Protect Ya Neck” is the debut single by American hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, released in 1992. The song is featured on the group’s debut studio album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It is produced by RZA and features eight of the original nine Wu-Tang members.
Protect Ya Neck” was the first Wu-Tang song bringing together the original four members and four others (excluding Masta Killa, who had not yet joined). It was originally released December 14, 1992, as part of the “Protect Ya Neck”/”After the Laughter Comes Tears” single by Wu-Tang Records. When it created an underground buzz, Wu-Tang signed with Loud Records and released it on May 3, 1993, with “Method Man” on its B-side. That single sold 10,000 copies.
The album version of the song (even the ‘explicit’ versions of the album) is edited to scratch out all profanity, save for repeated use of the word nigga. On the original recording version of the song, Inspectah Deck’s verse came second, but RZA changed it to first in the order. The original beat was totally different, and all Wu-members were in a different order. RZA just said “I just need y’all voices” and Wu entered the studio the next morning and RZA arranged everything, including the karate chops. The person who rings into a radio station at the start of the song was from an interview Wu did. Wu did the interview on a radio station WPGC in Washington, DC. Different segments of the same interview are placed at different parts of the album.
Rapper Grand Daddy I.U. noted the swipe that GZA took at him on the song. Prior to the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan, GZA was originally known as The Genius – who, along with Grand Daddy I.U. – was signed to Cold Chillin’ Records. GZA’s verse was directed at his former label for lack of promotion over his debut Words from the Genius in favor of the former’s debut album Smooth Assassin. Aside from the swipes at his former label, GZA also took a few swipes at I.U., to which I.U. discussed in 2006:
I was wearing the suit and tie shit back then on some old time gangster shit. He had that other shit like, ‘Girl come do me.’ I guess they wasn’t feeling that shit so they chose to push me harder than they pushed him. That ain’t my fault what the fuck are you mad at me for? So you know how that shit is. He ain’t gonna come to my face and say nothing so later on he put that shit in his little rhyme or whatever throwing a subliminal jab. That shit is neither here nor there”.
Protect Ya Neck” is featured on greatest hits compilations such as The RZA Hits, Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1 and Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan, which contains an uncensored version known as the “Bloody Version”. In 2000, Wu-Tang Clan would release a sequel on their third album The W, called “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)”, which also features Cappadonna and Masta Killa in place of the then-incarcerated Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
“Protect Ya Neck” has been featured in video games True Crime: New York City, Skate 2 and WWE 2K22. The chime that opens the song is from the kung fu movie Executioners from Shaolin.
The “Protect Ya Neck/Method Man” single made The Source’s 100 Best Singles list. In September 2010 Pitchfork Media included the song at number 5 on their Top 200 Tracks of the 90s.
It has also been featured in the final episode of superhero web television series The Defenders during a fight scene between all four Defenders and The Hand.
The music video shows each Wu-Tang rapper in black and white rapping individually with their entourage in the background. As each rapper starts his verse, their rap aliases are shown on the screen. Many of these aliases are spelled incorrectly or never used on official releases such as Ghostface Killah being shown as “Ghost Face Killer” and GZA as the Jizah. In the video, occasionally clips of Wu-Tang as a full group in color are flashed for a couple seconds. It features a cameo appearance from a then-unknown Cappadonna during Raekwon and Method Man’s scenes.