is" by Al Green (?)
  • Samurai movie Shogun Assassin
  • 2 "Duel of the Iron Mic" 4:06

  • "I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over" by David Porter
  • Samurai movie Shogun Assassin
  • 3 "Living in the World Today" 4:23

  • "In The Hole" by The Bar-Kays
  • "I'm His Wife, You're Just a Friend" by Ann Sexton
  • 4 "Gold" 3:57

    5 "Cold World" 5:31

  • "In The Rain" by The Dramatics
  • "Rocket Love" by Stevie Wonder
  • Samurai movie Shogun Assassin
  • 6 "Labels" 2:54

    7 "4th Chamber" 4:37

  • "Groovin'" by Willie Mitchell
  • Samurai movie Shogun Assassin
  • 8 "Shadowboxin'" 3:30

  • "Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness" by Ann Peebles
  • dialogue from the film "Shaolin vs. Lama"
  • 9 "Hell's Wind Staff/Killah Hills 10304" 5:09

    10 "Investigative Reports" 3:50

  • "I'd Be So Happy" by Three Dog Night
  • 11 "Swordsman" 3:21

    12 "I Gotcha Back" 5:01

    • Chorus backing vocals: RZA
    • Verses: GZA
  • "As Long As I've Got You" by The Charmels
  • Samurai movie Shogun Assassin
  • 13* "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)" 4:33

  • "Our Love Has Died" by The Ohio Players
  • An asterisk (*) indicates a track originally omitted from the vinyl version, but present on the reissue and the CD.


    Album chart positions

    Year Album Chart positions
    Billboard 200 Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums
    1995 Liquid Swords #9 #2

    Singles chart positions

    Year Song Chart positions
    Billboard Hot 100 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks Hot Rap Singles Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales
    1994 "I Gotcha Back" - - #29 #39
    1995 "Cold World" #97 #57 #8 #8
    1995 "Liquid Swords" #48 #33 #3 #2
    1995 "Shadowboxin'" #67 #41 #10 #9


    External links

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