"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Hip Hop Honor's interview with the Wu Tang Clan

There's strength in numbers. And when the loose amalgamation of MCs and sound sculptors leapt straight outta Staten with a little something called "Protect Ya Neck" in 1992, hip-hop witnessed the birth of a somewhat mysterious and perpetually captivating crew. Wu leader RZA has called the Clan's sound "organized chaos," and the way that Method Man, Raekwon, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, GZA, U-God, and the rest produced their dense, artful, and philosophical tracks was often mesmerizing. Here are the principals recounting their own history.


INSPECTAH DECK: Wu-Tang Clan coming together happened way back when we was in junior high school together -- myself, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, we all from the same neighborhood, Park Hill in Staten Island. RZA, Ol' Dirty and the GZA's from Brooklyn, so we used to all meet over at RZA's house every night, get on them tracks and rhyme all night on the balcony.

GZA: We all came together around '92. RZA had already made demos with several of us. He decided to bring us all together as one group after unsuccessful deals that we had with other labels such as Tommy Boy and Cold Chillin' Records.

U-GOD: We didn't purposely like say, "Yo, we gonna make a group," it just so happened certain brothers come together with a common cause and wanted to do the same thing -- wanted to get out of the ghetto, wanted to stop selling drugs, wanted to change their life around and wanted to become something. We happened to develop at a early age -- we popped off platinum records. I was a baby, some dudes like RZA was 21, I was 16, 17, I was younger than that. We had a plan and we just carried it.


RZA: Wu-Tang represented a sword style, and when you're a lyricist, your tongue is your sword. So we got the illest lyrical style out there, and with our double-edged sword we gonna slice through all the competition. Wu-Tang is actually a Chinese word that's pronounced woo-dung, or woo-dang. The word comes from a man named General Wu who had migrated to these mountains to find himself. When he finally found himself they said he jumped off the mountain into the valley and he became a god and they named the mountain Wu-Tang Mountain, meaning where man became God or the man who was deserving of God or deserved to be a god.

GZA: We were all karate flick fans since we were young. And basically that's what inspired it. Some of our other influences were art, science, mathematics, other MCs and hip-hop in general-break-dancing, graffiti, DJ-ing, MC-ing, rhyming. All of the above. Life itself.

MASTA KILLA: Clan is family, you know. I grew up with people coming together for one common cause.

U-GOD: Witty, unpredictable, talent and natural game -- that is the meaning of Wu-Tang Clan. REPRESENTING THE EAST COAST
RAEKWON: I feel like we was influential to the game at the time, when the West had it popping, everything out there was basically gangsta funk. You wasn't really hearing it crank outta the East like that. So we definitely came with our little sword style of rhyming at the right time, 'cause the game was getting corny.

MASTA KILLA: Sometimes when you start out on a mission, you don't even really know what you into or what you doing, you just going down the road. And when you turn back around, you realize, "Damn, I'm doing this?" But when you start out, you didn't look at it as "I'm reviving hip-hop." I'm just making good music that I miss, something that I probably didn't hear since Run-DMC or Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five -- just that raw hip-hop.

GZA: Others came through around the same time that we dropped 36 Chambers, like Biggie and Nas. But Wu-Tang was a group. People were like, "Wow!How can you get a group with nine individuals that's just so lyrical, that's just putting it down so hard?" I mean, at one time, we had five albums on the chart at the same time, you know?


RAEKWON: 36 Chambers is definitely one of the illest hip-hop albums ever built because we came with something totally different from everybody else. To me it just sounded like a new style of hip-hop. It was totally different from the [Big Daddy] Kane and the Rakim era. We was just trying to represent where we come from and what we liked.

INSPECTAH DECK: Some people captivate you with the rhyme, or they'll got you with the beat, but it's rare that you can get both and the mesh is a marriage made in heaven. I think that album captured the best of that. Plus, it's a new borough, a new sound -- it's a whole new thing coming through.

GZA: 36 Chambers is considered a classic, because of the hunger from the MCs on it. A lot of other artists that came from the streets could relate to the sound, the skits, the whole color. It's on the cover of the album-Wu-Tang is the way. And a lot of people wanted to follow that way, and get involved.

U-GOD: At the time, New York wasn't popping, Dre was doing his thing on the West Coast. Then we came in with the hardcore street mentality, we brung everything that we was living, we went through in the streets with us to our music. When Rae said, "I grew up on the crime side / The New York Times side / Staying alive," dudes can relate to that. Next thing you know it just spread like wildfire.


RAEKWON When you got eight or nine cats in the studio like us, man, it's so much personality, posture, passion, all of that. When we all up in the studio, it's competition at its best. We have a big ego problem with each other -- one can't shine more than the other. It's almost like saying, "Yo, you my man, but I'm gonna do what I gotta do too. I can't let you get that far above me. I can't let you get behind me."

MASTA KILLA: MCing is a very competitive sport. And when you're looking at eight, nine individuals that spit fire, bring things to life from words, that can be intimidating. You're dealing with thinkers, with a chess player opposed to a checker player.

GZA: It's like playing chess: He make a move, you make a move. When one individual does something that's great on a song, it inspires others to be just as strong or fall back. Like when I heard the verse Deck did on "Triumph," I didn't even want to touch the song. It was so strong lyrically, how can anyone come after that?

INSPECTAH DECK: We ain't just talking about gold chains. We could floss, we could do all that, but there's something different about our element. It's philosophical, it's scientific, it's everything, you know what I mean?


MASTA KILLA: The Wu-Tang sound can touch many different emotions. You could have a song you could make love on, you could have a song that you might want to bring the ruckus on, you might have a song make you want to get up and get your hustle on. The Wu-Tang sound is just a universal sound.

RZA: Wu-Tang music is probably one of the few musics that you can't classify as nothing else but hip-hop. You can't take the Wu-Tang songs and say that's R&B or that's soul or that's jazz -- it's hip-hop, baby.

GZA: When you want to speak about the sound, I think RZA is totally involved in what he does. If he is making a beat on a drum machine or on the keyboard or the piano, he is into it, to where the instrument becomes his heart. MC'ing becomes my heart, and it becomes one.

INSPECTAH DECK: Your tongue is the sword, so whatever you say gotta be sharp. That was always one of our basic rules, something we got from the [kung fu] flicks -- you could cut somebody with your words faster than you could cut them with a knife. It goes deep within your soul. If you don't feel Wu-Tang, you ain't got no soul. That's straight up.

U-GOD: The sound of Wu-Tang is the hardcore street credibility music -- we had the reputation to go along with it. It wasn't no forced reputation, it was real reputation. These dudes are from the streets, you could trace their history.

MASTA KILLA: There's a lot of education within the lyrics. There's so many different depths of knowledge to dip from each well. You could probably write your own Bible or Koran from listening to Wu-Tang lyrics. You have nine individuals, but there's somebody within those nine members that could touch everybody in the world.

RZA: We bring together a force that's beyond our own control, a force that's even beyond our own comprehension. Anybody was able to watch us and see themselves in one of us. You saw your whole neighborhood, the whole black community right in those nine members. We like the force of all those oppressed project fellows, convicts, high school dropouts. Fatherless bastards, you know what I mean?


MASTA KILLA: Ol' Dirty Bastard, his name is A Son Unique. When you're just yourself so freely and live as free as he did, you could be intimidating to the world, people sometimes can misread you, might not understand you. But at heart, a beautiful brother.

GZA: He was intelligent, especially in his younger days. He just got a little crazy as he got older and became more involved with being "ODB," and less involved with being A Son Unique. But he was unique.

RAEKWON: He would give us the spirit to be the best, bragging and all that. It was him, GZA, and RZA who had knowledge of where they wanted to go with the music because they was already pairing up, making joints, so we always looked at them three as being like the captain, the lieutenant, the general. Dirty was more or less the energy booster.

GZA: He used to DJ. Him and RZA used to run around the turntables scratching like they were flashing somebody. He was a beat box. He was an MC. He loved graffiti. He loved the art. He was just in tune with anything that was beautiful.

INSPECTAH DECK: When you lose someone that's real close to you, you really don't want to let them go, so I don't even be saying that Dirty's dead, or he passed away. I'm just still feel like he's here, he in the room at all times with me. He had that natural ability to control the atmosphere around him and there aren't too many people that got that aura. He wasn't going to bite his tongue just 'cause you didn't feel him or, or you wasn't agreeing with him.

U-GOD: He believed what he believed in and he just kept it moving and if that's what it was, that's what he's gonna do. Chaotic, more than chaos, though. He knew what he was doing, too, he's a genius man, genius man.

GZA: I forget what magazine it was, but they had a list of the Top 10 Ugliest MCs. And they had him in there. Now, he is not an ugly individual. But when it was showed to him, and he saw he was #5, he was mad that he wasn't #1! He know it wasn't in a sense of how he looked, but it was more in the sense of his character and how he carried himself, you know? He gave others that feeling that, "Yo, if I feel like this man, this is...this is how I am gonna move."


GZA: It's a great feeling to be honored, especially knowing the road we traveled-the trials and tribulations. The ups and downs. The heartaches, the headaches. It's not an easy road. Some of us do it overnight. The majority of us have to go through hell in order to come out right. It was just a childhood passion, and I did it, because I always loved to rhyme. So to be able to bring it here and be honored, it's a great thing.

RAEKWON: To be honored by VH1 is a blessing, but is y'all trying to put me in a retirement chair before I'm ready to go there? It don't even really feel like 12 years went by in my career right now. To be able to get honored and people saying, "Yo, y'all did this for hip-hop," it's like being in the Hall of Fame, it's like I'm the black Babe Ruth. I'm Reggie Jackson right now, but I'm Reggie that's still here, that could still hit a homer and still got the same agility and feeling that I had from when I did it back then.

MASTA KILLA: It's a beautiful thing. I still have so much to offer to the world; as a group, we have so much to say, so much to do, so we don't even see ourselves as legends. Maybe when I'm 50, 60 something like that [I'll] turn around to my grandchildren and say, "Oh, that's what that was all about."

RZA: Usually you'll see somebody like Quincy Jones get honored, Stevie Wonder get honored. These men are well in their 50s and 60s and, and older. And some of us in our early 30s, being honored with somebody like Afrika Bambaataa, who been here before some of us learned how to rhyme. I wasn't making beats back when Bambaataa was there -- he already looking for the perfect beat, you know what I mean? But to get in there when I'm fresh and young and living my life and still active and still doing what I'm doing is like, yo, it's like a big plus, you know what I mean. Word, for real.


MASTA KILLA: Wu-Tang changed hip-hop just by showing you had nine individuals that are just your average people, from different walks of life, that may not have been the most privileged people in the world, but still made something happen from nothing. I think that message got around the world and really made a lot of people say, "You know, I can do this." I think Wu-Tang has definitely inspired a lot of positive things around the world.

RAEKWON: I would say we the closest thing that the streets ever seen at one point. We like to talk about many things -- we emotional sometimes, and we cocky, too. And the emotional side comes from living in a poverty life, from growing up and seeing roaches and rats every day and your family struggling and whatever. People could identify with our heart and our passion for this music that we make. When you listen to Wu-Tang you know that we gonna say something that people could relate to. We try to make sure that we gonna give you something that we feel that you want, but take some of these vegetables, too, man, because this is needed right now.

INSPECTAH DECK: We the ones that help the planet turn, bro, by giving you all what you all didn't have at the time. We brothers from other mothers, way deeper than you could understand. We think and move the same on different planes, miles away.

RZA: Wisdom is what I want people to get out of Wu-Tang. And that wisdom is not only wisdom of words, but wisdom of experience. You can skip Hell because we been through Hell already.

GZA: It's a younger generation out there now that's into Wu-Tang. So that's growth and development in itself. First we had the parents. Now we got the children. That's unheard of in hip-hop. We go out on the road now, we see nothing but kids from 16 to 23. We will probably have their grandchildren, too.

INSPECTAH DECK: We don't get credit -- we've been blackballed, blacklisted, black-everything -- but for the most part we are still standing there and still legendary. It's like when your favorite superhero takes a blow. You wonder whether their superpowers will ever recover. That's where we at right now. I guarantee you all gonna be seeing Wu-Tang again -- just wait for the climate to change. It's a little hectic out there right now, but guaranteed, man: Wu-Tang forever.
posted by R J Noriega at 4:37 PM | Permalink | 0 comments

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