There are moments in pop culture history that are so epically monumental that any mention of them is sure to elicit stories about where you were when “it” happened. In a not so distant past that can be considered contemporary history (yet with enough years to lessen the clarity of fine details), someone gifted me a cassette tape with a single song on it. Who this mysterious person was is unclear. However, what was clear is that this tape - with its nondescript white label and the phrase “Protect Ya Neck” written in hip hop lettering - was something I had to hear. I took this plain tape to my dorm room to listen, alternately amused and curious about the music of "the Wu-Tang Clan."
On a blustery fall day in 1993, I was introduced to the Witty Unpredictable-Talented And Natural Game (Wu-Tang), a 9-member collective of emcees who would become a global phenomena as a group and individual artists. The RZA, GZA, ODB, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa, with their unique styles and content, not only altered the music industry but impacted and inspired so many others that there is even a children’s lullaby CD based on their Enter the Wu-Tang and Wu-Tang Forever albums.
As with all things pop culture, inspiration begets creativity. Check out these movies, books and CDs for a primer on the influence, formation and creative works of the Wu.
Wu-Tang mastermind the RZA is often quoted as stating that the Five Deadly Venoms was one of the first Kung Fu movies he saw. Quotes from this movie, about a dying teacher’s wish for his lone student to check into the activities of 5 of his former students, are featured on their first album.
Multiple samples from the movie The 36th chamber of Shaolin have been used across collective and solo albums and served as the muse for their debut album.
Buoyed by hit singles “Protect Ya neck” and “Method Man” (the result of an aggressive and successful grassroots marketing campaign in which the tape found its way to my college campus), Enter the Wu-Tang is considered one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 albums of all time.
Chamber Music is a critical analysis of the sociopolitical and cultural climate that gave rise to the “witty unpredictable" styles of the Wu and their breakout debut album.
As the proverb states, “behind every great man is a great woman.” Sophia Chang, widely known for managing the careers of Wu members, is the embodiment of this sentiment. The Baddest Bitch in the Room details, amongst other things, Chang’s work and relationship with Wu-Tang founder the RZA.
Music groups are notorious for behind-the-scenes drama and public breakups that are as explosive as their initial rise to stardom. Although they weren’t without their share of infighting and disputes, the Wu-Tang Clan managed to become one of the most recognizable entities in the entertainment industry. Their rise From the Streets of Shaolin is detailed in this biography of the legendary group.
Ask any Wu-Tang fan who their favorite member is and Raekwon is almost certain to be mentioned in the top 3. By extension, ask the same fan what their favorite Wu solo album is and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx - an album that is both different and similar to the clan’s origins - is likely to be mentioned in the top 3.
The elevation of Raekwon to the status of the prolific storyteller of the crew is detailed in his memoir From Staircase To Stage: The Story Of Raekwon And The Wu-Tang Clan, written with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Bozza.
With so many witty unpredictable styles to choose from, which Wu-Tang member or album is your favorite?