Members // Real Name // D.O.B.:
RZA // Robert Diggs // July 5th, 1969 Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York
GZA // Gary Grice // August 22nd, 1966 Brooklyn, New York City
Method Man // Clifford Smith // April 1st, 1971 Long Island, New York
Ghostface Killah // Dennis Coles // May 9th, 1970 Staten Island, New York
Raekwon // Corey Woods // January 12th, 1970 Brooklyn, New York
Inspektah Deck // Jason Hunter // July 6th, 1970 The Bronx, New York
U-God // Lamont Hawkins // October 11, 1970 Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York
Masta Killa // Elgin Turner // August 18th, 1969 Brooklyn, New York
Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.) // Russell Tyrone Jones // November 15th, 1968 Brooklyn, New York
Label: SRC/Universal Motown/Loud Records
Out of New York’s Staten Island came the Shaolin’s Finest, the assembly of nine emcees who called themselves the Wu-Tang Clan. They grew into the most revolutionary hip-hop posse in the 1990s smothering the industry with their themed Wu style. They are worldly recognised as one of the most critically and commercially successful hip hop groups of all time. The Wu-Tang expanded into a commercial empire of individual and group business ventures and brand merchandising. Among its members are multi-platinum selling solo artists, record producers, Television and film stars, screenwriters, product spokespersons, business owners and, most recently, major motion picture composers. The Clan was nine members thick until the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard in 2004. By 1994 their were over 300 Wu-Tang Clan affiliates known as the Wu-Tang Killa Bees, consisting of rappers, producers, and record label CEOs. The Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with! Wu-Tang Clan shot to fame through their uncompromising brand of hardcore rap music. The Clan dropped their hardcore début, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) with devastating blows to their opponents in 1993. Their undefined raw energy was unparalleled in the game. The RZA’s mastered engineering skills gave their mythological trekking the spirit and soundtrack to follow their destined path into hip-hop purity. Primal chants of “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit!” established the Wu-Tang Clan as an insurmountable force to be reckoned with. They used this platform to develop it’s members’ individual spin-off projects thus creating their individual identities. As students of the Kung-Fu fantasy, Clan members took the stage, each with their own distinct style of hip-hop not unlike the way of the Shaolin.
“Shaolin shadow-boxing, and the Wu-Tang sword style. If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu-Tang could be dangerous! Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?… En garde, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”
The name “Wu-Tang” is derived from the name of the holy 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; it was also the site of the Ming Dynasty Purple Imperial City built during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. 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. Method Man is another Kung-Fu flick titleThe 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.
The Emergence of Wu-Tang and the 36 Chambers
The founders of the Wu-Tang Clan were 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. 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 The RZA as the de facto leader and the group’s producer. The Clan first became known to hip hop fans, and to major record labels, in 1993 following the release of the independent single “Protect Ya Neck”, which immediately gave the group a sizeable underground following. Though there was some difficulty in finding a record label that would sign Wu-Tang Clan while still allowing each member to record solo albums with other labels, Loud/RCA finally agreed, releasing their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in late 1993. This album was popular and critically-acclaimed, though it took some time to gain momentum. Though hip hop had long had a gritty texture, the surreal aggression and minimalist production of 36 Chambers nevertheless had a huge impact on the genre, and was to prove massively influential over the next decade. By the beginning of the 21st century, the album had become a regular fixture on “Best Albums Of The 90s” lists as well as a frequent choice for “Best Albums Of All Time” lists. The success of Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers established the group as a creative and influential force in early 1990s hip hop, allowing GZA, RZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard to negotiate solo contracts.
The period between the release of Enter the Wu-Tang and Wu-Tang Clan’s second album is considered to be “the greatest winning streak in rap history.” The RZA was the first to follow up on the success of Enter the Wu-Tang with a side project, founding the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul and Frukwan (both of Stetsasonic) and Poetic. The Gravediggaz released 6 Feet Deep (known as NiggaMortis in Europe) in August 1994, which became one of the best known works to emerge from hip hop’s small sub-genre of horrorcore. It had always been planned for Method Man to be the first breakout star from the group’s line-up, 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 album also won a Grammy for the song “All I Need”. 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.
With their solo careers firmly established, the Wu-Tang Clan reassembled to release the highly-anticipated Grammy-nominated multiplatinum double album Wu-Tang Forever in June 1997, debuting at number one on the Billboard Charts. This event was featured in a CNN roundup for the extraordinary sales the group achieved without a mainstream sound or commercial appeal. The album’s first single, “Triumph,” was over five minutes long, featured nine verses (one from each member plus Cappadonna), and no hook or a repeated phrase. The sound of the album built significantly on the previous three solo albums, with The RZA using more keyboards and string samples, as well as, for the first time, assigning some of the album’s production to his protégés True Master and 4th Disciple. The group’s lyrics differed significantly from those of 36 Chambers, with many verses written in a dense stream-of-consciousness form heavily influenced by the teachings of the Five Percent Nation. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album has sold over 8.3 million copies to date worldwide. 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, though not an official member) 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.
Wu Projects (round two)
While this round was very commercially successful, it was not as critically acclaimed as the first. The second round of solo albums from the Clansmen saw second efforts from the four members who had already released albums as well as debuts from all the remaining members except Masta Killa. In the space of two years, The RZA’s Bobby Digital In Stereo, Method Man’s Tical 2000: Judgement Day and Blackout! (with Redman), GZA’s Beneath the Surface, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Nigga Please, U-God’s Golden Arms Redemption, Raekwon’s Immobilarity, Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele and Inspectah Deck’s Uncontrolled Substance were all released (seven of them being released in the space of seven months between June 1999 and January 2000). The RZA also composed the score for the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, directed by Jim Jarmusch, while he and other Wu-Tang members contributed music to a companion “music inspired by the film” album. Wu-Tang branded clothing and video games were marketed as well. The Wu Wear clothing line in particular was massively influential on hip hop culture; initially started as merely a way to make money from the demand for bootleg Wu-Tang shirts, it evolved into an extensive collection of designer garments. Soon, other hip hop artists were making similar ventures and by the mid 2000s a clothing line was almost a prerequisite for hip hop super stardom, with clothing lines launched by Ludacris, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, Busta Rhymes, Nelly and more. 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 write-up 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.
The W and Iron Flag
The group reconvened once again to make The W, though without Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who was at the time incarcerated in California for violating the terms of his probation. Though incarcerated, ODB managed to make it onto the track “Conditioner” which also featured Snoop Dogg. ODB’s vocals were recorded via the telephones used for inmates to talk with visitors. The W was mostly well-received by critics particularly for The RZA’s production, and also gave the group a hit single with the up-tempo “Gravel Pit”, part of a trilogy of videos where the group would visit different eras with a time travelling elevator, which also included “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” and the internet exclusive (due to excessive gun violence) “Careful (Click, Click)”, which were then followed by “I Can’t Go to Sleep” featuring Isaac Hayes. The album would go on to reach double platinum status. Shortly before the release of The W, ODB escaped custody while being transported from a rehab centre 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. In 2001, Wu-Tang Clan released their fourth album, Iron Flag, to luke-warm reception. It contained hit single Uzi (Pinky Ring) and guest appearances by artists such as Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav. Its production was not completely handled by The RZA and had a less gritty sound than previous Wu-Tang albums.
Wu Projects (round three)
RZA’s release of Digital Bullet (as Bobby Digital) in 2001 marked the beginning of a small wave of solo releases in between The W and Iron Flag which also included Ghostface Killah’s Bulletproof Wallets and Cappadonna’s The Yin and the Yang. GZA’s release of Legend of the Liquid Sword in late 2002 marked yet another wave that continued for the next two years. The wave included Cappadonna’s The Struggle, Method Man’s Tical 0: The Prequel, Raekwon’s The Lex Diamond Story, Ghostface Killah’s The Pretty Toney Album, Inspectah Deck’s The Movement, and Masta Killa’s No Said Date. It was perhaps the least successful wave yet, with only No Said Date and The Pretty Toney Album gaining any significant attention. Ghostface’s album continued the trend of his releases each selling less than the one before it despite mostly good reviews. Masta Killa’s album was well received by both the hardcore fanbase and critics for its attempt to return to the classic Wu sound, though as an independent release, it expectedly did not catch on commercially. 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.
2004 also saw the unexpected return of the Clan to the live stage. They embarked on a short European tour before coming together as a complete group for the first time in several years to headline the Rock the Bells IV festival in California. The concert was released on CD shortly afterwards under the name Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1. They also soon released a music-video greatest hits album named Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan. 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.
- 1993 Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)(Chart position: #8) RIAA certification: Platinum
- 1997 Wu-Tang Forever (Chart position: #1) RIAA certification: 8x Platinum
- 2000 The W (Chart position: #1) RIAA certification: 2x Platinum
- 2001 Iron Flag (Chart position: #6) RIAA certification: Gold
- 2007 8 Diagrams