Staten Island, New York City, NY
The Wu-Tang Clan is an American hip hop group from Staten Island, New York City, NY. The group consists of RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard. They are frequently joined by fellow rapper and childhood friend Cappadonna, a quasi-member of the group. The Wu-Tang Clan was formed in and associated with the New York borough of Staten Island, though some of the members are from Brooklyn (Ol' Dirty Bastard, GZA, and Masta Killa).
They have introduced and launched the careers of numerous affiliated artists and groups, often collectively known as the Wu-Tang Killa Bees. The Wu-Tang Clan are often referred to as the greatest hip hop group of all time.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Foundation and name
- 1.2 1993-1996: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and solo albums
- 1.3 1997-2000: Wu-Tang Forever, diversification and second string of solo albums
- 1.4 2000-2001: The W, Iron Flag and New Millennium
- 1.5 2004: Legal issues, death of Ol' Dirty Bastard and resurgence
- 2 Discography
History[edit | edit source]
Foundation and name[edit | edit source]
The Wu-Tang Clan was assembled in the early 1990s, with RZA as the de facto leader and the group's producer. RZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard adopted the name for the group after the 1983 kung fu movie Shaolin and Wu Tang. The group's debut album loosely adopted a Shaolin vs Wu-Tang theme, dividing the album into Shaolin and Wu-Tang sections.
1993-1996: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and solo albums[edit | edit source]
The Wu-Tang Clan first rose to prominence in 1993 following the release of the independent single "Protect Ya Neck", which immediately gave the group a sizable underground following. Loud Records soon signed the Wu-Tang Clan to a deal that gave the group members creative control and the freedom to negotiate solo projects with other labels. In November 1993, the group released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) to critical acclaim and commercial success, and it is often regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. The popularity of the album established the group as a creative and influential force in the mid-1990s hip hop scene, allowing Ol' Dirty Bastard, RZA, GZA, Raekwon, U-God, Method Man, and Ghostface Killah to negotiate solo contracts.
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, Frukwan and Poetic. The Gravediggaz released the album 6 Feet Deep in August 1994, which became one of the best-known works to emerge from hip hop's small subgenre 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 group's first single being his now-classic eponymous solo track. He released his solo album, Tical, in November 1994. It was entirely produced by RZA, who for the most part continued with the grimy, raw textures he explored on Enter the Wu-Tang. RZA's hands-on approach to Tical extended beyond him merely creating the beat to devising song concepts and structures. The song "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By" featuring Mary J. Blige was the winner of the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1995 Grammy Awards.
After the release of Tical, Ol' Dirty Bastard became the next member to launch a solo career with the release of the album Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version in March 1995. The album is now considered a hip hop classic.
The late summer and early fall of 1995 saw the release of Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and GZA's Liquid Swords, which would turn out to be the group's two most significant and well-received solo projects. Cuban Linx was a diverse, theatrical criminological epic that saw 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. The album is highly notable in that it revived, and expanded the Mafioso rap subgenre, which had started to decline several years beforehand. Lavish living and the crime underworld are referenced throughout using quotes from the 1989 movie The Killer, 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 many slang words to the rap lexicon, and many artists have gone on to imitate its materialism. Cuban Linx features the debut appearance of Cappadonna and also features Nas, who was the first non-Wu-Tang-affiliated MC to appear on a Wu-Tang album. Liquid Swords had a similar focus on inner-city criminology akin to Cuban Linx, but was far darker, both in GZA's grim lyrics and in the ominous, foreboding production that saw RZA experimenting more with keyboards than ever before. Liquid Swords features guest appearances from every Wu-Tang Clan member and is linked together by excerpts from the movie Shogun Assassin. 1995 also saw the release of the Wu Wear clothing line, which would turn out to be massively successful and influential on hip hop culture. It initially started as a mere way to make money from the demand for bootleg Wu-Tang shirts and evolved into an extensive collection of designer garments.
Almost a year after the release of Liquid Swords, Ghostface Killah released his first solo album, Ironman in late October 1996. The album struck a balance between the sinister keyboard-laden textures of Liquid Swords and the sentimental soul samples of Cuban Linx, while Ghostface explored new territory as a lyricist. Ironman was critically acclaimed and is still widely considered to be one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums. Although the 1994-1996 albums were released as solo, RZA's presence behind the production and a large number of guest appearances from other Wu-Tang Clan members has rendered them to be mostly all-around group efforts.
1997-2000: Wu-Tang Forever, diversification and second string of solo albums[edit | edit source]
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 1997, debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts. The sound of the album built significantly on the previous three solo albums, with 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 being written in a dense stream of consciousness form heavily influenced by the teachings of the Five-Percent Nation. The album has sold over 8.3 million copies worldwide.
Wu-Tang Forever also marked the end of RZA's "five-year plan." After the album's success, 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 Oliver "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. The group's close associate Cappadonna followed the group's project with The Pillage in 1998. Soon after, Killah Priest, another close associate of the Clan, released Heavy Mental to great critical acclaim. Affiliated groups Sunz of Man and Killarmy 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. There was also a long line of releases from secondary affiliates such as Popa Wu, Shyheim, GP Wu, and Wu-Syndicate.
While this round was commercially successful, it was not as critically acclaimed as its predecessor. The second round of solo albums from Wu-Tang saw second efforts from the five members who had already released albums, as well as debuts from all the remaining members, with the exception of Masta Killa. In the space of two years, 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 N*gga Please, U-God's Golden Arms Redemption, Raekwon's Immobilarity, Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele, and Inspectah Deck's Uncontrolled Substance were all released, with seven of them being released in the space of seven months between June 1999 and January 2000. RZA also composed the score for the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, while he and other Wu-Tang members contributed music to a companion "music inspired by the film" album.
The avalanche of Wu-Tang products between 1997 and 2000 was considered by some critics to have resulted in an oversaturation that was responsible for Wu-Tang's decline in popularity, or at least in critical regard during that time period. 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. Occasional albums would still receive critical acclaim, such as Supreme Clientele by Ghostface Killah, which is regarded as one of the best solo efforts from the Clan. 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 their early career. Many fans and critics also bemoaned the lack of RZA's input on the post-Forever solo albums, which were mostly produced by Wu-Elements producers, other lower-ranking affiliates, or by outside producers such as the Trackmasters and The Neptunes.
2000-2001: The W, Iron Flag and New Millennium[edit | edit source]
Wu-Tang Clan began recording their third studio album, The W, in 2000. Ol' Dirty Bastard was incarcerated in California for violating the terms of his probation, and thus only makes one appearance on the album. The W was mostly well-received by critics, particularly for RZA's production, and gave the group a hit single with the uptempo "Gravel Pit".
The following year, Wu-Tang Clan released their fourth album Iron Flag, which was unforeseen by fans because the group tended to have several year pauses between albums.
2004: Legal issues, death of Ol' Dirty Bastard and resurgence[edit | edit source]
In early 2004, U-God left the group, mainly due to his frustration at RZA for apparently hindering his success as a solo artist. After the two reconciled, U-God later rejoined the group.
2004 saw the unexpected return of the Wu-Tang 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 festival in California. The concert was released on CD as Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1.
Death of Ol' Dirty Bastard[edit | edit source]
Ol' Dirty Bastard's career in the Wu-Tang Clan was increasingly marked by erratic behavior. He was arrested several times for offenses including assault, shoplifting, and possession of cocaine, and missed 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 release party for The W. He was eventually caught and served a prison sentence.
On 13 November 2004, Ol' Dirty Bastard collapsed at 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang's recording studio, in New York City and was pronounced dead later that night. The official cause of death was a drug overdose; an autopsy found a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription drug tramadol. The overdose was ruled accidental. His funeral drew a crowd of thousands.