It sounds like the beginning of a joke. "What do Bruce Springsteen and The Wu-Tang Clan have in common?" At first glance, ripped blue jeans don't look much like Du-Rags and it's certainly hard to confuse black and white, but when I hear The River next to 36 Chambers I can't help but think that they have more similarities than differences.
Lets get real historical for a second. Springsteen has always been very straightforward about who influenced his music. 50's Rock and Roll, 60's Soul and Phil Spector Girl Groups all helped inform his sound, and The River is a great tribute to these styles. Listen to Sherry Darling and you'll hear a very deliberate nod to Gary U.S. Bonds and the style of music he created. 36 Chambers doesn't hide it's influences either. Listen to the samples that RZA used and you can hear what they were listening to, Syl Johnson on "Shame on a Nigga", Gladys Night on "Can It All Be So Simple", and the Charmels on "C.R.E.A.M.". Girl Groups and 60's Soul. These aren't just coincidences, Springsteen and RZA admire many of the same artists, and model their respective sounds after them.
They also share the same audience. They both wrote music for the poor and disenfranchised in their neighborhood. Springsteen's songs were originally for the working class kids in southern New Jersey, a historically downtrodden part of America, and Wu Tang's songs were a shout-out to the poor ghetto kids in Staten Island, a historically downtrodden part of New York City. The uniforms are different and the era is different, but if you look closely the only thing that separates the two audiences is the color of their skin.
Most importantly Springsteen and Wu-Tang are talking about the same thing. Both The River and 36 Chambers are records about the culture that surrounds the lower classes. Songs like the title track of The River or Wu Tang's "Can It Be All So Simple" capture the sadness in the world that these artists come from. They're both frightening records, because they truthfully convey the desperation that comes with these lifestyles, but they're also joyous. Braggadocio is present in both albums, listen to Springsteen's "Out In The Street" next to "Ain't Nothin' Ta Fuck Wit". They're songs about being strong and proud from the perspective of a person from the streets.
So if it's a joke it's got to have a punchline right? You have to know why the chicken crossed the road, or why the Rabbi and the Priest are in a bar together. I guess the payoff for this one, is: "Everything".