Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game...20 years later
March 19, 2014 8:19 PM   Subscribe

That ain't nobody fucked wid'em.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:37 PM on March 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

(Protects neck, begins reading)
posted by tonycpsu at 9:11 PM on March 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

They were the first rap group for the children.
posted by gucci mane at 9:20 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is so awesome. Why yes, I would like to read 10,000 words worth of interviews with every wu-tang member, thank you very much.
posted by atoxyl at 9:40 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have nothing to say, except that this is excellent.
posted by lkc at 9:46 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Bonnaroo crowd had been raucous, the vibe spirited, but the set had hiccups.

This is what's disappointing about the Wu. I remember flying out to see them the first time they reunited after Rock the Bells and ODB's death, and they mumbled their way through the whole set, with literally 20 extra people on stage. Only Method Man looked alive. He rapped with snap in his voice while jumping all over the stacks.

Greatest rap group of all time, yet they don't truly believe in their hearts that a killer show is important the way Public Enemy and Ice Cube and Run-DMC do.

Also, I will always feel bad for U-God, even though he is super successful in the grand scheme of things.
posted by ignignokt at 10:25 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Actually, Ill say this:

"If you ever find yourself grasping for a potent case history of the benefits of free-market competition, you could do worse than the Wu-Tang Clan. It was calculated internal engagement, and that competition made them sharper, hungrier, fiercer. It created and cultivated an unprecedented pool of talent. It drove them to their greatness. That they now lurch forward, a once-proud conglomerate gone to seed, might then only be right. The tenets of free-market capitalism birthed them. The allure of the free market splintered them to near smithereens."

And thats what they were, right? It was competitive, coordinated chaos. It was a supergroup of unknowns. It was unfettered, raw branding and capitalism.

I've tried to put my finger on what the hell was so damn brilliant about what they did early on, but have never quite been able to get a succinct explanation for it; but here goes:

How the hell do you make a rap group with 9 dudes in it? Well, you make sure everyone knows their names, you take out the guesswork. You make loads of posse cuts, in the videos, you show their name as their verse comes on. On solo cuts you do a full roll call, you maintain different mics and different settings for each member that are sonically distinct, so not only is the voice recognizable, but the presence persists between tracks and across projects. This is also why RZA-produced Wu sounds like Wu, and solo efforts usually feel flat -- except for Ghost, of course.

RZA is a top-notch, resourceful and prolific beat-maker, but in being in charge of every aspect of the group for that first 5 years (how he got 8 other guys to go along with that is a whole other story), gave him control over the brand, image and marketing, as well as the music side. The MC's kept each other sharp, but RZA made sure they were prominent. Each member signed with a different label so they wouldn't compete externally for marketing budgets or label space, but each label was then competing with each other to market solo projects for members of the same group.

At some point in this saturation of raptasticness, they became hip-hop action figures. I mean, metaphorically, but they had this merchandising cross-over that only reminds me of star-wars/kenner merchandising. It just became this big pop-cultural artifact. It was collect-em-all, it was who-is-your-favorite, who-would-win-in-a-fight, who-has-the-best-solo. That mentality spread throughout everything, they even had a PS1 fighting game.

The mass-market stuff doesn't really surprise me, though. What surprises me, is that when you watch, say, Protect Ya Neck, is how totally deliberate this all was from the very beginning. The rough, low budget nature is really the best they could do, and they were going all in from scratch.

The amazing thing is that it fucking WORKED.
posted by lkc at 10:27 PM on March 19, 2014 [20 favorites]

Greatest legacy? Easy. Wu Tang Financial.
posted by discopolo at 11:57 PM on March 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'd argue it was Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style.
posted by yerfatma at 5:00 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

When ODB organized his side project "12 O'Clock" to lift a car wreck off of a four year old girl, saving her life, and then visited her in the hospital under an assumed name until he got found out by the paparazzi.

No, really.

Yeah, rapping for millions is fun and all, but if I could pick the legacy I left, that would be the one.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:35 AM on March 20, 2014 [8 favorites]

Turkey burgers and blunts.
posted by echocollate at 5:58 AM on March 20, 2014

RZA is a fucking genius, man. The albums he produced sound incredible, and the packaging of the group was, as lkc notes, unprecedented and brilliantly successful.

RZA is *also* a wildly underrated MC, with unusual flow and a distinct voice (though sometimes a little conventional as a lyricist). And as anyone who saw The Man With The Iron Fists knows, he's a not-bad-at-all screenwriter/director. I have a suspicion that if he decided to become, say, a journalist, he would proceed to blow everyone out of the water.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:09 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I kinda hate that hip hop production has gone in such a clean and crisp direction. Wu made grimey OK and I still think that's the best way to do it.

Also I am still laughing at U-God's warning to the interviewer - "they will throw shit in your butt!"
posted by Hoopo at 12:23 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why just this week my friend posted a link to her SO's ODB + Scripture mashup Tumblr...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:03 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

ODB made it very clear that Wu-Tang was for the children. Thats an awesome story.
posted by lkc at 6:45 PM on March 20, 2014

At the height of their fame and glory, they turned on one another
Each struggling in vain for ultimate supremacy
In the passion and depth of their struggle
The very art that had raised them to such Olympian heights was lost
Their techniques vanished

posted by yonega at 9:45 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hoopo: I kinda hate that hip hop production has gone in such a clean and crisp direction. Wu made grimey OK and I still think that's the best way to do it.

The ascension of affordable recording equipment / the ubiquity of being able to download a program like Ableton and then learn how to use it by watching YouTube all in an afternoon is most likely the culprit behind this, but there's definitely some gritty beatmaking still around. Raider Klan, from Miami, FL, had two amazing mixtapes with SUPER lo-fi, gritty beats. Here's the first.

Check out "Survival Tactics" by Joey Badass and & Capital STEEZ. I guess it's not grimey, but it comes off as an old school rap beat to me. These guys were like 17-years-old, too. If you're into southern rap beats check out DJ Smokey.
posted by gucci mane at 10:21 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great article- thanks very much for posting, I wouldn't have seen it otherwise!

The Guardian interview with ODB from 2002 (while he was doing time at Clinton Correctional Facility) that is linked in the article is particularly heartbreaking, even more so when you know A Son Unique only had a few years left ahead of him...

posted by Philby at 1:32 AM on March 21, 2014

there's definitely some gritty beatmaking still around

I have actually been trying to keep the grit in my own stuff over the years. But at this point it might just be because I'm old and guys like RZA and DJ Muggs were producing the soundtrack of high school at the time, as opposed to some kind of conscious stylistic decision.
posted by Hoopo at 8:47 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ya'll talking about the Wu like they're dead and gone. Don't forget Wu-Tang Financial (NSFW language): Wu-Tang to produce and release a single copy of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, which will be packaged in an engraved silver-and-nickel box. One lucky buyer can pay “in the millions” to own the album, possibly similar to Jay Z's $5 million dollar "leak" of Magna Carta Holy Grail via Samsung. Otherwise, you can hear it, if you visit one of the museums, galleries, or festivals and pay somewhere in the $30-$50 range to get the chance of hearing their rare double album.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:08 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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