Hurling Expletives, Dropping Rhymes: A Classic Interview With The Wu-Tang Clan
, October 19th, 2010 08:51
In this month's Rock's Backpages, Angus Batey of HHC magazine talks to the Wu-Tang Clan about their classic debut 36 Chambers and turning the hip-hop tide from the West to the East... PLUS! Method Man's guide to the WU
"No, muthafucka, get back in here!"
The dressing room door is slammed almost off its hinges as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan is forcibly denied access to the outside world. Inside, the Clan (minus Ol' Dirty Bastard, who didn't make the trip to Britain), Freedom, their road manager, and two employees of RCA Records are going at it. We're talking, no, we're SHOUTING extreme verbal distress. You can't make out exactly what's being said apart from the odd word that leaps from the background of noise, but it's clear there's a major battle of minds taking place, with raised voices and frayed tempers the chosen weapons of war. When the RCA people eventually make it outside, just one look tells you all you need to know. It's been one of those days.
The crowd gathered outside the Wu-Tang dressing room isn't there for autographs, though. HHC editor Andy Cowan leans back on a fire hose hanging off the wall, wondering if this was all such a good idea in the first place. Photographer Normski paces with a mixture of seen-it-all-before resignation and more than a hint of agitation – after all, there's plenty of quids' worth of his photographic equipment, lights, cameras, lenses, that might yet get smashed into oblivion if the tempers inside the dressing room don't subside. Your correspondent occasionally moves closer to the door to hear if the Clan are any nearer a resolution, shuddering involuntarily as another volley of expletives crashes around the room. And in the corner by the window, wearing expressions that run from amused to bemused via incomprehension and incredulity, Premiership footballers and hip-hop afficionados Andy Cole and Kevin Campbell are wondering whether they've unwittingly lined themselves up as the opposition for the next round of the Wu-Tang Clan's verbal chessboxing championship. Cole is here at HHC's invitation, after he'd told us a couple of months earlier he'd like to meet the Clan. Somewhere along the line the collected brains at the HHC Tower Of Power decided it'd be a good idea to get Andy to bring some of his mates along and get some photos of him and his crew playing chess against the band. Since Wu-Tang's Genius explained to Antoinette Turton back in May how the Clan used chess as a form of both relaxation and mental sword-sharpening, it didn't seem too strained a connection. And on meeting Andy at the pre-arranged time, we found his entourage includes Arsenal striker Campbell as well as Cambridge player Matthew Joseph and their friend Jit Patel. But right now we're all wondering whether the photo shoot is about to make like Swayze...
A quick word or two from the exasperated but resolutely charming record company duo reveals the cause of the ruckus. Since arriving in Britain no-one's given any of the band members any cash. They've been living off meals in hotels, paid for by concert promoters, and snacks at the company office between press and radio interviews. But today they've been hanging around after soundcheck, they've got to go on stage in an hour or so, and they're hungry.
While in the USA it's commonplace for an artist to be paid by their record company in return for doing interviews, in Europe such promotional activities are looked on more as the duty of the band. If they want to be successful, the theory goes, they've got to handle the work that goes with the territory. Wu-Tang are probably aware of this, but right now they don't give a fuck. They're pissed off, and they're not doing another photo shoot till they get some money. And that includes this proposed meeting with Britain's equivalent of American black sporting heroes like Shaquille O'Neal or Charles Barkley. Normski's tried to explain to them that "it's hard for brothers to make it big over here", and that a bit of flexibility would be appreciated not only for the sake of HHC's coverage of the group but as part of an attempt to present a vision of successful, down-to-earth homeboys getting shit together in the white-dominated music and sport industries. But the message just isn't getting through.
Freedom appears in the dressing room door. He calls the record company bods back in. For a moment, there's a glimmer of hope. But just as suddenly it's extinguished as the door crashes closed and the voices rise once again. Shoulders are shrugged, expectations are halved, Andy Cowan slumps back against the wall and even Normski seems subdued.
Andy Cole looks at Kevin Campbell. They grin at one another, someone clicks fingers, and they spontaneously launch into song: "Cash rules everything around me, cream, get the money, dollar dollar bill y'all!" For the first time, everyone outside the dressing room falls about laughing.
And it had all been going so well.
Two days earlier, RCA Records press office
"WHAT'S THIS shit?" Method Man demands, jabbing a finger at an item on the first page of a sheaf of photocopies he's just been handed that details the group's promotional schedule for the next few days. "'Car will pick up Method Man and three other band members'. I don't like that shit."
"They wanted certain people to do certain things," explains Genius, with the faint, patient smile he seems to wear most of the time. "'Cos some of us is better at interviews or radio." U-God, the third, and most quiet, member of the Clan present, finishes off The Gza's thoughts. "And they're sayin' this for the simple fact that not everyone they deal with here co-operates like we do. 'Cos we have a little extra intelligence that lies within ourselves."
The Wu-Tang Clan aren't important simply because they know they're good at what they do, that their razor-sharp rhyme skills and frightening beat creation powers seem to know no bounds, and that the world is finally beginning to notice. What separates the Clan (and the credible batch of contemporary east coast artists currently spearheading New York's comeback against Los Angeles' recent rap supremacy) and marks their card as perhaps the most important crew to have emerged in recent years is that the undoubted musical and lyrical talent is allied to a street-bred business acumen and a sense of proportion that's been all too rare in the rap industry.
In 1994, where the new mantras are to "keep it real" and "represent", it's a positive disadvantage to have had even the most mildly privileged upbringing. But there are precious few rappers and DJs out there possessed of skills outside the studio or away from the stage that allow them to retain complete control of the fruits of their labours. Coming from the suburbs, Public Enemy blazed the trail, though it wasn't until comparatively recently that their diversification into running their own merchandising company and beginning to nurture new artists occurred. Paris used his business degree and a compensation cheque from Warner Brothers to set up his Scarface label; Gang Starr, whose Guru rebelled against his parents' middle class lifestyle, has set up the Gang Starr Foundation of artists, which is making huge strides. Notwithstanding Ice Cube and his myriad business interests, it's maybe only Naughty By Nature who, using the power and money brought by 'O.P.P.'s success to set up production, merchandising and record companies, staffed entirely by friends from their home town of East Orange, New Jersey, that can truly be seen as kids from the ghetto who've created their own business empire. Until now.
Almost every one of the nine full-time members of the Wu-Tang Clan has a solo deal. Some, like Method Man, were signed before the group broke through with the independently-released Protect Ya Neck then hooked up with RCA-owned Loud. Others have benefited from the crew's massive exposure since the release of the LP Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and brokered contracts more recently. Still others outside the immediate group, like Shyheim, have yet more deals with an expanding list of labels, keeping as much of the work as possible within the extended, and extending, family network. There's a management company and a music publishing company to add to the bewildering array of organisations. Pretty soon, it seems, there'll be an infestation of Wu, with Clan tentacles extending into practically every major record company on the planet like some space virus from a sci-fi conspiracy novel. Despite Method Man's assurance that it doesn't actually get too confusing ("Nah, it's all different families. Shyheim got his family, his dogs is gettin' walked by his people. The Gravediggaz, that's Rakeem's affiliate family, he's walkin' dogs with them right now"), it's still an incredible accomplishment to keep such a disparate collective concern going. "The only bad thing about all the solo shit," Method Man, who's just completed his solo LP, admits, "is we gotta do double the work now. We've been doin' shows sometimes an' I have to fly back like a day before everybody else to do an interview or approve the credits for the album or shit like that. But as far as the workload an' shit, when I go up to Def Jam, an' they start showin' me numbers of what they puttin' into it, an' they start showing me all these wild pictures an' shit, that shit is good. And it's not gonna affect the next Wu-Tang album 'cos I got mad material for the next one."
But surely the pressure of creating an entire album solo for someone who's also a member of a group must bring other difficulties. How, for example, can Method Man be sure that, if he's putting his heart and soul into his solo LP, he'll still have enough quality material left for the next Wu-Tang album? "That's a good question," he replies, "'cos I'm feelin' a bit down on my album right now. 'Cos the way I went about doin' it I didn't think I had enough time."
"But he's his own worst critic," Genius adds quickly.
"Nah, nah, nah, for real, cos based on the Wu-Tang thing, and then havin' to record here there and everywhere, I din't feel like I had my feet on solid ground," Meth elaborates. "'Cos I'm makin' an album, an' this shit has to represent me for like a year an' some change. I just went in there an' did it. An' I'm doubtin' the shit right now."
"That's how I'm doin' my shit, I'm just goin' in there an' doin' it, cos all that shit is just off the head," Genius argues. "You can do whatever the fuck you want on your own album. It don't matter, we just comin' with it raw."
So what does a Wu-Tang member see as his most important mission: to represent himself on the solo tip, or to keep something special back for the group outings? Not so surprisingly, when you think about it, the boundaries between group and solo activities are frequently blurred. Method Man breaks it down.
"Aiight, it's like this. We could go in the studio tomorrow, Rakeem could throw a beat on an' shit, an' I could go in there an' write somethin', just bamm! An' the shit'd be a hit. Somebody else would be writin' somethin' while I'm in there doin' my shit, then they'd go an' jump on it. We just recently did this in LA, while I was workin' on my album. Ra wanted to try somethin', he threw this beat on, an' everybody wrote somethin' right then and there. An' the shit's a masterpiece! It's gonna be on the next Wu album – just wait till you hear it! Shit is phat. When we did the Wu album it wasn't like we came in with a plan – we just kicked rhymes over music. Some of the shit was already done. We used to rhyme at Rakeem's house in a basement studio, so we knew how some of it was gonna go. But the other shit...we just came in an' did the shit."
"That's how the shit is with real hip-hop," confirms Gza. And, at each and every stage of the development of each and every project, Wu-Tang try to ensure that they're keeping as many of their friends and allies involved as possible. Like Naughty By Nature, they believe passionately in the virtues of looking after your own when the means exist, and in creating the means if not. Asked whether he could envisage a time in the future when the Wu-Tang Clan might expand to take in more members, Method provides the following explanation.
"Not in this Wu-Tang shit, the nine artists, nah. None o' that. But they could be affiliates. Like we got some new brothers, The Sons Of Man; I got two niggaz, Carlton Fisk and Street Life; there's a bunch o' shit, and it's all gonna be...like, we all got family inside the family. We got family outside the family, like we all here for one common cause or whatever, but when I'm back home an' I'm on the block I don't necessarily see Genius all the time. I got brothers that be on the block, and they rhyme too. And that's the route I'm goin', puttin' my people in the middle.
"People who break themselves away from their roots are usually gonna fail," he continues. "That's like cuttin' off your life support an' shit. Like ridin' in the car an' not puttin' gas in the shit. If you cut yourself off from what you came in wit' how the hell you gonna last? If you came in talkin' 'bout your struggles on the street then you up and leave that shit an' you don't come back for 10 years an' you still makin' records, after a while you gonna be soundin' like fuckin' Hammer an' them mo'fuckas, maybe you wanna dance on stage an' fallin' in love an' shit, you experiencin' new shit. You livin' in the suburbs now so you gonna be talkin' 'bout shit that happens in the suburbs. Y'see, you gotta keep it REAL. And when you got a bunch o' people around you that's grateful to you, they'll break they backs for you. Trust me, man, that's how it goes. That's how we comin'. My mom broke her back for me for years, man." He pauses momentarily, looking down to his feet.
"I ain't give her shit yet," he mumbles into his chest, "but it's comin'."
"But you gotta realise too that although you bring somethin' back to help the people, you gotta also realise that there's negative forces in the community that try to bring you down," adds Gza, sounding a note of caution in the midst of Method's optimistm. "People that's jealous, that don't want you to have anything. And they're the ones that try to set you up, so you have to watch out for both."
Ice-T is probably the most prominent hip-hop artist to have used his wealth to remove himself from the ghetto, and has been criticised as selling out. But Genius is adamant that it's the right choice; not just to evade the forces of negativity, but also to emphasise the individual's right to basic human freedoms.
"The way I see it, a man can move where the fuck he wanna move. C'mon man, you know what I'm sayin'? Sometimes you wanna be somewhere where it's quiet, you don't wanna hear that fuckin' noise every night. You ain't sellin' out 'cos you move. You can move where the fuck you want, man. The planet earth is my own. I move where the fuck I want, there ain't no rule to say where I can move and where I can't. It's where you at here," he affirms, pounding his chest with a clenched left fist. "Sometimes you gotta move out. Sometimes you get set up by your own kind and you have to break the fuck out. If you're on tour overseas, you got people in your neighborhood schemin' on your fuckin' house, an' you got a family at home or whatever...sometimes you gotta get away from certain things, man. You gotta be aware."
NOT SINCE the heady days of '86 to '89 has the east coast had it so good. Think back to those days, recall your favourite moments, then change a few names. For Eric B. & Rakim's Paid In Full, substitute Nas's amazing Illmatic; the out-there beats and awesome delivery of Jeru The Damaja's album can take the place of the brilliant but all too often underrated Critical Beatdown by Ultramagnetic MCs; and the minimal, sparse loops and spine-tingling atmospherics of Boogie Down Productions' Criminal Minded are recalled by Enter The Wu-Tang. Remember that Gang Starr have just made their best album, and Public Enemy are back to fuck with people's preconceptions once again. Then add Shyheim, Fat Joe and Black Moon to the list, and just marvel at the riches. Yet two years ago the balance shifted, and, in the months following The Chronic, it sometimes made you wonder if the home of hip-hop would ever wrest the laurels back from the west. Commercially, at the moment, L.A.'s still winning, but artistically and innovations-wise New York has all the momentum. But is this new breed of east coast hip-hop a reaction to the west and to the themes, if not the sounds, of gangsta rap?
Genius agrees that things are changing in the five boroughs – "It's a new era, man, we're bringin' it to another level" – but is disturbed by what the success of tales of drive-bys and bitches tells him about his potential audience. "You gotta look at it like this. 85% of the population is ignorant to the truth and reality of what's goin' on, and they're ready to be led in the wrong direction. So when you have a lot of negative forces and a lot of negative images, especially when they come through the media..."
"Even if the message ain't negative, it's comin' in a negative type o' way," Meth interrupts. "Maybe somebody's just describin' what they goin' through, but somebody else is growin' up on that. Someone like Snoop, he's livin' that shit, but other people see it as , 'Yo, I gonna go an' get me some gin an' juice an' I'm gonna smoke some fuckin' body'. But we don't have none o' that shit."
"Y'see, me, I wouldn't really classify Snoop's music in that category o' shit that don't really make sense," Genius continues. "Personally I like his shit, I think he can flow, an' I can relate to it. I'm not one to say women are hos or bitches, I'm not down with that. I'm not comin' with that point of view. But I can see the shit he's talkin' about. Like bein' in jail, then he comes home an' finds his woman fuckin' someone...I can see that shit, an' if he experienced that, and he felt that way, and he wants to express that, then that's him. But I'm talkin' about the majority of the population that's influenced by a whole bunch o' this shit that don't mean shit. Look at the average fuckin' rap! I mean, we are fuckin' lyricists. That's the difference between the west coast an' the east. We deal with a lot o' lyrics, an' they deal with music. We comin' with lyrics an' you have to sit an' really listen to close. You caught that line in 'I Gotcha' Back' where I go, 'What's the meaning of crime? Is it Criminals Robbin' Innocent Motherfuckas Everytime'. Too often people can't catch that shit because they don't listen to lyrics. But we comin' with the deepness and the realness, man, but when you just comin' with shit that don't make no sense, about bitches shakin' they ass, or you just talkin' about goin' out shootin' people for the fun of it, where there's no reason for it, no motive, where there's no story behind what you're sayin', that shit goes triple platinum an' then you got a whole bunch of ignorant mothafuckas walkin' around. We was doin' shows where I had people walk by me throwin' up gang signs. I'm like, 'what the fuck?'. An' these is muthafuckas in a state that's followin' the west coast shit but don't really know what's goin' on. You know? C'mon man. If you grow up thinkin' all women are bitches then you're gonna think your mother's a bitch, an' if you thinkin' like that then you're fucked up."
"Real fucked up," agrees Meth, before Genius continues.
"But we also have to play a part, too, where we have to correct certain things. Sometimes you have to explain to certain people that, yo, they gotta get off some negative shit. It works both ways. But we don't glorify all that negativity, we glorify the positivness, and we come with the realness in our music. Everything is based on reality. Like I was sayin', the majority of the population is on some ignorant shit. That's why the shit you see sellin' is some shit that don't make sense lyrically. If you wanna deal with lyrics of weight, of depth, of substance, of shit that means something...I mean, you have people who make songs that come and go. You have 'Whoot! There It Is', the shit was a hit, then it went. Then you got someone like Rakim, whose lyrics stick in your head for years. Why d'you think you still have certain parables that were spoken years ago? Because the words were so deep they just rolled on forever."
So does Genius expect to be incorporating political messages into his raps in the future?
"It depends on how you come with it. Everything has to come on a certain level. You have people who be tryin' to come with certain messages but they don't have it. The shit gotta be inside you naturally. It's all well an' good, but if you're usin' that shit just to try to get in you need to back the fuck out, man. Do some tightenin' of your shit. Not everyone can be an MC. Some people gettin' all political with this rap shit – you know the people who I'm talkin' bout – people who try to use this shit to get on the political shit an' put it on some rap shit, and they whole rhyme shit is corny, an' they contradictin' they fuckin' self in they lyrics 'cos people are lost, man. They don't know what they wanna do. One man could be on one thing, an' he can lose somebody that's real close to him, an' he could change his whole form of music. Now he's not even sure of himself. Y'understand? It's like this – I never sit down an' write a rhyme that starts 'Once upon a time'. I'm too deep beyond that shit. I start some shit in the middle o' the fuckin' story. In other words, I'm tellin' you..." "...'So it took place.'" Meth suggests, hardly looking up from the joint he's trying to roll with the seedy end of a bag of weed and some two Rizlas.
"Yeah. Or, 'there's a rumour'. I just sit down an' fuckin' write. We don't sit down and think, 'Ah, crime, that's a good subject'. It don't come like that. You look at poetry, an' the poet sits in the room an' they start talkin' about the light, an' how the shit was playin' across the ceilin'. If I be talkin' about Method Man, I be sayin', 'He sweeps the seeds onto the floor', not even mentionin' his name. It just comes off the fuckin' head. That's how it is with the lyrics. Just like when Deck was locked up an' he was writin' that 'handcuffed in the back of a bus'. He wrote that in prison. All that was based on reality, on his struggles. 'Handcuffed on the back of a bus, there's 40 of us', he wrote that while he was incarcerated. That ain't no fuckin' gimmick. This is not people tryin' to be hard, this is as real as you're gonna get it. And when we sit down an' write it just comes naturally. I don't sit down an' think, 'Let me write about cars'. But that's what you see, records about cars, records about girls and they names, just average shit. An' that shit might sell two million copies but next year your ass'll be gone outta here."
"We were writin' rhymes like that when we were shorties!" Method Man giggles.
"If you take it back to the beginning, that's what it was," Gza continues, philosophising on the history of the music he makes whilst trying to figure out his path through its present. "This hip-hop thing, there's really no beginning to this, this shit is older than the sun, moon and stars – I know I am, I have no beginning. But when you go to where they calculate this shit first started that's what it all was – bragodocio an' shit, that's what hip-hop was. Look at Sugahill – 'I got a Lincoln Continental and a sun-roof Cadillac'. It's like this. I ain't really tryin' to give jewels away to other MCs, but, if you're gonna give a message, you gotta give it on a level with how you have your music. I mean, you got people who be sayin', like, 'Stay in school'. You know how corny that shit sounds? I don't even like to write shit like that. You gotta say, 'educate your mind' or somethin'."
"See, little kids don't learn by you tellin' 'em, they learn by example," Method Man explains. "Like if a little boy sees his moms gettin' her ass whipped all the time by his pops, it's either gonna make him not put his hands on women, or it's gonnamake him beat the shit out of women. Myself, seein' my pops do that shit, I don't even touch women. That's my word. I'd rather just walk away."
"I was readin' some fuckin' rap magazine or some shit, an' they was askin' questions about, do you think gangsta rap is good or bad, or some such," Genius picks up, seemingly leading off in another direction, before returning to the conversation's thread. "And they had all these kids answerin' sayin' no, they didn't think it was a good thing. But they was so young, you could tell they was just speakin' through the eyes of they parents. They was just too young. What is gangsta rap? How come it wasn't no big deal when Millie Jackson or Red Fox or Richard Pryor was makin' records doin' all the profanity? We're not doin' anything different to what Marvin Gaye did, our shit is just harder and it has a little profanity in it. He was sayin' the same thing, 'What's goin' on? There's too many people dyin', mother mother mother'. That shit was deep! We're sayin' the same in 'Can It Be All So Simple'."
"And now you got all these old singers showin' up at the court house tryin' to ban our fuckin' music," Meth fumes. "Like Dionne Warwick an' her psychic-ass friends. Her ass ain't had a fuckin' hit in, like, twenty fuckin' years an' now she wanna stand up for a cause."
Genius agrees. "She's sittin' there foolin' people! She oughtta be ashamed o' her goddamn self. Y'know what I'm sayin'?" "I mean, I can't stand to see somebody just come up an' start pointin' fingers at somebody an' the shit in they back yard ain't clear, " grumbles Method Man, examining his spliff quizically. "C'mon man, if you can tell somebody what the fuckin' lottery numbers are gonna be you're all that an' shit," Genius continues, starting to laugh. "Did you see the comedian who said he called up Dionne Warwick? Nigga says she picks up the phone, an' he's like, 'Yo, wassup?'. She's sayin, 'Who's this?', an' he says 'You're psychic, you should know'! Oh shit."
As the three Clan members boisterously enjoy the joke at the fading star's expense, the sort of lads-together camerarderie and collective good humour that's on display is as genuine and unforced as the more sublime passages of lyrical showmanship from the LP. Unlike many rap stars of recent years, Wu-Tang, or, at least, Method and Genius, are a joy to interview. Avoiding rehearsed answers, mulling over questions before responding with wit and intelligence, employing a wide vocabulary (even if they do give the word "shit" a multitude of new meanings and contexts) and not using the phrase "Y'knowwhataa'msayin'?" in the way that most people use commas, they ought to be most media people's dreams come true. So the fact they've found many outlets in America closed down to them recently is doubly unfortunate. According to an editorial piece in the August '94 edition of The Source, freelance writer Cheo H. Coker was allegedy punched in the face by Master Killa as a result of the band being unhappy with artwork that had accompanied a feature he'd written on the band for another US mag, RapPages. The tone of Coker's piece, that the incident was particularly unfortunate as it confirms the beliefs of the music's detractors that hip-hop is essentially an art form that encourages violent behaviour, isn't exactly contested by Genius, but the situation's very public resolution clearly rankles with him.
"It's like this. It was just a misunderstanding. That was just some shit that he blew up out of all proportion. He over-exaggerated it. He's a mouse, an' he should be a man, because a real life man don't go out tryin' to exploit bad things about fuckin' people. He came from a different side o' the tracks, and he probably just thought, 'oh shit, this muthafucka hit me'. An' he couldn't understand that shit."
But doesn't Coker have a point, when he suggested that it seemed ironic that if this had to happen at all it should have happened to a journalist who supports hip-hop at a time when much of the media is down on it?
"We givin' them jobs, they supposed to get their shit correct," Method Man opines, half-joking, before getting more serious. "Some things just get outta hand. Sometimes you have the reaction before you know the full facts. When you really take time to look into shit you sometimes come out with a better solution. But that didn't happen at that point in time, an' a guy got his jawbone cracked. An' right now some people's scared to deal with us. We haven't even done Soul Train or Showtime At The Apollo. They scared to send us to stuff like that 'cos they think we're uncontrollable, and that's not the case. The case is that in certain situations they treatin' us like babies an' we're grown men. You wanna treat us like a baby an' shit, we're gonna show you it ain't sweet, jack."
If anything, this incident serves as a timely reminder of the dangers shared by artists and media in an environment such as exists within hip-hop today. On the one hand, fans and critics have placed an unfeasibly high value of the credibility of an artist, to the point where, right now, we seem to not only want, but to need, rappers who have lived lives many of us are far too soft to have dealt with. Some people listen to rappers describing life "on the crime side" because they know what it's like to be there; maybe some of them still are. But for the majority, it's either at best a desire to learn about others' hard times in an attempt to understand, or, at worst, the seeking of vicarious thrills in the tales of violent life on the wrong side of the law. To then expect the people who make the music to not only be The Genuine Article, but to have also somehow eradicated from their life the parts of it we don't want to deal with face to face, is probably natural but nonetheless an impossible demand. Like Method Man says, "Before this we were a certain way, and that doesn't change." People can change, but they won't if everyone demands that they stay the same. There are a thousand fights in a thousand bars in a thousand cities every night over misunderstandings not 180 degrees unlike the one described above, but very few of them lead to as public a resolution as this. Ultimately, the questions raised are ones of crucial importance for those creating mass entertainment and those consuming it; is it possible to only take the man out of the ghetto, and not the ghetto out of the man? And do the public and the media place too onerous a burden on the people we choose to make into stars? In the case of the Wu-Tang Clan, like Andy Cole said a week after meeting them, "They're just like how you'd expect after seein' the videos or listenin' to the album. They're the same kind o' people. What you see is what you get." I guess we have to decide exactly what it is we all want.
BACK AT The Forum, the dressing room door is flung open. Freedom's first out, beaming at us, ushering everyone inside. Somehow a solution's been found, and the promise of a meal and some cash has meant the photos can go ahead. Freedom apologises, genuinely and profusely, explaining that sometimes it's necessary for sessions like this, for everyone to let off steam. "That's how we do things, Shaolin style," he grins, as Andy and Kevin take up position by the chessboard.
Freedom's reasoning was backed up by Genius and Method during our interview earlier in the week. When asked what happened if, on tracks like 'Method Man' and 'Clan In Da Front', which appear on the group LP but only have one MC, there was a dispute over who got to use the beats.
"We have to sharpen our swords an' go for it! We have to battle," Method grinned. "Whoever houses the track, whoever kicks it, he keeps it."
Do you all end up agreeing?
"Nah, you gotta go wit' what the whole Clan decides. If they're like, 'Nah man, he ripped you!', you gotta leave it like that, be a man an' take it. An' go back to your shit an' start writin' harder."
METHOD MAN'S GUIDE TO THE CLAN
Prince Rakeem, a.k.a. The Rza
"This is how Rza hit me. Rakeem is like, he's a bugged nigga. He's a organised confusion ass nigga too, 'cos he uses mental instruments to cause shit. Like, he can take one word an' he can fuck with U-God like this on some 'blaasy-blah-blah-boom-boom-boom'. Then fuck wit' me later on with some 'blaasy-blah-blaasy-boom', then me an' this nigga have a confrontation on some argument shit. But Ra instrumented the whole shit, but we don't be thinkin' like that. An' he'll sit back an' watch it. Then he'll say some word or somethin' an' leave you thinkin', damn! He's a complex nigga. His whole mind is like a game o' chess."
Inspector Deck, a.k.a. Rebel INS
"This nigga's bugged. He's a funny nigga. He could see all of us sittin' in this room right now talkin' an' shit, an' you'll forget he's here. But he'll be watchin' you the whole time. The whole time, inspectin' everything you do. Then later on he'll be cryin' on some joke shit about you. He's a funny nigga."
"This nigga, he's the gritch. He gonna be a grumpy ol' man. Every word. I mean, he wake up in the mornin' on some 'Fuck you! Kiss my ass! Suck my dick!' I mean, hey, this nigga, he's a grumpy ol' muthafucka. He okay today, but when he gets mad, man, he gets mad. An' he gets mad a lot."
The Genius, a.k.a. The Gza
"He's like...he don't argue. When we all together an' shit, it depends on how everythin' is. If brothers is arguin' over shit that's goin' wrong with the company he'll sit back, wait, wait, wait, wait...then he'll speak, an' take us the fuck outta here. Ain't nobody got nothin' ta say after that. Everybody listens to that nigga 'cos they know when he speak it's gonna be some shit. We all talk shit, snappin' on some shit, but he's kinda like the old guy of the group. He reminds me of like the oldest uncle an' shit! He be like some old grandfather!"
"He's the true master. He pulls you, like Rakeem, but he does it in a physical and a mental way. Like, he pulls strings to make you just wanna bite him in his face, or instead just kiss him 'cos you love the shit out of him sometimes. He has alot o' fire inside o' him. He's a very intelligent person, but sometimes, to get somebody's attention, you gotta lick a shot in they ear, like Bam! Listen to me! Basically that's what he did [with Cheo H. Coker]. When he's around his family he's got mad love for 'em, but when he's around strangers he gets back in his killer mode. He's observant of everything, he watches brothers, he analyses shit before he gets into it. He's a complex nigga an' shit."
Ghost Face Killer & Shallah Raekwon, a.k.a. The Chef
"Ghost is a funny nigga too. He's an alcoholic. Nah, nah, maybe not alcoholic exactly, but he like to drink, though. Ghost is like...he that hard nigga. Him and Raekwon, I'm gonna describe both o' them together 'cos they shoulda been brothers. They think they're the major niggas an' the flyest niggas on the planet, they comin' through wid labels on 'em – Guess this, Karl Kani that, Polo this. They just figure they they're the major niggas, an' you always gotta have a nigga like that around you. He make you feel good 'cos he feels good."
"Then there's me. I'm a clown, man. I'm like the Fresh Prince out the park. Nah, I ain't gonna compare myself to that nigga! I smoke the most, right? But also I just bug off life, period. I mean, I take a regular situation an' just say some shit out o' the blue. It ain't necessarily gotta be funny to anyone else, but I laugh! Plus I like to have fun all the time. Even if we're havin' a meetin' about some serious situation I'll come out with some dumb shit, an' niggas'll look at me like I'm a crazy mo'fucker. If this was a rock band, I'd be the drummer."
Ol' Dirty Bastard
"Ol' Dirty's the type o' nigga, he'll dig in his nose, right, then five minutes later he'll stick his hand in your bag o' potato chips. Or, or, he the type o' nigga who'll, like, say you got a fifth over here, right, he'll be in there talkin' at you till your shit is gone. Then he'll see his other man over here, an' he sees this nigga got a whole fuckin' case o' Moet, so he's in there! You can see right through his shit if you know him. He like that little kid on the block that just don't give a fuck. Jump in a mudhole with his Easter suit on just to do it. He's a bugged individual, man. When it come to his women...nah, I ain't gonna go into that! No, when it come to them fuckin' chicken-heads, man, he's bugged. They love him, too. He's the don. He's a major mo'fucka. He's the don when it come to the women."