Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version is the solo debut album of American rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, released March 28, 1995 on Elektra Records in the United States. It was the second solo album, after Method Man’s Tical to be released from the nine-member Wu-Tang Clan following the release of their debut album. Return to the 36 Chambers was primarily produced by RZA, with additional production from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and affiliates True Master and 4th Disciple. The album features guest appearances from Wu-Tang Clan members GZA, RZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa as well as Wu-Tang Killa Beez.
Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version peaked at number seven on the Billboard 200 and number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album sold 81,000 copies in its first week, and was certified Platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on March 26, 2019. Upon its release, the album received positive reviews from most music critics, with many complimenting Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s bizarre lyrical delivery and RZA’s eerie production. The album was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1996 Grammy Awards.
In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source’s 100 Best Rap Albums.
Rolling Stone (4/20/95, p. 78) – 4 Stars – “With his raspy, lisp-punctuated voice and half-sung, half-rapped style, [Ol’ Dirty Bastard] may well be the most original vocalist in hip-hop history.”
Entertainment Weekly (3/31/95, p. 61) – “This solo effort by a second member of the near-platinum Wu-Tang Clan showcases the raw, innovative talent of their illest member … The RZA’s signature dissonant piano loops [sparkle] behind Dirty’s delirious, reverberating delivery.” – Rating: A-
Vibe (5/95, p. 97) – “Ol’ Dirty’s catchy sing-along … is paired with subtle keyboards and the Rza’s typically murky beats, yielding a mystic’s brew, which, like all Wu-related fare, defiantly flies in the face of conventions … the aural pleasures are … convincing.”
The Source (5/95, p. 65) – 4 Stars – “The third shot fired in the Wu-Tang revolution spotlights the crazy drunken flow of the Ol’ Dirty Bastard … a must-have for every real hardcore head … hardcore lyrics kicked live over a non-stop assault of that addictive Shao-lin funk.”
Melody Maker (4/22/95, p. 35) – “… an hour of cruel hard and frighteningly funny hip hop; the perfect companion piece to Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers … the songs are driven by a vicious, unstable urgency.”
Village Voice (2/20/96) – Ranked #39 in Village Voice’s 1995 Jazz & Pop Critics’ Poll.
Select gave the album a negative review of two out of five. The review found the album inferior to Method Man‘s album Tical, stating that “From the extremely long and unfunny – intro skit, it’s obvious ideas are spread wafer thin across the 15 tracks.”