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Members: Robert "RZA" (Prince Rakeem) Diggs, producer and MC; Jason "The Rebel INS" (Inspectah Deck) Hunter, MC; Clifford "Method Man" Smith, MC; Russell "'Ol Dirty Bastard" Jones, MC; Raekwon (Ray-KWON), MC; Dennis "Ghostface Killer" Coles, MC; Gary "The Genius" Grice, MC; Lamont "U-God" Hawkins, MC; Elgin "Masta Killa" Turner, MC. All members born in the outer boroughs of NYC-- Staten Island and Brooklyn. Addresses: Record company--Loud Records, 205 Lexington Avenue, fourth floor, New York, NY 10016; phone (212) 448-8300.

The Wu-Tang Clan are a large group of lyricists who have assembled an intriguing microcosm of their own culture, both in music and in business. Their aliases are a menacing bunch of terms such as Ghost Face Killer and Inspectah Deck, and their lyrics aren't pretty. However, like a great deal of hip-hop artists, the Clan demonstrates an authentic portrayal of urban grist. The band also has very unusual and progressive business arrangements which have been the focus of much attention and commentary within the record industry.

In Melody Maker, writer Simon Grice said "when he hears the Wu- Tang Clan he hears New York"--not the pretty tourist friendly version of NY but the gritty, subway screech sort of variety. He described "crack pipes, garbage blown alleys, and cockroaches." Appropriately, the members responded, "It's our sound." The bands symbiotic relationship with its hometown began many years ago in the streets of the notoriously tough city. All Wu-Tang members were born in either the outer boroughs of Staten Island or Brooklyn, and have known each other in various incarnations since childhood. "The crew goes back to when we were nine, ten years old. That's when we started experimenting with rapping," RZA explained to Billboard Magazine, "Back then, we called what we were doing MCing though." The Clan's roots run deep. RZA and Raekwon were elementary school companions. 'Ol Dirty Bastard, The Genius and Raekwon are cousins. Committing petty crimes and rehearsing in the basement, the boys developed the Clan hypothetically when they were barely teenagers. Instead of buying clothes and more youthfully cherished items, RZA brought DJ equipment and is said to have stolen his clothes. In 1991, RZA, Genius, and The 'Ol Dirty Bastard finally put their talents together to form the Wu-Tang Clan.

Both the group's concept and name were derived from basic martial arts principles. Wu-Tang means "sword family" and is considered one of the deadliest styles of the martial arts. RZA who besides being a lyricist is the group's producer, claimed he chose the name after reading in the Bible that Jesus said, "the tongue is like a double edged sword." RZA thought the group had the best lyrical techniques around, that they were unchallenged in that area; therefore he applied the concept to the band's name.

The band's particular musical style interjects snippets of mafia movie dialogue over lyrics detailing the brutal reality of ghetto life. Their realistic urban rhythms have brought much attention to their music and have in turn generated a large fan base.

When the band first began making demos, they were unable to obtain what they deemed an acceptable record contract. Record labels had offered them extremely small advances--as low as $200,000 for all eight members. Instead, the Clan members pooled their money together. Each member contributed $100 apiece in order to release "Protect Your Neck," their first single in 1991, on the Wu-Tang label. Following the single's release, the group set out on its own promotional tour selling copies of "Protect Your Neck" out of the trunk of their car all the way from Virginia to Ohio. It quickly hit a spot with college radio stations, clubs, and in the ever burgeoning hip-hop scene of New York. Many labels initially uninterested in the Clan were now attempting to coerce the band to sign with their respective companies. Instead, the Clan chose to go with Loud Records--a then-small, unproven rap label. Loud picked up on the buzz generated by these rhyming beat-masters and subsequently inked a contract with the group in 1993.

The Wu-Tang Clan released their first album Enter the Wu-tang Clan (Thirty Six Chambers) in November 1993. The title refers to two special martial arts concepts. One explanation: there are 36 points on the body and 10 degrees between each point--an equation adding up to a perfectly balanced 360 degrees. RZA explained the second meaning of thirty-six chambers to Billboard Magazine. "During ancient times, for one, young monks went to Shao Lin to study the Wu-Tang Style. It was all done in secret and students became masters only by advancing through all 35 chambers in the process. One day one of the Monks decided to take the technique to the whole world. The world became the thirty sixth chamber, which would complete a circle. That's what happened with Wu-Tang Clan. We were doing what we were doing on Staten Island for years and years. Nobody outside of here knew there was rap talent we took it to a whole new level. We christened Staten Island Shao-lin."

The band's next full-length single maintained a spot on Billboard's rap singles chart for over 25 weeks. Subsequently "Cash Rules Everything Around Me," otherwise known as "C.R.E.A.M," managed to touch a raw nerve with it's provocative lyrics. The song questions that drug money may be the only way out for young urban blacks. It also illustrates the reality of crack addicts and the sort of urban reality which most people want to avoid. The single placed number three on the rap singles chart, number one on the maxi singles sales charts and a top 60 on the pop singles chart. "`C.R.E.A.M.' really says what we went through to get this money. And cash really does rule everything around me but it doesn't rule me. That's how come we got it," explained Wu-Tang Master mind RZA to the New York Times. "It's good because we came from the bottom of the bottomless pit."

The Wu-Tang Clan's most surprising feature may very well be their savvy business tactics which have proven quite unique and successful within the music industry. Instead of shopping around for a large record label to sign them after the success of single "Protect Your Neck," the Clan opted to sign with a smaller label. RZA said he learned one of his most crucial business lessons selling marijuana on the streets of New York: "You can sell weed and make a little money but most of it gets made for the guy your selling it for . It's the same thing in the music business except it's legal." The group settled with Loud Records because it offered them a unique record deal. The group agreed to receive a minimal advance while retaining full creative control. It also stipulated that each group member would be able to individually sign separate recording deals. RZA strangely encouraged each of the members to seek solo deals with labels not normally known for their hip-hop prowess. The band felt strongly that producing solo albums with various labels wouldn't initiate competitiveness among the group but would actually strengthen its position in the marketplace. He was right. Genius signed with Geffen who no longer even had a black music department. Raekwon signed with the Wu- Tang's RCA label also not known for hip-hop savvy, and Ol' Dirty Bastard secured a contract with Elektra Records. Producer RZA shocked the industry as his prediction proved correct. Each of the member's solo albums went on to sell at least 500,000 copies apiece.

The Wu-Tang Clan has made an impact on the fashion world. In 1995, the ever-enterprising Clan decided to start their own clothing label, Wu-Wear. In describing the clothes to the Miami Herald, one teenaged fan said, "I like their style it's unusual. It's sort of like ruggish, smooth, hard-core." The line boasts oversized hockey jerseys with large symbolic W's, jackets, and t-shirts. All the merchandise can be ordered directly from Wu-Wear's main store in the Clan's homebase of Staten Island. Some of the Clan's stylish marketing gimmicks include gold Vampire fangs as worn by Ol' Dirty Bastard and Method Man and a glass eye also worn by Method Man. The Group has opened other stores in Atlanta and hopes to expand to Virginia and Los Angeles. Rolling Stone has criticized the Clan's merchandising through song lyrics to impressionable young kids. Writer S. H. Fernando explained that, "over a gargantuan drum beat and simple melody, the hero becomes highly civilized going through a garment renaissance where he swears off Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger, Liz Claiborne and RZA goes on to describe how the protagonist only buys from black owned companies such as Karl Kani, Cross Colours and Shabazz Naturally." In response to the criticism of the lyrics in the song "Wu-Wear, The Garment Renaissance" (available on the High School High soundtrack), RZA responded, "I wanted to do a song that was directed toward the youth. We know what we want to wear".

Even though the Wu-Tang Clan hasn't conjointly recorded an album since their debut in 1993, the band has not splintered and instead has thrived on their family-like existence. As RZA explained to the New York Times: "The point is when Wu-tang came together, we vowed brotherhood to each other. When you stick together you can't lose."


Wu-Tang Clan's Career

Band formed in 1991; released single "Protect Ya Neck" (Wu-Tang label), 1991. Signed to Loud Records 1992. Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers), RCA/ Loud Records released 1993.

Wu-Tang Clan's Awards

Artist of the Year-Group, Source Awards, 1994, 1995, for Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers).

Famous Works

Further Reading


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