[10 August 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
There are two maxims that seem to apply to hip-hop and the music business: Rappers have the shelf life of week-old milk, and hip-hop tours are either creative or financial disappointments - or both.
But the Wu-Tang Clan seems to be bucking the odds. The pioneering nine-piece Staten Island outfit that hit the scene in the early `90s sporting kung-fu cool, surreal lyricism and a spare, haunting sound that upended hip-hop expectations is back together and generating wide interest - despite its often-chaotic history, including the death from a heart attack of Clan madman Ol’ Dirty Bastard in 2004.
The Clan is headlining the Rock the Bells multi-act rap tour, and it recently shared the stage with political rockers Rage Against the Machine in California and New York. A documentary about one of the group’s concerts, also called Rock the Bells, was released last week, and a new album is due in the fall.
For a group that always seemed on the verge of collapse - Method Man stars in HBO’s “The Wire,” Ghostface Killah co-stars in the upcoming “Iron Man” movie, RZA is a film-music composer (“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”), and nearly everyone has solo CD projects - all this activity is a little surprising. Though GZA (aka The Genius) says he wasn’t at all shocked to find himself working with his old comrades again for their first group studio disc since 2001.
“We were planning on doing an album for years,” says GZA (pronounced JIZ-uh) by phone from a Boston tour stop. “Some of us went out to L.A. about two years ago to record, but some people didn’t show up. We went for it again and then, boom, it happened. I think maybe some of our schedules were more flexible this time. I could always work around (other people). I’m not filming a movie or on location every day.”
He also says, despite the vagaries of competing personalities, there haven’t been any ruffled feathers. “We get along the same. It’s not like one member doesn’t like another or they don’t want to be around the other. We’re still under one roof. We stay in the same hotel. When we’re onstage, there’s no problem whatsoever. We all move as one.”
GZA is also not surprised that, in an era when hip-hop acts often have trouble filling venues, Wu-Tang Clan appears to still be a draw. “Wu-Tang is a group that has a cult following,” he explains. “Wu-Tang is looked at like the Rolling Stones of hip-hop. Come on, 14 years later, we’re on a roll in front of thousands of people. It might not be 60,000 people - though if it’s a festival, it might - but we can put 10,000 people in a place without a problem.”
Which brings him to the topic that really turns his blood to battery acid: mainstream hip-hop today. “Don’t get me wrong. Some of us (in Wu-Tang) rhyme about cars and clothes, and that’s what the current state of hip-hop is,” he explains. “But you can have a radio hit today and it’s gone tomorrow and no one remembers it 10 years from now. But you take a song like (Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 hit about street life) C.R.E.A.M. and it’s telling a story, and so many people can relate to it.
“Hip-hop is going to be what it is, but, as lyricists, it’s time to lay it down. It’s not about being preachy or being a professor and saying don’t smoke and don’t party. But it’s about educating and entertaining. ... I don’t knock material rappers, but let me hear it in a different way. How many songs do I have to hear about rims on a car? It’s ridiculous. There’s no substance. It’s a hollow shell.”
GZA says that ODB’s death didn’t cause any of the remaining members to think of putting the Wu-Tang reunion on hold. “We miss him greatly, and he was a major talent,” GZA begins, “but he wasn’t even on the last two albums. He was always missing. ... We got used to not having him around. Now, it’s reality.”