It is said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and that is a statement that has a degree of truth depending on how many degrees of cynicism you have in you. I think for those who have a degree of talent, publicity can be a bad thing for those whose merits are eclipsed by their antics. And the Ol' Dirty Bastard's aka Russell Jones', aka a host of other aliases' (even by Wu-Tang standards) first album, "Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version" is a case in point. When the Wu-Tang first begin their operation of spin-off albums, the first to release was Method Man, who was the most visible face of the Wu-Tang, and who despite some occasional flashes of brilliance, was not a hardcore lyricist on the level of other members of the Wu. The second album, from Ol' Dirty, was much along the same lines: Ol' Dirty Bastard was known as an eccentric presence, brought in to liven up tracks with more conventional rappers on them. Would he have the substance to carry an entire album?
The question is more obvious in retrospect, since Ol' Dirty's string of arrests, misfortunes, and moments where "crazy" ceased to be colloquially and became clinical. Ol' Dirty became a headline maker first, and a rapper second (not that the distinction is not commonly frequently broken). But all of that obscures the fact that despite being rather eccentric about it, Ol' Dirty did have skills. The album did have its share of intermissions, where Ol' Dirty would rant drunkenly about whatever was on his mind, but it was not purely such breaks and stutters. There is a live show where Ol' Dirty tells us in a rant that When you are drunk, all you can see is light. And yet: for most of the songs, Ol' Dirty raps, and sometimes sings, with some seriousness. There are songs that he carries purely on what is termed technically as lyricism. Of course, he uses his distinctive delivery, and his rhymes are humorous, but they would still hold up if the listener wasn't aware of Ol' Dirty's persona. Especially noteworthy in this class are his two duets with his cousins, the GZA and the RZA.
And yet this is an Ol' Dirty Bastard album, and also a Wu-Tang Clan album, and that means that it is never going to stick to any formula we expect. The most representative way to explain this album is the song Sweet Sugar Pie, where Ol Dirty Bastard croons snatches of soul ballads drunkenly, ending with the scratchy scream: "I don't care what YOU care, I just GIVE what you receive", which fades away to a sample taken from a Kung-Fu movie: "now #2 practiced the snake style"...which fades into the violent, bitterly sad "Snakes", a song full of hardcore stories...all done by guest stars, until Ol' Dirty Bastard finishes out the sad song by making it a sad, ridiculous song by singing part of Jim Croce's Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown. So after just explaining that Ol' Dirty is a serious rapper, I say the most representational part of his album is him singing and yelling while others rap around him. But that is my story, and I am sticking to it.