Reviews

Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan

Andrew Winistorfer

Lyrical brutality, dry, amazing beats, a colliding of nine of the best MCs to ever rock a mike (well, maybe not Masta Killa), and the best personalities in hip-hop.


Wu-Tang Clan

Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan

MPAA rating: N/A
Label: Paramount
US Release Date: 2008-11-18
Amazon
iTunes

Imagine for a moment, that in 1965, in an effort to get better record deals, bigger notoriety, and more money, Frank Zappa, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, Cream, the Yardbirds, the Beach Boys and James Brown joined forces to form a super group that went on to move millions of records as a unit and as individual entities. Imagine the ego clashes, the in-fighting, the disastrous tours and the drug use.

That story, minus roughly 30 people, happened in the early '90s when the Wu-Tang Clan—RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa—nine rappers from the Staten Island projects who had trouble breaking through into the mainstream, decided to pool their collective talents and attack the mainstream through sheer numbers. The group had considerable albums sales together and apart, over 20 million sold, but experienced recriminations, break-ups, in-fighting, and the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Even after a reunion last year that produced the mostly Ghostface-less 8 Diagrams, and probably due to the amount of people involved, there hasn’t really been a definitive telling of the Wu-Tang Clan story. Sure, the group’s back story is mostly filled-in, but larger questions like Why is most of the group mad at RZA?, Why is Ghostface never around any more?, What led to the group’s break-ups, and fights?, Is it money, production issues, or what?, and how come no one visited ODB in the clink?, still go unanswered.

A new documentary, Wu: The Story Of The Wu Tang Clan hopes to fill in the gaps in the Wu-Tang Clan story with archival footage, new interviews with journalists, hangers on, and a few Wu-Tang members. Unfortunately, it ends up more like a brief primer on the group’s background, glosses over conflicts, spends too little time on anyone not named ODB, and is too sparse to cling to the “official story” tag it bears on its cover.

The greatest success of Wu is the extensive portion spent on the formation of the group and the highlighting of how unorthodox it was to have a group of nine rappers. Hip-hop’s success, much like solo pop music, is predicated on the allure of the personalities of the performers, and Wu-Tang would seem to be personality overload, but it somehow worked. Plus, the group emphasized the bars that each rapper was rapping more than any semblance of a pop-hook, providing a template for word-conscious rappers ever since.

Then the documentary loses its focus, jumping to the group’s first two albums (Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Wu-Tang Forever), the details of their recording contract (they signed to one label as a group, but individuals could pick whatever label that would give them a deal for solo albums), a lengthy tour in the late-‘90s (that’s importance seems to solely be that the documentary’s director, Gee-Bee, was able to secure, or shot some, of the footage), a quick flyover of the group splintering (for this part we rely on a posse member and a journalist interviewed who say, yeah, they had conflicts), before resting on ODB’s prison sentence and early death, ignoring most of the rest of the group for the last 15 minutes.

The documentary climaxes curiously with ODB’s death, with a couple members of the Wu entourage wishing that the group would get back together in the aftermath of ODB’s passing. A screen at the end of the flick tells us that they did, in 2007, but mislabels the album that the group released as 8 Diagram, missing the “s”.

The last section of the documentary is briefly focused on the acting careers of Method Man and RZA, and the solo success of Ghostface, before closing with a wrap-up of all the players involved, including, strangely, the career of Gee-Bee, who makes sure to shoehorn his legacy into that of the Wu-Tang Clan (in fairness, he did direct an early music video, “Protect Ya Neck” which is included in the paltry extras here).

The muddled focus does more than derail Wu at the 20-minute mark, it removes from it any significant importance. The crux of the problem is that Gee-Bee focused his film on the archived, “never-before-seen” footage he had in the tank, instead of focusing on the true story of the Wu-Tang Clan.

If Gee-Bee had kept his eye on the prize—the “complete” story and importance of the Wu-Tang Clan—instead of altering his focus to fit whatever old footage he had, Wu could have been an illuminating project. It could be that Gee-Bee’s success was hampered by the lack of new interviews from Wu-Tang members (only Raekwon and RZA have what appears to be new interviews), but then this shouldn’t have been longer than a 30-minute “where are they know?” segment on VH1.

There is a silver lining to the release of the DVD, however, and that’s that Loud Records has released a CD soundtrack, also titled Wu: The Story Of The Wu Tang Clan, that collects 16 Wu-Tang songs and is a much better legacy piece than the DVD. The album features Enter The Wu-Tang prominently (the first six tracks, half of the album), but also has ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” Ghostface’s “Daytona 500,” “Run” by affiliate Cappadonna, and “Triumph” from Wu-Tang Forever. Essentially, just about every great Wu-Tang song recorded before 2000 (minus anything off of GZA’s Liquid Swords, perhaps the best Wu-Tang solo album).

By ignoring the superfluous solo albums and new Wu-Tang songs, the CD captures perfectly what the Wu-Tang was about: lyrical brutality, dry, amazing beats, a colliding of nine of the best MCs to ever rock a mike (well, maybe not Masta Killa), and the best personalities in hip-hop. For a Wu-novice, the CD is a near-perfect primer. Even if the DVD doesn’t do an adequate job of filling in the story, the CD reminds you why should care about the Wu-Tang Clan in the first place.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image