Wu-Tang Clan: Anatomy of a Group of Hip-Hop Geniuses
Open a browser, type in “the best hip-hop group of all time,” and check out any list of “greats” from the search results.
Five bucks says that all lists include this East Coast hip-hop group in their rosters, frequently near the top positions, if not the #1 spot itself.
We’re talking about a group of musical and lyrical geniuses. A group with members that can shine brilliantly on their own – in fact, each one can (and has!) release an album of their own and have it become a certified hit. A group that, 20 years on from their formation, still continues to influence and be remembered by many of today’s big players and fans in the hip-hop world.
We’re talking about none other than Wu-Tang Clan.
That Special Thang
This legendary group’s appeal is not so much in the talents and abilities of each of the clan’s comrades. It’s the fact that they manage to bring forth music that is a cohesive whole despite the fact that each member is different and has his own distinct lyrical or musical style, not to mention quirks aplenty. This group showed that there is harmony and rhyme in chaos and that strong personalities and huge talents can work together.
“A lot of people don’t know this about Wu-Tang, it started from a focused mind. I was given total autonomy to do whatever I want with them.” – RZA, The New York Times
That statement pretty much sums up the beginnings of this iconic posse of hip-hop masters. Eight artists came together and agreed to let RZA head their group and provide leadership. The rest, Method Man, GZA, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Ghostface Killah, respected RZA enough to give them their vote of confidence and be their “dictator” for the first few years of their group. Masta Killa, by the way, joined the Staten Island group last.
The chaotic but symphonic beginnings of Wu Tang spawned an indie single in 1003, “Protect Ya Neck” – which broke them into the underground and helped them gain a significant following. They were also to tour with Cypress Hill and Kat Nu, as a result of their pioneering efforts. But despite this, no record company would sign them and allow each member to release their own solo efforts with other labels.
Despite this unconventional and seemingly unfeasible arrangement for recording outfits, the group did not compromise and continued to push this groundbreaking proposal to any firm who were interested in signing them. Finally, they found an ally in Loud/RCA who did give them the artistic freedom they needed and demanded. Thus was born one of the most classic and acclaimed hip-hop albums of all time: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
With the enormous success of the Clan’s first album, which was released late 2003, some labels must have slapped themselves over not taking in the legendary group under their wing. Nevertheless, the members each went on to record and release solo projects beyond the Loud stable, although Raekwon released his under the same label.
The group’s first concerted musical effort was followed by yet another hit album in 1997, Wu-Tang Forever. This was released after the first round of solo recordings was done by all members. This release also marked the end of RZA’s “term” as the group’s overall director for their musical and marketing efforts.
After this period of success, the Clan, although still a force to be reckoned in the hip-hop world, was not coming across as exciting as they were in the beginning. Oversaturation can be blamed for this, among other things.
In 2000, the group came together once more to create The W, although Ol’ Dirty Bastard was incarcerated at this time. Once more, this release became double platinum and produced a good number of hits.
Not long afterwards, in 2001, the Clan introduced Iron Flag, which was more of a crossover arrangement and featured well known producers and co-collaborators. This time around, though, fans did not receive this as well as the previous albums.
Then in 2007, Wu-Tang presented 8 Diagrams to the hip-hop world. Although this appeared to take longer to release than other previous recordings, the members of the group have remained active by releasing their solo albums. However, this one had mixed reviews, owing to the fact that this 5th full length album was the group’s most experimental one.
Finally, in 2013, the Clans started working on their 6th album, A Better Tomorrow. As of July 2013, it has been announced that the new studio offering was still halfway done.
The Missing Member
In 2004, Ol’ Dirty Bastard passed away after collapsing due to a suspected drug overdose. Despite this loss, the group still managed to press on together and create new songs that still had its iconic and classic appeal.
In later years, some members of the group started to resent RZA’s leadership and guidance. The former leader himself believed that this was down to the members learning what they want and do not want on a record, thanks to their own solo efforts.
Right now, as the group puts together its next album and work their old magical chemistry on it again, the rest of those in the hip-hop universe are interested to know whether the Clan still “has” it. For now, we have to content ourselves with their documentaries, books penned by some of the members, and live or taped performances.
Will the legendary hip-hop maestros deliver a classic again? We’ll find out soon enough!
by: Desiree Salas