Liquid Swords

Liquid Swords is the second solo studio album by American rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member GZA, released on November 7, 1995, by Geffen Records.[1] Recording sessions for the album began midway through 1995 at producer RZA's basement studio in the New York City borough of Staten Island. The album heavily samples dialogue from the martial arts film Shogun Assassin and maintains a dark atmosphere throughout, incorporating lyrical references to chess, crime and philosophy. Liquid Swords features numerous guest appearances from the other eight members of Wu-Tang Clan along with Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest.

Liquid Swords
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 7, 1995 (1995-11-07)
StudioRZA's basement studio, New York City
GZA chronology
Words from the Genius
Liquid Swords
Beneath the Surface
Wu-Tang Clan solo chronology
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Liquid Swords
Singles from Liquid Swords
  1. "I Gotcha Back"
    Released: August 22, 1994
  2. "Liquid Swords"
    Released: October 10, 1995
  3. "Cold World"
    Released: November 28, 1995
  4. "Shadowboxin'" / "4th Chamber"
    Released: March 28, 1996

Upon its release, Liquid Swords peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200 chart, and number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the album platinum in sales nearly 20 years after its release.[1] Liquid Swords received critical acclaim for its complex lyricism and hypnotic musical style. Over the years, its recognition has grown, with a number of famous publishers proclaiming it to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. In 2007, the Chicago Tribune cited it as "one of the most substantial lyrical journeys in hip-hop history".[2]

Background and recordingEdit

Producer RZA (pictured in 2009) began recording the album after finishing several other Wu-Tang projects.

Following the success of two earlier Wu-Tang Clan solo albums – Method Man's Tical and Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Wu-Tang member Raekwon began recording his acclaimed debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... in early 1995. While he and producer RZA were putting the final touches on that album, RZA and GZA began writing and recording what would eventually become Liquid Swords.[3] In regards to their decision to begin the album at the time they did, GZA later commented "We (Wu-Tang) were on a roll, and it was the perfect time to get in the studio and just do it."[4]

"I'm on a different level, trying to be cinematic," he remarked. "Like that shit in 'Killah Hill' where the kid gets his leg cut to hide the dope – that shit really happened, but I'm trying to make it more visual. Liquid Swords is a concept of being lyrically sharp, flowing like liquid metal – mercury, y'know? It comes from this flick, Legend of the Liquid Sword, where people would get their head cut off but it would still be on their shoulders. No one else would notice, because the sword was so sharp. Wu-Tang is a sword style, and this here is the sharpest. I'd rather slip on the pavement than slip on my tongue."[5]

Similar to other early solo Wu-Tang albums, Liquid Swords was recorded in RZA's basement studio in Staten Island, with some beats playing for over two days straight while recording.[6] When asked in a later interview about his opinion of the album's beats, GZA remarked "I loved them. A lot of them had a grimy, rock-like feel to them. I just remember absolutely loving them."[4] In the same interview, GZA described the writing process as "real slow." He further commented "I don’t say slow in the sense that it necessarily took me a long time to finish what I’m writing. I mean, Raekwon and Ghostface can step in and record a song in about forty-five minutes. I on the other hand, would often go back and finish rhymes that I started. I would say I pieced things together more slowly then. Songs generally take me two to three days to write. Sometimes I take different sentences and put them together."[4]

Regarding the overall sensation of writing Liquid Swords, GZA stated "It's hard to say something is gonna be classic or not. But I can say that I felt the magic with this one. I actually saw it grow and come together, and felt that it was special as we were doing it."[4] He later noted in an interview with The Seattle Times: "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. 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."


The album's cover was designed by Milestone Media Founder/Creative Director and chief artist Denys Cowan, according to the album's liner notes.[10] Cowan's black and white line art was inked by Inker Prentis Rollins. Milestone's Color Editor, Jason Scott Jones created the cover color art digitally at a time when digital coloring was emerging in comic art eventually becoming the standard.[11] GZA's personal manager Geoffrey L. Garfield, commissioned Cowan. Garfield, an avid comic book fan, said the cover art was supervised under the auspices of GZA GrafX, a subsidiary company of GZA Entertainment owned by GZA and Garfield. The concept of the chessboard with its sword-wielding warriors was conceived by GZA, an avid chess player. The GZA version of the Wu-Tang Clan logo, the "G" using the logo iconography, was rendered by Wu-Tang Clan DJ Mathematics who was also an accomplished graphic artist.[12]

GZA 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", and "I Gotcha Back"),[13] and also did videos for Sunz of Man, Ghostface Killah's song ("Motherless Child") on the Sunset Park film soundtrack, Shabazz the Disciple (Penalty Records) and Case (Def Jam). The Source recognized their video "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber" as one of the Top Five Videos of 1995.

Liquid Swords 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 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.


Four total singles were released for Liquid Swords. The first of which was "I Gotcha Back," released August 22, 1994. Similar to Raekwon's single "Heaven & Hell," the song first appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Fresh, and was the first song written for the album, with its version being re-recorded in 1995. Describing the song's background and theme, GZA later stated "This was a short rhyme I wrote for one of my nephews. When I said, “My lifestyle so far from well, could’ve wrote a book called Age Twelve and Going Through Hell.” It’s for my nephew who was twelve at the time, and whose father, my brother, had been locked up since ‘88. So he wasn’t around for my nephew when times were rough, so I wanted to up my nephew a bit with this track. I had two nephews in the video, they were both real young at the time. And in video, they both had met up and shots rang out from some young gangsters. It’s a shame because both those kids in the video, both nephews of mine, ended up getting in trouble for ringing out shots and are both doing time right now. It’s kind of ironic. One of my nephews ended up getting eights years for that shit. So the whole song is a sad irony to me now."[13]

The second single released for the album, was the title track "Liquid Swords", released over one year later on October 10, 1995. GZA later commented "Usually I take a beat home and write to it for a few days, but it wasn’t like that with this track. I think RZA played the beat for me and I just spit to it right there. The hook was actually a routine from around ‘84 that me RZA and Ol' Dirty would do: 'When the emcees came, to live out the name.' Just like that."[4]

November 28, 1995 saw the release of the album's third single "Cold World." In regards to his writing approach to the song, GZA stated "Normally, when I hear a beat, I already know where to go with it. I can picture the track and just vibe off it. As soon as I heard the beat to “Cold World,” I knew it would be another inner-city story."[13]

The fourth and final single released for the album was "4th Chamber," released early 1996, with "Shadowboxin'" as its B-Side. GZA later remarked "Making '4th Chamber' was crazy because I didn’t have a rhyme ready for that one. That’s why I went last on it. Plus, Ghost killed it with his verse so I knew I had to come correct. It’s not even a GZA song to me—it’s a Wu-Tang song. And Ghost’s verse is just incredible to me. He delivered so well. I don’t know if you saw the video, I directed that too. This song, the guest verses, the video, the crowd response, all turned out perfect for this one."[13]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
AllMusic     [15]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[16]
The Guardian     [17]
Los Angeles Times    [18]
Q     [21]
Record Collector     [22]
Rolling Stone     [23]
The Source4/5[24]

Upon its release, Liquid Swords received critical acclaim. Selwyn Seyfu Hinds from The Source called GZA "a highly focused master-graftsman" and felt that "throughout Liquid Swords he maintains a clear, precise flow, one that reflects deadly-sharp purpose and skilled execution." Hinds also praised RZA's production on the album, noting his "increasingly sophisticated style: shuffling kicks, neck snapping snares, haunting melodies via strings or vibe-like textures and penetrating bass tones."[24] In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Dimitri Ehrlich said that, "With its tight beat, Liquid Swords emphasizes the finesse with which GZA weaves his vocals over straightforward rhythms."[16] Los Angeles Times critic Cheo H. Coker described GZA as "a hip-hop M. C. Escher" whose lyrics "reveal layer after layer of thought with repeated listening", concluding that the album cements the Wu-Tang Clan as "the kings of New York rap."[18]

NME hailed Liquid Swords as "the best hip-hop album" in years, citing RZA's "spooked, creaky, incredibly dense" production and GZA's complex and "quite brilliant" lyrics.[19] Mojo magazine characterized the album as "creepily beautiful" and "East Coast hip hop with a far more warped and disturbing slant on inner-city sickness than the in-your-face Californian equivalent".[25] In Select, Matt Hall wrote that RZA "provides a series of austere rhythms, sparsely dotting violin stabs and plucked harps to provide the perfect backdrop to Genius' downbeat tales of New York's mean streets… Liquid Swords sneaks under the tape to qualify as Rap Album Of The Year."[5] Tom Doyle of Q wrote that GZA can seem "perhaps unreasonably hardcore in some of his approaches...[but] when his rhyming is enhanced by the dislocated soul chorus of 'Cold World', the result is dramatic and hypnotic."[21]

Robert Christgau was somewhat less enthusiastic, giving the album a two-star honorable mention, which indicated a "likable effort that consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well enjoy".[26] In his column for The Village Voice, Christgau cited "Shadowboxin'" and "Killah Hills 10304" as highlights and called the record "gangsta [rap] as mystery, religious and literary".[27]


Liquid Swords continues to be held in high regard as one of the best releases in the Wu-Tang Clan's catalog and among the greatest hip hop albums of all time.[15][28] According to AllMusic critic Steve Huey, it is "often acclaimed as the best Wu-Tang solo project of all" and "cemented the Genius/GZA's reputation as the best pure lyricist in the group—and one of the best of the '90s".[15] Huey likewise viewed it as a significant progression for RZA as a producer, noting his experiments "with stranger sounds and more layered tracks", while evaluating Liquid Swords as "one of the group's undisputed classics", along with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) and Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (1995).[15] Reviewing Liquid Swords for RapReviews' "Back to the Lab" series, writer Steve Juon called it "an album of 100% Wu-Tang sonic mastery", adding that among Wu-Tang Clan solo albums, "it may the best—if not one of the top two or three."[7] Nick Catucci, writing in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), said that, on the album, GZA "went goth, painting the Wu's street grime black."[29] Record Collector's Paul Bowler stated that Liquid Swords represented an artistic peak for the Wu-Tang Clan as a whole, noting what he found to be their subsequent creative decline from Wu-Tang Forever (1997) onward.[22] Chris Smith from Stylus Magazine wrote that the group "never yet managed to make anything this memorable, otherworldly, and strangely beautiful again."[8]

On October 8, 2015, the Recording Industry Association of America announced that Liquid Swords had earned a platinum certification for having sold more than 1 million copies. It became the first Wu-Tang-related album to get certified since 2004, when Method Man and Ghostface Killah both earned plaques.[30]

Track listingEdit

1."Liquid Swords"4:31
2."Duel of the Iron Mic" (featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa & Inspectah Deck)4:06
3."Living in the World Today"4:23
5."Cold World" (featuring Inspectah Deck & Life)5:31
7."4th Chamber" (featuring Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA)4:37
8."Shadowboxin'" (featuring Method Man)3:30
9."Hell's Wind Staff / Killah Hills 10304"5:09
10."Investigative Reports" (featuring U-God, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah)3:50
12."I Gotcha Back"5:01
Total length:50:49
Bonus track (CD only)
13."B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)" (performed by Killah Priest)4:33
Total length:55:24
2012 Bonus disc: The Full-Length Instrumentals
1."Liquid Swords"3:29
2."Duel of the Iron Mic"3:45
3."Living in the World Today"4:24
5."Cold World"5:21
7."4th Chamber"4:17
9."Killah Hills 10304"4:24
10."Investigative Reports"4:10
11."I Gotcha Back"4:08
Total length:44:48

Sample credits

  • "Liquid Swords" contains samples from "Groovin'" and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Willie Mitchell, and "Legend of Lone Wolf" by W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lewis from the movie Shogun Assassin.
  • "Duel of the Iron Mic" contains a sample from "I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over" by David Porter, and dialogue excerpts from the films Shogun Assassin and Dragon on Fire.
  • "Living in the World Today" contains samples from "I'm His Wife, You're Just a Friend" by Ann Sexton and "In The Hole" by The Bar-Kays.
  • "Gold" contains a sample from "The Aries" by Cannonball Adderley.
  • "Cold World" contains samples from "In The Rain" by The Dramatics and "Plastic People" by The Mothers of Invention, interpolations from "Rocket Love" by Stevie Wonder and "Love Me In A Special Way" by DeBarge, and dialogue excerpts from the film Shogun Assassin.
  • "Labels" contains a sample from "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston.
  • "4th Chamber" contains a dialogue excerpt from the film Shogun Assassin, and samples from "Assassin With Son" by W. Michael Lewis & Mark Lewis from the movie Shogun Assassin, "Groovin'" by Willie Mitchell and "Dharmatma Theme Music (Sad)" by Kalyanji Anandji.
  • "Shadowboxin'" contains a dialogue excerpt from the film Shaolin vs Lama, and a sample from "Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness" by Ann Peebles.
  • "Hell's Wind Staff" contains an interpolation of "Lost in Love" by New Edition and "Killah Hills 10304" contains a sample from "Soul Vibrations" by Dorothy Ashby.
  • "Investigative Reports" contains a sample from "I'd Be So Happy" by Three Dog Night.
  • "I Gotcha Back" contains a dialogue excerpt from the film Shogun Assassin and samples from "As Long as I've Got You" by The Charmels and "Is It Him or Me" by Jackie Jackson.
  • "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)" contains a sample from "Our Love Has Died" by the Ohio Players.




Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[35] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  • The information regarding accolades is adapted from,[36] except for lists with additional sources.
  • (*) signifies unordered lists
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank United States 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums[37] 2008 62
Best Rap Albums of 1995[38] 2008 3
Ego Trip Hip Hop's 25 Greatest Albums by Year 1980–98 1999 3
Face United Kingdom Albums of the year 1995 16
The Guardian 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die 2007 *
Hervé Bourhis France 555 Records 2007 *
Hip-Hop Connection United Kingdom The 100 Greatest Rap Albums 1995–2005 2005 7
HUMO Belgium Albums of the Year 1995 13
Melody Maker United Kingdom Albums of the Year 1995 42
NME Albums of the Year 1995 30
OOR Netherlands Albums of the Year 1995 24
Pitchfork Media United States Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1990s 2003 87
Q United Kingdom Albums of the Year 1995 *
Robert Dimery United States 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die[39] 2005 *
Rolling Stone Top 25 Hip Hop Albums (by Chris Rock)[40] 2006 13
The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[41] 2020 347
Select United Kingdom The 100 Best Albums of the 90s 2006 42
Albums of the Year 1995 36
The Source United States The 100 Best Rap Albums of All Time 1998 *
Stylus Magazine Top 101–200 Albums of All time 2004 137


  1. ^ a b RIAA Search Archived 2015-10-17 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  2. ^ Baker, Soren. "All for One, One for All: Supergroup Wu-Tang Clan Let's Its Members Fly Solo": Chicago Tribune: 4. June 20, 1999.
  3. ^ Arnold, Paul W., et al. (May 2005). The Making Of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. XXL. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ma, David. The Making Of Liquid Swords (page 1). Wax Poetics. Retrieved 2010-07-31. Archived April 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b Select, January 1996
  6. ^ Matson, Andrew. Rapper GZA Riffs on the Thinking Man's Rap Masterpiece Archived 2009-07-03 at the Wayback Machine. The Seattle Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  7. ^ a b c Juon, Steve 'Flash'. Review: Liquid Swords. RapReviews. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  8. ^ a b c Smith, Chris (September 1, 2003). "GZA – Liquid Swords – On Second Thought". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on April 10, 2017. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  9. ^ Ling, Tony (August 4, 2008). Treble : Album Review : Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine. Treble. Retrieved on 2011-05-31.
  10. ^ Liquid Swords (CD liner notes). GZA. Geffen. 1995. GEFD-24813.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  11. ^ Milestone Media Color Editor Jason Scott Jones
  12. ^ RZA, The, 2005. P:63
  13. ^ a b c d Ma, David. The Making Of Liquid Swords (page 2). Wax Poetics. Retrieved 2010-07-31. Archived April 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Liquid Swords [The Chess Box] by Genius / GZA Reviews and Tracks". Metacritic. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  15. ^ a b c d Huey, Steve. "Liquid Swords – GZA". AllMusic. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  16. ^ a b Ehrlich, Dimitri (November 24, 1995). "Liquid Swords". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  17. ^ Wazir, Burhan (November 24, 1995). "GZA/Genius: Liquid Swords (Geffen)". The Guardian.
  18. ^ a b Coker, Cheo H. (December 2, 1995). "The Genius, 'The Genius,' Geffen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  19. ^ a b "GZA: Liquid Swords". NME. November 11, 1995. p. 46.
  20. ^ Cohen, Ian (July 27, 2012). "GZA: Liquid Swords: Chess Box Deluxe Edition". Pitchfork. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  21. ^ a b Doyle, Tom (February 1996). "GZA: Liquid Swords". Q. No. 113. p. 96.
  22. ^ a b Bowler, Paul (September 2012). "Genius/GZA – Liquid Swords: The Chess Box". Record Collector. No. 405. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  23. ^ Fernando, S. H. Jr. (November 30, 1995). "GZA/Genius: Liquid Swords". Rolling Stone. pp. 66–67. Archived from the original on September 30, 2002. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Hinds, Selwyn Seyfu (December 1995). "Genius: Liquid Swords". The Source. No. 75. Archived from the original on March 30, 2016. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  25. ^ "GZA: Liquid Swords". Mojo. No. 26. January 1996.
  26. ^ Christgau, Robert (2000). Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. xvi, 115. ISBN 0312245602.
  27. ^ Christgau, Robert (January 23, 1996). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
  28. ^ Ekpo, Ime (July 23, 2018). "GZA Explores 'Liquid Science' in New Netflix Show". The Source. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  29. ^ Catucci, Nick (2004). "GZA/Genius". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 353–4. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  30. ^ GZA Gives Wu-Tang Clan First Platinum Album In More Than A Decade (Oct 8, 2015, Forbes Magazine)
  31. ^ "GZA, TLP". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  32. ^ "GZA, BLP". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  33. ^ "Top Billboard 200 Albums – Year-End 1996". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  34. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums – Year-End 1996". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  35. ^ "American album certifications – GZA – Liquid Swords". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  36. ^ Liquid Swords Album Accolades. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  37. ^ Adaso, Henry.'s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  38. ^ Adaso, Henry.'s Best Rap Albums of 1995. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  39. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (March 23, 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2.
  40. ^ "Top 25 Hip Hop Albums". Retrieved August 16, 2011.
  41. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. September 22, 2020. Retrieved September 29, 2020.


External linksEdit