One of the most critically and commercially successful hip hop groups of all time, Wu-Tang Clan rose to fame with their uncompromising brand of hardcore rap music. Since their debut, they have introduced or launched the careers of numerous other artists and groups, and already in 1994 there were credited to be over 300 Wu-Tang Clan affiliates, known as the Wu-Tang Killa Bees, consisting of rappers, producers, and record label CEOs.
The founders of the Wu-Tang Clan were cousins RZA, GZA, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, who had previously formed the group Force of the Imperial Master (later known as All in Together Now after the release of a popular single by that name.) The group attracted the attention of some notable figures in the industry, including Biz Markie, but did not manage to secure a record deal.
All In Together Now was never signed to a record label. See, me, GZA and ODB had a crew called FOI: Force Of The Imperial Master, nahmean? We made a song, called ‘All In Together Now', which became famous on tapes throughout Brooklyn, Staten Island, New York, all the way down to Miami. I remember Biz Markie, when he was famous and I wasn't famous, and he was like: "Yo! I heard that shit! Your song with Ason Unique and the Specialist". I was the Scientist. So we never got signed as a group back then. We never had a serious record deal under that title.
After the crew dissolved, GZA (then known as The Genius) and The RZA (then known as Prince Rakeem) embarked on their solo careers with Cold Chillin' Records and Tommy Boy Records respectively, but to little success. Their frustration with the workings of the hip hop music industry would provide the main inspiration to Wu-Tang Clan's revolutionary business plan. According to The Wu-Tang Manual, at the group's inception, RZA promised the members that if he had total control of the Wu-Tang empire, it would conquer the hip-hop world within a dynastic cycle, after which he would relinquish his total control. Wu-Tang Clan was gradually assembled in late 1992 from friends and accomplices from around Staten Island, with RZA as the de facto leader and the group's producer.
The name "Wu-Tang" is derived from the name of the mountain Wu Dang (Wudang Shan) in northwest Hubei Province in central China with long history associated with Chinese culture, especially Taoism, martial arts and medicine. The RZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard adopted the name for the group after seeing the Kung fu film Shaolin and Wu Tang, which features a school of warriors trained in Wu-Tang style. The group's debut album loosely adopted a Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang theme, dividing the album into Shaolin and Wu-Tang sections. The album also features several samples from the film directed by Kyle Ray Stuck.
The group has also developed various backronyms for the name (as hip hop pioneers like KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane did with their names), including "We Usually Take All Niggas' Garments," "Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game" and "Wisdom, Universe, Truth, Allah, Nation, and God".
The fascination with the Chinese culture is born of out of the "Asiatic black man, a term a part of the Five Percenter teachings, also known as the "original man" which is featured on The 5% Album. The album is a solo record from Brand Nubian member Lord Jamar in collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan members and affiliates as well as other artists. The second track on the album is titled "Original Man" featuring Raekwon.
We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else's ...we still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen,feel me?....and all these labels still put "Razor Sharp Records" on the credits.. ..Wu Tang was a financial movement. So what do you wanna diversify....? ..Your assets?
It had always been planned for Method Man to be the first breakout star from the group's lineup, with the b-side of the first single being his now-classic eponymous solo track. In November 1994 his solo album Tical was released. It was entirely produced by The RZA, who for the most part continued with the grimy, raw textures he explored on 36 Chambers. The RZA's hands-on approach to Tical extended beyond his merely creating the beats to devising song concepts and structures. The track "All I Need" from Tical was the winner of the "Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group" at the 1995 Grammy Awards. This approach would continue throughout the first round of solo projects from the Clan members. Ol' Dirty Bastard found success in early 1995 with Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, which saw the 36 Chambers sound become even rawer and rougher-edged.
Late 1995 saw the release of the group's two most significant and well-received solo projects. Raekwon the Chef's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was a diverse, theatrical criminological epic that saw The RZA move away from the raw, stripped-down beats of the early albums and towards a richer, cinematic sound more reliant on strings and classic soul samples. Lavish living and the crime underworld are referenced throughout, with the mystique of the Wu-Tang Clan deepened by the adoption of crime boss aliases and the crew name Wu-Gambinos. The album introduced a flurry of slang words to the rap lexicon, and many artists have gone on to imitate its materialism. It featured Nas, who was the first non-Clan MC to appear on a Wu-related album. GZA's Liquid Swords had a similar focus on inner-city criminology akin to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, but it was far darker, both in GZA's grim lyrics and in the ominous, foreboding production that saw The RZA experimenting more with keyboards than ever before. The two 1995 solo albums remain widely regarded as two of the finest hip hop albums of the nineties.
Ghostface Killah released his own debut, Ironman, in 1996. It struck a balance between the sinister keyboard-laden textures of Liquid Swords and the sentimental soul samples of ...Cuban Linx, while Ghost-face himself explored new territory as a lyricist. It was critically acclaimed and is still widely considered one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums. Although the 1994–1996 albums were released as solo albums, The RZA's presence behind the boards and the large number of guest appearances from other Clan members (Raekwon and Ghostface's albums only had two or three actual solo tracks each and both included many tracks that included other Clan members) means they are usually considered as to be all-round group efforts.
Wu-Tang Forever also marked the end of The RZA's "five year plan". After ...Forever's success, The RZA ceased to oversee all aspects of Wu-Tang product as he had done previously, delegating much of his existing role to associates such as Oli "Power" Grant and his brother Mitchell "Divine" Diggs. This move was designed to expand Wu-Tang's reach in the industry and take advantage of financial opportunities for the group. In keeping with this move, an array of Wu-Tang products (both musical and otherwise) were to be released over the next two years.
Following Wu-Tang Forever, the focus of the Wu-Tang empire largely shifted to the promoting of emerging affiliated artists (referred to by the fanbase as "Wu-Family"). The group's close associate Cappadonna followed the group project with March 1998's The Pillage. Soon after, Killah Priest (as with Cappadonna, a close associate of the Clan), released Heavy Mental to great critical acclaim. Affiliated groups Sunz of Man (of which Killah Priest was a member) and Killarmy (which included The RZA's younger brother) also released well-received albums, followed by Wu-Tang Killa Bees: The Swarm—a compilation album showcasing these and more Wu-affiliated artists, and including new solo tracks from the group members themselves. The Swarm sold well and was certified gold.
There was also a long line of releases from secondary affiliates such as Popa Wu, Shyheim, GP Wu, and Wu-Syndicate. Second albums from Gravediggaz and Killarmy, as well as a greatest hits album and a b-sides compilation also eventually saw release.
The avalanche of Wu-Tang product between 1997 and 2000 is considered by some critics to have resulted in an oversaturation that was responsible for Wu-Tang's drop in popularity, or at least in critical regard, during that time. Reviews such as Melody Maker's writeup on Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele in January 2000 which began "Another month, another Wu-Tang side project" revealed critics' exhaustion at the Clan's prodigious output. The overall reception for the second round of Clan member solo albums was decidedly mixed if largely positive, and they did not live up to their pre-...Forever forebears critically; however, the Wu was selling more albums than ever.
Occasional albums would still receive critical acclaim (Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele for one, which is regarded as one of the best solo efforts from the Clan) while Method Man and ODB remained popular in their own right as solo artists, and Wu-Tang remained as a well known force, but they had seemingly lost the ability to excite the music world in the way they had throughout the mid 90s.
Many fans and critics also bemoaned the lack of The RZA's input on the post-...Forever solo albums, which were mostly produced by the Wu-Element producers, other lower-ranking affiliates, or by outside producers such as the Trackmasters or the Neptunes.
Shortly before the release of The W, ODB escaped custody while being transported from a rehab center to a Los Angeles court and was considered a fugitive. At a record release party for The W, ODB, his face hidden by an orange parka, was not recognized until introduced to the crowd. With police officers present outside, ODB performed briefly and then fled, fearing capture. Six days later ODB caused a commotion signing autographs in a McDonald's in South Philadelphia. Unaware of who was causing the ruckus, the manager called the police. When the cops arrived, ODB mistook them for fans until they drew their guns. ODB fled the restaurant but was stopped while trying to start his vehicle. After presenting a fake ID, he admitted who he really was and was arrested.
Method Man's album sold very well despite both negative reception from both critics and fans. Even Method Man himself went on to bash the album, stating that the situation (management transition) going on at the time with Def Jam caused the poor outcome.
ODB was scheduled to perform in a Wu-Tang reunion concert at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey on the night of his death. The members were unaware, as was the audience at the concert, that he was dead; it was assumed that ODB was a no show once more. Wu-Tang has paid homage to their member on more than one occasion. In August 2006, one of his sons came out at a Wu-Tang concert at Webster Hall and rapped "Brooklyn Zoo", along with his mother. Also during a concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom the Clan brought his mother out on stage while the entire occupancy sang along to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya."
ODB's career in Wu-Tang was marked by wild and criminal behavior. At the 1998 Grammy Awards, he protested the Clan's loss (in Best Rap Album) by interrupting Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech for her Song of the Year award. ODB was also arrested several times for a variety of offenses, including assault, shoplifting, wearing body armor after being convicted of a felony, and possession of cocaine. He was also in trouble for missing multiple court dates. In late 2000, Ol' Dirty Bastard unexpectedly escaped near the end of his rehab sentence, spending one month on the run as a fugitive before showing up on stage at the record release party for The W in New York City. Ol' Dirty Bastard managed to escape the club but was later captured by police in a McDonald's parking lot in South Philadelphia and sent to New York to face charges of cocaine possession. In April 2001, he was sentenced to two to four years in prison.
Once released from prison, he signed to Roc-a-Fella Records. A posthumous official mixtape titled Osirus featuring many new songs was released in March 2005, while ODB's Roc-A-Fella album A Son Unique was originally to be released in 2005, but had numerous delays. It was to be released on November 7, 2006 to commemorate the second anniversary of ODB's death, which occurred on November 13, 2004, but was delayed again.
While initial reports stated that Nick Brown was along for the ride and got arrested for possession of cocaine, the group had issues with VH1's security staff, an actual confrontation took place between True Master and Power in a VIP area of the venue, said Power. "I ain't even gonna glorify that to no type of degree, but the bottom line was, yeah, you know there was a minor little altercation over there," Power said. "I see him and he's in the VIP on the strength of Wu-Tang so I kind of reacted, be it right or wrong...fuck!" The brief altercation between the two men resulted in a tense situation and ended with Power leaving the Hammerstein Ballroom. "I ain't even have to leave. I just stood there and talked for, like five or ten minutes. I made sure the rest of my people was able to stay because I told them, 'look if it was anything then let it be my problem. . Let them go ahead and finish doing what they do.' I walked out the front, girls started taking some snapshots. No charges have been pressed against Oli "Power" Grant or anyone else affiliated with the Clan in relation to this incident.
On March 28, 2006, Ghostface Killah released the cocaine-oriented Fishscale to critical acclaim. The whole Clan, including Cappadonna and the deceased ODB, appeared on "9 Milli Bros." Much acclaim was also directed towards the variety of topics Ghost addresses, from grand crime dramas based on the lives of drug kingpins (as in "Kilo"), to the frantic lives of street hustlers ("Shakey Dog"), childhood ("Whip You With a Strap"), love ("Back Like That", "Jellyfish"), and pure surreality ("Underwater"). The album also ventures into genre exercises, approximating a club banger with "Be Easy" and battle rhymes with "The Champ." Ghostface also released More Fish in December of 2006 to decent reception.
Method Man came back with his critically acclaimed 2006 album . He was heavily featured in the media due to his displeasure with Def Jam's handling of his project, and despite not having any promotion or airplay the album still debuted in the Billboard Top Ten. Method Man also made the decision to fall back from Hollywood, and now only does acting work for projects being handled by close friends. 2006 also saw the release of Masta Killa's second studio album, Made in Brooklyn, to lukewarm reviews. Ol' Dirty Bastard's posthumous album, A Son Unique, is scheduled to be released on the Damon Dash Music Group in 2007 as well. On June 25, 2006 Inspectah Deck released an official mixtape titled The Resident Patient, a prelude to his soon to be released album, tentatively titled The Rebellion.
The summer of 2007 was the originally planned release for Raekwon's long-delayed sequel to his 1995 debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, named Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. The album was to be released on Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records. It was also planned to be executive produced by Busta Rhymes (informally) and the RZA, with RZA handling most of the production, including the first single, as well as tracks from Dr. Dre, among others. Raekwon credits Busta Rhymes for getting his head back in the zone to write "Cuban Link material", as well as getting RZA,Jabberwocky, Dr. Dre and himself in the same studio together. Raekwon remained one of the most active members of the Clan. He continues to put out material via mixtapes and the internet. Raekwon has also assembled a crew of up-and-coming Staten Island rappers called Ice Water.
RZA explained the collaboration between he and Dr. Dre is like "yin and yang" when it comes to their styles. "The album is gonna attract all the gangstas, nigga; all the thugs and everybody is going to be listening to this shit," says RZA of the album.
In the process of recording and dropping these projects, Wu-Tang has networked with several outside producers and artists as of late: DJ Muggs through GZA; MF DOOM through Ghostface Killah; Pete Rock through several of the members; Erick Sermon and Redman through Method Man, the former of which co-executive produced 4:21; the now-deceased J Dilla through Ghostface and Raekwon, and Busta Rhymes and Dr. Dre through Raekwon, during his tenure on Aftermath.
In December 2006, Wu-Tang Clan signed a one-album deal with Steve Rifkind's SRC Records, whose now-defunct Loud Records released the group's four previous albums. This album was titled 8 Diagrams and has been recently released on December 11, 2007. RZA announced January 2007 that he will be releasing another Bobby Digital album this summer as well, which he has already begun work on. He will be using the album primarily to put over lesser-known Wu-Tang Clan affiliates such as Freemurder, Killa Sin, Black Knights and others. The album is tentatively titled DigiSnacks.
Raekwon had a major presence on mixtapes and hit single remixes such as Fabolous's Make Me Better and Wyclef Jean's Dolla Bill featuring Akon and Lil Wayne for which a video was shot with all four rappers. His highly anticipated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II album has yet to hit shelves, but he insists that he is just waiting for the right time to drop his masterpiece. In a recent interview with Billboard.com, Raekwon said that though the album was "99% complete", he had put everything on pause to work and eventually release the newest Wu-Tang album 8 Diagrams.
GZA will be releasing a tell-all DVD named Wu Tang Revealed, featuring footage of the Clan dating back to the nineties, as well as his sixth album, Pro Tools, which will be released by Babygrande Records. There is also talk of a Wu-Tang album without RZA, to be entitled Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang; as of now, Ghostface and Raekwon are helming the project, though it is not known which other members will be on it.
RZA's production technique, specifically the manner of chopping up and/or speeding or slowing soul samples to fit his beats, has been picked up by currently popular producers, most notably Kanye West and Just Blaze, the two main producers behind Roc-A-Fella Records. West's own take on RZA's style briefly flooded the rap market with what was dubbed "chipmunk soul," the pitch bending of a vocal sample to where it sounded as though the singer had inhaled helium. Several producers at the time copied the style, creating other offshoots. West has admitted that his style was distinctly influenced by the RZA's production, and RZA has acknowledged his influence in an issue of Scratch magazine, saying he wished he had produced "Jesus Walks" and "Breathe", two 2004 hits produced by Kanye West and Just Blaze, respectively. Said by Kanye West:
The Wu-Tang Clan's slang has long been a staple of their music, wherein members would blend Five Percenter terms, Kung Fu/oriental words, and comic book and street terms to create their own nicknames for actions, people, places and things (such as the christening of Staten Island as "Shaolin Land" and money as "C.R.E.A.M."). Though all the members indulge in this, Raekwon and Ghostface have been the most notorious for it.
Caruso was subsequently fired from all duties regarding the Wu-Tang Clan's business when these allegations came to light. RZA forced Cappadonna to fire him as his manager. In spite of this, Caruso still works with Ghostface and is on his new poker team.
Oliver "Power" Grant has also acted in numerous films including Belly, Black and White, When Will I Be Loved and others. He also won the 24th Annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach, beating out seventeen other celebrity and professional drivers. "Power" was mentioned in Raekwon's lyrics in the street anthem "Incarcerated Scarfaces", saying "Peace to Power and the whole unit."
Mitchell "Divine" Diggs has been mentioned in several songs by Wu-Tang members, such as by RZA in his song "Brooklyn Babies" with "My big brother Divine he push the Benz well", and Raekwon in the song "The Turn" with "Divine got me, nigga, the boss, he pop me".
Method Man however has voiced his displeasure with Mitchell "Divine" Diggs of the Wu-Tang management, "Number 1 on my shit list right now is Divine from Wu-Tang management. He took something major from me that he had no intention of giving back."
Several members appeared in Scary Movie 3 (with many other rappers) in a scene where, originally coming to save the day, they end up arguing with other rappers until guns are drawn and everyone shoots each other to death.
The RZA, Cappadonna and affiliate group Killarmy made an appearance in the "Adolf Hankler" episode of the HBO sitcom The Larry Sanders Show. In the episode, the group are booked to perform on the show-within-the-show by guest host Jon Stewart, who then comes into disagreement with the show's network over whether or not the Clan are "too urban" for the show's audience. In one of their two scenes, the group is seen rehearsing the song "And Justice For All" and in the other scene, they are awkwardly conversing with the show's sidekick character Hank Kingsley, who asks where 'Dirty Old Bitch' is.
In late 2006, Wu-Tang was honored as one of the premier and influential rap groups by VH1's 2006 Hip Hop Honors with other influential performers: Afrika Bambaataa, Beastie Boys, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Lyte, Rakim and Russell Simmons. During their performance, Lil Jon portrayed the late Ol' Dirty Bastard.
Method Man has appeared in the show Burn Notice as hip hop mogul and tough guy, Valentine.
The RZA scored the first film of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill saga. RZA has gone on to score several more productions including Blade: Trinity, Afro Samurai, The Protector, Freedom Writers and several others.
RZA has appeared in American Gangster, a 2007 crime drama film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe as well as in Coffee and Cigarettes with fellow Wu-Tang member, The GZA in a scene also featuring actor Bill Murray.
He also co-starred with Redman in his own Fox sitcom called Method & Red in late 2004; however, after only a short time on the air, the show was put on hiatus and never returned. Method Man later complained in the press about Fox's influence on the show's style, claiming that "there's been too much compromise on our side and not enough on their side" and bemoaning the network's decision to add a laugh track. Before the show even aired, he told fans not to bother watching it.
His first prominent role came in 1998 with the film Belly along with fellow rappers Nas and DMX. He has since added many credits to his name, including roles in the films Garden State and One Eight Seven, with starring roles in the feature films such as How High, Soul Plane and others. He also played a small role in the 1997 film "Cop Land" starring Sylvester Stallone.
He had a guest appearance in the music video for the 2003 "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys, where he played the role of her boyfriend. Beanie Sigel also called upon Method Man's acting skills for his 2005 video "Feel It in the Air", where Method Man played an undercover cop leading an operation against Sigel.
Method Man has fallen back from pursuing more acting roles after the situation with his sitcom on Fox left a bad taste in his mouth, and now mostly just acts if the project is being handled by a friend of his, as was the case with CSI and The Wire.
The "torture" verbal exchange between Method Man and Raekwon the Chef, on the track "Method Man" on the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album was parodied on the "Hip-Hop News" sketch of Chappelle's show, during the "Lost Episodes"
All nine members of the group were featured in the game Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, released for the PlayStation on October 31, 1999, as well as a special collector's edition controller. Ghostface Killah and Method Man, as well as collaborators Redman and Keith Murray, also play themselves in all three games in the Def Jam series, Def Jam Vendetta, Def Jam Fight For NY, and Def Jam: Icon. Method Man is a huge fan of video games himself and has publicly stated that he loves playing SOCOM online with other PS2 users, and is even part of an online clan ("KMA/Kiss My Ass"). His Socom 2 name is "ICU". He has a fellow SOCOM player featured on a skit on his album 4:21. Several tracks by Clan members and affiliates such as Method Man, Ghostface, Cappadonna, Trife, DJ Mathematics and others were featured in the 2006 game Saints Row. A video game from Acclaim, 9Dragons, also sports the name Wu-Tang Clan in one of the ingame branches. In EA's Army of Two, Salem talks about Wu-Tang in the mission on China asking Rios who the best member is. Salem says it's RZA but he says Ghostface Killah is pretty good himself. In the ending cut scene, a reference is made to the song "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing to F' Wit" when Salem says "Survey says?" and Rios replies "Your Dead," the referenced lyric is "Survey said, you're dead."
1997 saw the release of Wu-Tang's multi-platinum double-LP Wu-Tang Forever which launched the clothing line, Wu-Wear, to all new heights.
Method Man was unhappy with the decision to bring Wu Tang into the fashion world with Wu Wear, despite the brand being a major money-maker for the group. "When Wu-Wear started making shoes and sneakers and pants, it was shoddy material. I never rocked that shit."
There is currently a partnership between Wu Tang and the Alife NYC clothing group for an exclusive series of custom sneakers, t-shirts, hoodies and other accessories for both men and women. The collection is called "A Wu-Tang Life".
A supposed diss song, "Who the Fuck Is 50 Cent", which circulated the web in the beginning of 2001 was rumoured to be by the Clan, but was proven to be recorded by Polite of American Cream Team (Raekwon's then–side project).
G-Unit member Tony Yayo has alleged that Ghostface had a ghostwriter for his critically-acclaimed album Supreme Clientele. In an interview with spin.com, Yayo claimed that Far Rockaway native Superb, who guested on the album, wrote a majority, if not all, of the lyrics. In an interview with hiphopdx.com Raekwon, who also appears on the album, responded saying: "He (Tony Yayo) know damn well he (Superb) ain’t write that fuckin’ album. I don’t even wanna get into shit like that, because it just makes me upset that muthafuckas be running they mouth all kinda ways. But at the end of the day, I think Ghost gonna have to really say what he gotta say. However, in a November, 2007 interview with Rhapsody Music, Ghost responded with "…'Perb (Superb) is Rae’s (Raekwon) man. He been in the studio a few times while we’re doing shit. He ain’t write shit. All ‘Perb contributed was a couple of lines that you could put in the air. When we write, we all do that. “Say this one right here” or “Put this one right here.” We all catch lines with each other ‘cause you in the studio. You got niggas around you that write. Even if he did write a verse, he could never make an album of mine. He couldn’t make an album, you feel me? I made Supreme Clientele what it is. Those are my stories, based around whatever they’re based upon. It’s me. I can’t see what songs ‘Perb wrote. He ain’t write “Mighty Healthy” or “One” or “Apollo Kids” or “Cherchez LaGhost” or “Saturday Nite” or “Malcolm.”. U-God called Tony Yayo "a bitch" in an interview with Undergroundhiphop.com, and threatened to beat him down when he sees him, but said that no diss tracks will be recorded.
Ghostface appeared on the 2002 Bad Boy Records release, We Invented the Remix, along with P. Diddy on the remix to the song "Special Delivery." Ghostface even gives Bad Boy Records a shout out for inviting him on the track when he raps "Bad Boy, thank you for this special delivery." Diddy was one of the executive producers for Method Man's 2004 album Tical 0: The Prequel, although Meth later voiced his displeasure with the final product. "On the third LP, it was suggested to bring in Harve Pierre and P Diddy. Who am I to argue? Puff knows how to sell some records. But that wasn't the direction to go in, and I know that now. In 2006, Method Man also called out Diddy's decisions on the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. album Duets: The Final Chapter, saying that Biggie never would have rocked with some of the sub-par rappers featured on it. He also brought up the fact that he was the only other rapper that Biggie chose to feature on his debut album Ready to Die.