Clan culture

Question: what has eighteen legs, a house in New Jersey, its own clothing range, several gold teeth and at least 25 silly names? Answer: The WU-TANG CLAN. Words: Jim Byers

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RZA: aka Robert Diggs, The Abbot. Rzareca and Bobby Steele

EXPLAINING THE PHENOMENON that is the New York hip hop supergroup Wu-Tang Clan is not easy. But, with the release of their eagerly awaited 25-track second album Forever. it is a necessary evil.

To fully understand the Wu-Tang Clan, you need an open mind, a basic knowledge of the hip hop lifestyle, a partial suspension of reality and a large pinch of salt.

The nine-strong Wu-Tang Clan were first heard back in l992 on ‘Protect Ya Neck’, their self-produced, self-financed debut single each Wu member contributed $l00 towards its creation. A year later. they sought out an unprecedented contract with Loud Records. allowing them to record exclusively for the label as a collective. while also working individually for other imprints.

18 THE lIST 30 May-12 Jun 1997

Their first album. 1993‘s million-selling Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers) signalled a new chapter in hip hop‘s history in the same way Public Enemy’s Y0! Bum Rush The Show had done six years earlier on Def Jam. The follow-up Forever looks set to cause further historical damage.

The first thing to understand about The Wu-Tang Clan collective is their position in or rather above the hip hop hierarchy. Don’t even think about uttering their name in the same sentence as the likes of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Warren G The Wu-Tang Clan inhabit a far superior. far stranger parallel universe. They are, by common consent. the undisputed dons of street-level hardcore hip hop, commanding total respect from the entire rap community.

Even more significant is the fact that many Wu-Tang Clan members particularly Method Man, 01’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, GZA and Raekwon The Chef - have enjoyed equal success with solo projects. They live and record in Wu-Mansion, a $700,000 cave-like New Jersey house, complete with studio, bedrooms and sports facilities. They even have their own clothing label, Wu-Wear.

On a basic level, the Wu-Tang Clan are a powerful hip hop group whose nine members each have at least three different names relating to their role in the group. They were bought together in the late 805 by Wu-Tang guru Robert Diggs, aka RZA (pronounced ‘rizza’). Under the name Prince Rakeem, RZA had previously recorded a commercial rap track, ‘Ooh, I Love You Rakeem’ for Tommy Boy Records. He has since disowned it. RZA is the brains and the main producer behind the Wu-Tang Clan. He is the man behind the mixing desk responsible for the group’s sinister but eerily beautiful sound, distinguished by basic hardcore beats, weird strings and lilting piano loops.

RZA had been part of the crack scene in late 80$ urban America so much so that, at the height of his involvement. he faced an attempted murder charge and a possible eight- year jail term. He was proved not guilty, but this event, combined with what he saw as a negative experience with Tommy Boy and the birth of one of his children, led him to what he calls a moment of clarity. It was at this point that he says he conceived the idea for the Wu- Tang Clan.

RZA then joined up with childhood friends Russel Jones (01’ Dirty Bastard), Jason Hunter (lnspecktah Deck) and cousin Gary Price (GZA pronounced ‘jizza’) to form the nucleus of the Wu-Tang Clan. The youngsters had nurtured an obsession with rap music and kung fu movies while growing up in the projects and on the streets of Staten Island, New York a preoccupation that would later shape the Wu-Tang philosophy.

Clifford Smith (Method Man), Denis Coles (Ghostface Killah) and Lamont Hawkins (U- God) were also brought into the fold. Later still, others became affiliated to the Clan, including Cappadonna, The Gravediggaz, 4th Disciple, Mathematics. Sonz Of Man, Killer Priest, Killah Army and True Master.

Apart from rap music and kung fu, one factor united the Wu-Tang Clan crack. Some (Method, RZA, U-God and Dirty) dealt it. calling themselves ‘street pharmacists’; some (Raekwon) smoked the pipe: others (Deck and U-God) ended up inside as a result of it. But. as with the UK’s ecstasy culture, there was a way out of the drugs spiral other than jail or a coffin music.

These ordinary young black teenagers set about transforming themselves into mysterious hip hop warriors through the Wu- Tang Clan. The group took its name from an