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Swingin’ through your town like your neighbourhood Spider-Man

A man in a Spider-Man outfit in the street

Image: Muhd Asyraaf on Unsplash

  • Track: Protect Ya Neck
  • Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
  • Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
  • Year: 1992

It had to start here really. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was one of the first hip-hop albums I fell in love with. In the unlikely event that you’re reading this and you’ve never listened to any hip-hop, this is a great place to start.

This track kicks off with a solid simile and never stops throwing them at you. This was Wu-Tang Clan’s debut single and is mostly about:

  1. how good the Wu-Tang Clan are at rapping (really good)
  2. types of people the Wu-Tang Clan don’t really get along with
  3. how any attempt by these people to have a pop at the Wu-Tang Clan won’t end well. And that they should invest in some sturdy neck wear.

Incidentally, these are also three of the most common topics in rap music, apart from the bit about neck wear.

The wordplay is strong in this one. GZA’s final verse is a particularly brilliant, acerbic swipe at the recording industry.

The lyrics

Read full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Inspectah Deck]

I smoke on the mic like ‘Smokin’ Joe’ Frazier

Ladies and gentleman, our first hip-hop simile. Joe Frazier was the first boxer to beat Muhammad Ali. He was good. Inspectah Deck is good. At rapping.

The hell-raiser, raisin’ hell with the flavour
Terrorise the jam like troops in Pakistan

Terrorising condiments seems a little unnecessary. Ha hurr. I guess Inspectah Deck could have referenced any trouble hotspot, but choosing Pakistan lets us hit a beautiful rhyme with his next simile:

Swingin’ through your town like your neighbourhood Spider-Man

Here he comes! Now he’s moving through your patch with swagger. Spider-Man is a superhero known for his cockiness, and Inspectah Deck delivers this line suitably audaciously.

As an aside, if you’ve not heard the Ramones cover the Spider-Man cartoon theme, do yourself a favour and have a listen.

So uhh, tick tock and keep tickin’
While I get you flippin’ off the shit that I’m kickin’
The Lone Ranger, code red: danger
Deep in the dark with the art to rip the charts apart
The vandal, too hot to handle
You battle, you’re sayin’ goodbye like Tevin Campbell

After a few lines’ respite we’re back in simile territory. I never knew who Tevin Campbell was until now – instead choosing to imagine Inspectah Deck was bidding farewell to Arsenal legend Kevin Campbell when he signed for Nottingham Forest. That happened two years after this record came out though, so it doesn’t really work.

It turns out he’s actually referencing R&B singer Tevin Campbell, who had a minor hit in 1992 with ‘Goodbye’. I lasted 22 seconds of that.

Roughneck, Inspectah Deck’s on the set
The Rebel, I make more noise than heavy metal

Aaaand, here lands our first ‘comparitive’ simile. These are fine, ok? Read the rules if you have an issue with it. Someone on Genius.com reckons this is a euphemism for gunfire. I’m pretty green around the gills and think it’s more likely a straightforward reference to music.

That’s a whopping five similes in the first verse. Impressive stuff. Next up…

[Raekwon]

The way I make the crowd go wild
Sit back, relax, won’t smile
Rae got it goin’ on, pal
Call me the rap assassinator
Rhymes rugged and built like Schwarzenegger

That’s a simile that always brings a smile to my face. (Hmmm. I just realised ‘smile’ is only one letter away from ‘simile’. I’m sure that’s no coincidence.) Is ‘assassinator’ even a word? Who cares when the rhyme’s that special.

I also like the sardonic use of ‘pal’: a word my dad uses to passively-aggressively get the attention of waiters when he wants to make a complaint in a restaurant.

And I’m a get mad deep like a threat

I never understood this one until now. It turns out that a deep threat is a type of wide receiver (no, me neither) in some obscure sport called ‘American football’.

This is an interesting sort of simile that isn’t really a simile. On the face of it, Raekwon is comparing how deep he’s going to get to a threat. That doesn’t make much sense, but does conjure up some imagery (at least it may do if you know anything about American football). And it does sound cool. And it’s going in the database.

This kind of half-simile wordplay is pretty common in hip-hop. Maybe one day I’ll come up with a name for it.

Blow up your project, then take all your assets
‘Cause I came to shake the frame in half
With the thoughts that bomb shit like math

This is apparently a reference to the Five-Percent Nation movement’s Supreme Mathematics. Or perhaps it’s just Raekwon’s love letter to maths, which is definitely the ‘bomb shit’ in my book. Stay in school, kids.

So if you wanna try to flip, go flip on the next man
‘Cause I grab the clip and
Hit you with 16 shots and more I got
Goin’ to war with the meltin’ pot, akh

Not quite up to the simile heights of Inspectah Deck, there, Raekwon, but a solid effort. Next up it’s the dulcet tones of…

[Method Man]

It’s the Method Man, for short Mr. Meth
Movin’ on your left, UH!
And set it off, get it off, let it off like a gat
I wanna break, fool, cock me back

Here’s our first gun-related simile. It’ll be the first of many I’m sure. ‘Gat’ of course comes from ‘gatling gun’, a massive hand-cranked cannon thing. Imagine trying to conceal one of those in your trackie bottoms.

Small change, they puttin’ shame in the game
I take aim and blow the nigga out the frame
And like F-a-a-me, my style will live forever
Niggas crossin’ over, but they don’t know no better

Anyone who grew up in the 80s will recognise the reference in this simile. A friend from primary school used to request this song (Remember My Name) at every school disco. They never played it. Not the most gangster of similes, but it’s a cute and funny one.

But I do, true, can I get a “Suuu”?
Nuff respect due to the 1-6-oooh
I mean ohhh, yo, check out the flow
Like the Hudson or PCP when I’m dustin’ niggas off
, because I’m hot like sauce
The smoke from the lyrical blunt make me [cough]

Woah there Nelly! Method Man slips not one, but three similes into the end of this verse:

  1. his flow is like the Hudson river (which is undoubtedly, erm, flowy)
  2. his flow is like PCP when he’s dustin’ niggas off. I don’t think he’s talking about dusting down a fellow’s waistcoat here
  3. he’s hot like sauce, obviously

That’s some world-class simileing there, folks. And a nice end to the verse with that cheeky rhyme feint. Nice work.

All told, that’s five similes in Method Man’s verse. Let’s see how U-God does.

[U-God]

Ooh, what, grab my nut, get screwed
Oww, here comes my Shaolin style
True B-A-ba-B-Y-U
To my crew with a “Suuuuuuu”

And that’s that. Poor showing there. Although to be fair U-God was in prison at the time Wu-Tang were making the album, so we’ll let him off. Just this once.

[Ol’ Dirty Bastard]

C’mon, baby baby, c’mon, baby baby
C’mon, baby baby, c’mo-o-n

[RZA]

Yo, you best protect ya neck

Back to Ol’ Dirty Bastard for his proper verse now. RIP ODB.

[Ol’ Dirty Bastard]

First things first, man, you’re fuckin’ with the worst
I’ll be stickin’ pins in your head like a fuckin’ nurse

This is a bit of a tricky simile to unpick. I thought it was a straightforward one, but nurses aren’t exactly known for sticking pins in heads.

One of the Genius contributors says this is a reference to Yakub, a figure from Nation of Islam ideology. A nice chap by all accounts, he was a scientist who told nurses to kill black babies by sticking needles in their brains. He’s also referenced at the end of Gravel Pit, a Wu-Tang tune from 2000. That’s convincing enough for me, so I’ll file it under that rather than the literal interpretation.

I’ll attack any nigga who slack in his mack
Come fully packed with a fat rugged stack
Shame on you when you step through to
The Ol’ Dirty Bastard straight from the Brooklyn Zu
And I’ll be damned if I let any man
Come to my centre, you enter the winter
Straight up and down, that shit is packed jam
You can’t slam, don’t let me get fool on him, man
The Ol’ Dirty Bastard is dirty and stinkin’
Ason Unique rollin’ with the night of the creeps
Niggas be rollin’ with a stash, ain’t sayin’ cash
Bite my style, I’ll bite your motherfuckin’ ass

So just a disappointing one simile from ODB there. Still, it’s a great verse from a rapper with one of the most distinctive styles in hip-hop. ODB died in 2004 sadly, but I’ll forever be grateful for his bonkers cover of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Macy Gray.

[ Ghostface Killah ]

For cryin’ out loud, my style is wild, so book me
Not long is how long that this rhyme took me
Ejectin’ styles from my lethal weapon
My pen that rocks from here to Oregon
There’s more again, catch it like a psycho flashback

Not sure what we’re supposed to be catching here. His pen? If the Genius contributor is right, this is a reference to Psycho IV, a 1990 TV movie starring, you guessed it, Anthony Perkins. The film uses a lot of flashbacks. (Apparently. I’m willing to do a bit of research here but I’ve got to draw a line somewhere.)

That’s a bit of a stretch for me. I’m over-ruling Genius for this one, and sticking with the more prosaic explanation that it’s about psychological flashbacks.

I love gats; if rap was a gun, you wouldn’t bust back
I come with shit in all types of shapes and sounds
And where I lounge is my stompin’ grounds
I give an order to my peeps across the water
To go and snatch up props all around the border
And get far like a shootin’ star
‘Cause who I are is dim in the light of Pablo Escobar
Point-blank as I kick the square biz
There it is, you’re fuckin’ with pros, and there it goes

Pablo Escobar crops up quite a bit in rap lyrics. It’s not hard to imagine why. Somewhere, in an alternate reality, someone is probably compiling a list of Escobar references in hip-hop. The fool.

It’s worth noting this verse isn’t about being the hardest crew around, but the best at rapping. It’s not all about violence. It’s their talent that will get them far.

Although as shooting stars become visible at about 60 miles from the earth’s surface, Ghostface is actually suggesting he’ll be roughly the same distance away as Northampton is from London. Reach for the stars, Ghostface. Reach for the stars.

[RZA]

Yo, chill with the feedback, black, we don’t need that
It’s 10 o’clock, ho, where the fuck’s your seed at?
Feelin’ mad hostile, wearin’ Aéropostale
Flowin’ like Christ when I speaks the gospel

When has a recording artist comparing themselves to Christ ever ended badly? Anyway it’s a nice little verse this, with lots of religious symbolism woven into it.

Stroll with the holy robe, then attack the globe
With the buck-us style, the ruckus
Ten times ten men committin’ mad sin
Turn the other cheek and I’ll break your fuckin’ chin
Slayin’ boom-bangs like African drums
(He’ll be) comin’ around the mountain when I come

Beautiful stuff. I’ve no idea whata ‘slaying boom-bangs’ means. If anyone reading this has any idea, do let me know.

Crazy flamboyant for the rap enjoyment
My clan increase like black unemployment

This line is worth a closer look, if only because of last year’s claim from everyone’s least-favourite orange maniac that they were responsible for the all-time low rate of black unemployment in the US.

Of course, the real picture is more complicated than that. It’s been over 20 years since this track came out. Plus ça change.

Yeah, another one down
Ju-Jugger-Genius, take us the fuck outta here

At this point RZA hands the mic over to his cousin GZA (AKA Genius) for the last verse on the track, which is also one of the best on the entire album.

It’s well worth heading over to Genius.com (no relation) to read the full breakdown of this spectacular diatribe. Because I can’t do it justice here.

[GZA]

The Wu is too slammin’ for these Cold Killin’ labels
Some ain’t had hits since I seen Aunt Mabel
Be doin’ artists in like Cain did Abel
Now they money’s gettin’ stuck to the gum under the table
That’s what you get when you misuse what I invent
Your empire falls and you lose every cent
For tryna blow up a scrub
Now that thought was just as bright as a 20-watt light bulb
Should’ve pumped it when I rocked it
Niggas so stingy they got short arms and deep pockets
This goes on in some companies
With majors, they’re scared to death to pump these
First of all, who’s your A&R?
A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?
But he don’t know the meanin’ of dope
When he’s lookin’ for a suit-and-tie rap
That’s cleaner than a bar of soap

And I’m the dirtiest thing in sight
Matter of fact, bring out the girls, and let’s have a mud fight!

Simile wise, I like how GZA carries on the religious theme from RZA’s verse, then references a couple of pretty mundane things as he dishes it out to the record company suits. What a great end to a great tune. And that just leaves us with the outro.

[RZA]

You best protect ya neck
You best protect ya neck
You best protect ya neck
You best protect ya neck

And there we have it, simile fans. That’s 21 similes in one tune, covering a huge range of themes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going scarf shopping.

The stats

Similes:21
Words:889
Words per simile:42.33
Length:4m 51s
Similes per minute:4.33
Necks protected:0

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