Wu-Tang is for the Children


Ago 12 2011, 5h23

First name: Wu-Tang. Last name: Forever.

Ol' Dirty Bastard was a rock star. Rappers don’t OD—rock stars OD—because rappers tend to get shot before they have the chance. That, and often, the only drugs rappers can afford is weed after buying all those shiny useless things and “making it rain.” But ODB didn’t have a lot of shiny useless things. He had a lot of children (thirteen), coke, and Tramadol. Also, the first two initials in his name—OD. Let’s face it, ODB had to OD.

Of course, drug abuse and psychological issues weren’t his only friends. He also had the RZA, the GZA/Genius, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa. Together, they formed the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 90s, created one of the most classic rap debuts ever, and followed with numerous critically and/or commercially acclaimed group and solo efforts, creating a lasting cultural impact.

So when the ’98 Grammy he thought they deserved went instead to Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs he rushed the stage. There, he informed a live audience that “Wu-Tang is for the children… Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best”—true*. And unlike with Kanye, the crowd applauded his interruption.

And children (here’s looking at you, Mr. West) can learn a lot from the Wu-Tang Clan. Probably not how to treat your woman, people of other races, or non-heterosexuals—granted, Wu is a rap group—but certainly a lot about the importance of family, friends, smart business practices, and longevity. There’s something to be said for a nine-man rap group still rapping solo and together nearly twenty years later, still evolving as artists where most rappers are lucky to remain relevant a year, much less five—and hardly ever, twenty.

As the Clan’s resident “genius,” The GZA explained on Dave Chappelle’s classic “Wu-Tang Financial” bit, “You need to diversify your bonds, n****!” And in a manner of speaking, that’s exactly what they did. The Wu-Tang brand blazed rap trails with video games, comic books, clothes, etc. And the names of all the Wu-Tang affiliates, collectively known as Wu-Tang Killa Bees would easily fill this page—brilliant marketing strategy and that’s not even all of it.

The RZA and GZA’s failed respective debuts as Prince Rakeem and The Genius taught them an important lesson in record label negotiations. As such, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and future group albums were required to remain on the same label, but each member was free to release solo albums at will on any labels of their choice. If nothing else, it meant U-God and Masta Killa’s mediocre solo efforts and ODB’s personal problems wouldn’t ruin the overall product.

It's The RZA, The GZA, and... BILL MURRAY. Throw your W's up.

It also freed The RZA to influence every next rap producer in existence. His innovations included a move toward soul samples, samples tempo-shifted to fit the beat (including Kanye West’s once-trademark squirrely sped-up vocal samples), skits (I know, I know, but many of theirs were actually good), kung fu samples, and his early dark and minimalist style.

It also freed Method Man to become one of the most beloved potheads in the rap world, with an ever-changing delivery and a highly recognizable voice. It freed Ghostface to allegedly do time for beating up Mase (for which we’re all eternally thankful) and rap in an emotionally-charged near-whine almost as recognizable as Method Man’s mumble-rasp. Meanwhile, ODB popularized off-key rap-singing before autotune all-but-castrated rap music. He also took Method Man’s controlled controlled substance-influenced lyrics/style to his own cracked-out place.

The rest of them had and continue their own legacy throughout hip hop and music in general, even in TV and film. That ODB never threw the group completely off-kilter proves they never took themselves too seriously, which is probably why their Dave Chappelle bits were so hilarious, as well as with Ghostface’s “Pretty Toney” bit on MTV and other bits they’ve been a part of.

All that was really just my ploy to introduce you to some of the latest (read: greatest) remix efforts in the rap world. Tom Caruana’s wu tang vs the beatles (which you’ll have to torrent because the Beatles’ music rights owners aren’t hip enough) meshes two great musical worlds, as does Wugazi (currently still a free download on Wugazi.com), Doomtree’s Cecil Otter’s fusion of Wu-Tang and Fugazi. They all breathe new life into all their respective original artists’ work. To quote The RZA, "How can hip hop be dead if Wu-Tang is forever?" For the children indeed.

*Actually, you’re too kind, ODB. Puffy exploited his “friend” The Notorious B.I.G.’s death for fame and profit, including millions from Notorious’ posthumous albums, making him only marginally better than Suge Knight who profits similarly from 2Pac.

Wugazi - "Sleep Rules Everything Around Me"

ODB meets The Beatles for "God Your Money." Doot doot-doot. Perfection.

Raekwon - "House of Flying Daggers." A good introduction to the Wu if you've never had one. Quite possibly their best music video.



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