The early '90s marked a period of unrest for New York City hip-hop, as artists from the city's five boroughs struggled to compete with the new crop of emerging talent from the West Coast. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan, whose goal was to put their Staten Island stomping grounds on the map while recapturing the magic that established the Big Apple as rap's epicenter a decade prior. Comprised of RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa - with Cappadonna later joining the fold - the Wu-Tang Clan burst on the scene in late 1992 with their debut single, "Protect Ya Neck," which caught wildfire in underground circles and on college radio. The success of the raucous, hook-less posse cut caught the attention of Loud Records CEO Steve Rifkind, who inked the group to a groundbreaking, non-exclusive record deal, allowing the group's individual members the freedom to sign solo deals with competing record companies.
Months after their November 1993 Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) debut, the Wu-Tang Clan became the hottest crew in hip-hop and earned platinum status while single-handedly putting New York City on their back. Following up Enter the Wu-Tang with a succession of solo albums from Method Man, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, the Clan reached their apex in 1997 with their sophomore double album, Wu-Tang Forever, which debuted atop the Billboard 200 and was certified 4x platinum by year's end. From there, the group continued to succeed as a collective and individually, however, internal turmoil and a lack of cohesion as a unit would cause the crew to unravel, a journey chronicled in Mass Appeal and Showtime’s docu-series Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men.
The four-episode series documents each Clan member's humble beginnings, the formation of the group and their rise to fame. IWith various members speaking candidly about what led to the group's dissension, the series delivers a rawness akin to the brand of music they've presented to fans over the decades.
After watching Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men, VIBE highlights ten things learned, giving added insight into the inner-workings of one of rap's iconic collectives.
The Wu-Tang Clan's Brooklyn Roots
Often credited with putting Staten Island on the rap map, the Wu-Tang Clan are regarded as cultural ambassadors for the oft-overlooked borough. However, while the majority of the Clan's members hail from Shaolin's notorious Park Hill and Stapleton Housing projects, the crew's genesis can be traced by to Brooklyn, the home of GZA and the Ol' Dirty Bastard. As two of the founding fathers of the All in Together Now crew - which would ultimately evolve into the Wu-Tang Clan - the pair, along with RZA, originally called BK home base, cultivating their talents in GZA's neighborhood of Bed Stuy and Ol' Dirty Bastard's childhood apartment of East New York. After RZA and GZA's unsuccessful stints on Tommy Boy and Cold Chillin' Records, respectively, the trio went back to the drawing board, hunkering down in Staten Island and joining forces with the remaining members of the Wu-Tang Clan, and the rest is history.
RZA's Connection To Steubenville, Ohio
One revelation that came to light in Of Mics And Men is the significance of Steubenville, Ohio in RZA's transformation from Prince Rakeem and the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan as a whole. In 1990, RZA and his mother relocated to Steubenville, where the producer became embroiled in a fight for his freedom after being hit with an attempted murder charge for wounding two men during a shootout. "It was a bad night," RZA remembers of the intense encounter. "I had got into some trouble to whereas violence ensued. A kid got shot, it led to me facing eight years in jail. I went to the trial and black dudes don't really go to trial and win. The prosecutors wasn't making no deals with me.” Luckily, for RZA, it would be determined that he acted in self-defense and found not guilty, a moment he marks as a turning point in his life. "My mother came out and she saw me. She looked me in my eyes and said, 'This is my second chance, don't look back, walk straight. Walk that straight path.' I did that. I zigged back." Following his acquittal, RZA returned to New York City with a renewed focus, leaving his criminal exploits behind to dedicate his life to making music.
The Story Behind The Wu-Tang Clan Logo
The Wu-Tang Clan's "W" logo ranks among the most distinctive and iconic stamps in hip-hop. Of Mics And Men explores the storied history behind the logo, which was created by Wu-Tang Clan producer Mathematics at the behest of RZA. After sketching multiple variations to flesh out his ideas, a hard, 24-hour deadline set by RZA prompted Mathematics to come up with what would be the finalized version of the Wu emblem. "I went to the store, I went to the weed spot," Mathematics recalls. "I came in, rolled up, smoked. Was drinking my 40 [oz.], then I remember I sat on the floor. So, I drew it and knowing all the sketches we went through previously and all the talk, I said, 'You know what? This gotta be it." Compensated $400 - half the amount of RZA's monthly rent at the time - for his services, Mathematics would go on to earn production credits on multiple albums from members of the Wu and the group itself, but the "W" stands as his most lasting contribution to the culture.
Mitchell "Divine" Diggs' Tenuous Relationship With The Wu-Tang Clan
RZA is viewed as the face of the Wu-Tang Clan, but behind the scenes, his elder brother Mitchell "Divine" Diggs was pulling the strings, orchestrating various deals and partnerships for the Clan. A self-professed "tyrant" and callous businessman, Divine's exact role in the Wu hierarchy has long been a mystery, but Of Mics And Men helps provide context and casts a light on the shadowy figure. During the early days of the Wu, Divine played the background as a silent investor, using funds accrued in the streets to help fund the crew's endeavors. As time progressed, Divine would be brought into the fold as part of the Wu's management team, a role he flourished in, according to Of Mics And Men. "Whatever I did was the foundation to create Wu-Tang. They came to my house to make the music. RZA's my little brother. So RZA's like, ‘Okay, I'ma make all the music, you're gonna run the business,' and I go start the company. I remember I got my first Macintosh and I was like, 'What the f**k do you do with a computer? And within a month or two, I had QuickBooks in there, Peachtree, which is all basically a bunch of software for accounting purposes 'cause I'm managing the group. And I eventually just got good at it. Before I knew it, I was reading all the contracts, I was negotiating all the deals. Wu-Tang Productions started getting big, we were expanding as a company."
However, Divine's professional and working relationship with the Wu-Tang Clan became strained amid what members perceived as shady business tactics, including his refusal to release them from their contracts with Wu-Tang Productions upon request. Divine admits his hesitation to sign the paperwork, crediting his brother RZA with convincing him to wave the white flag. "I said, 'I ain't giving sh*t back,' he says in reference to giving Wu members the right to pursue other opportunities. "And RZA was like, 'Give all their rights back. Let them all go out of their contracts. If you don't let 'em go, you'll never have them.' My brother is wiser than me in that sense." The decision helped salvage the relationship between RZA and his groupmates, but led to a major hit financially, with Divine claiming to have lost an average of $10 million dollars a year in the process. According to Divine, he and the group are no longer on speaking terms, as his interview for the series were done separately from the other members, evidence of his estrangement from the Wu.
Oliver "Power" Grant's Role In The Wu-Tang Empire
Another clandestine figure from the Wu-Tang family tree is Oliver "Power" Grant, a fellow Staten Island native whom Wu member U-God describes as "A stone cold hustling machine." Despite not having any experience working in the music industry, Power, who was partners with RZA's elder brother Divine, would be summoned by RZA to get in on the ground floor of what would become the Wu empire. "Divine is my man," Power shares in Of Mics And Men. "I never really hung out with RZA, but obviously, yeah, that's my man brother. He's like, 'Yo, you still wanna do this music sh*t? We gotta do it now if you wanna do it."
Making a sizable investment in the future of the Wu-Tang Clan using funds accrued in the street, Power was listed as an executive producer on Wu-Tang Clan's debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang: (36 Chambers). Power would also play a pivotal role in helping launch the Wu-Wear clothing, which he started from the mail-order in the back of Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album. Credited with cross-pollinating the Wu-Tang Clan's music with the fashion world, Power's power moves led to the opening of various Wu Wear stores across the country, resulting in annual revenue topping out at upwards of $25 million during the group's peak years, according to Of Mics And Men.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s Music Was Allegedly Banned From Hot 97
Weeks after the Wu-Tang Clan's seismic sophomore album, Wu-Tang Forever, debuted atop the Billboard Albums chart, Staten Island's finest were tapped to headline New York City radio station Hot 97's annual Summer Jam concert. However, in Of Mics and Men, Wu member Inspectah Deck revealed that the group's appearance at the concert was the result of an alleged ultimatum made by the station itself. "Hot 97 at the time, they wanted us to do Summer Jam," he claims. "The deal was, 'You gotta come back and we gotta do this Hot 97 Summer Jam or we're not gonna play any more of your records on our station." To add insult to injury, upon the group's arrival at the venue, they discovered that the Bad Boy Records set had bled into their own, which Wu-Tang road manager Mook and the rest of the crew viewed as a sign of disrespect on the part of Hot 97. "We come out our own pocket, get our own tickets, fly back," Mook remembers. "We get to the Summer Jam, Puffy is on the stage. It was him and Ma$e." In response to the perceived slight, Ghostface Killah did the unthinkable, coaxing the crowd into a "F**k Hot 97" chant, upon which the group's mics were cut off and the stadium lights came on, interrupting their performance.
While various members of the Wu shared Ghost's sentiments, his verbal assault on Hot 97 came at a price, with the station banning the group from the station and removing their music from their playlists. According to Inspectah Deck, the Wu's beef with Hot 97 would prove to be costly and alter their bottom line as a group, as well as soloists. "They didn't play our records for like the next ten years," Deck claims. "Us not being involved while they playing the Biggie shit and they playing the Nas sh*t and everybody that was rocking with us at that time, that affected our sales. That affected our touring, that affected everything. That affected our presence."
The Fallout From Leaving Rage Against The Machine’s Tour
Rap's kinship with rock music is a storied one, with superstars from both genres having collaborated on some of the most popular songs in music history and accounted for many of pop culture's unforgettable moments. With their cult-like following garnering them the rock star status and the success of their second album Wu-Tang Forever, the Wu-Tang Clan joining Rage Against The Machine’s tour in the summer of 1997 seemed like a no-brainer, presenting the group with an opportunity to add to their audience and expand their reach even further. "Wu-Tang Forever [tour] was the first time I saw blacks, whites, Native Americans, Latins, my Asian brothers [together]," RZA recalls in Of Mics And Men. "I saw straight, I saw gay brothers and I just had an epiphany: the five human families, the black red yellow white and brown are all in one room. All rocking with us. So, I'm like this, I'm like, 'Yo, it's in my hands. These five families come together and these [hands] become our wings.’"
However, as the tour progressed, tension within the group would boil over, with members of the Wu divided on whether to continue on the tour or call it quits, a decision that partly hinged on the group's unhappiness with their compensation in contrast to Rage Against The Machine's. "People [was] going crazy for us," Mook says. “It was beautiful, but the Clan niggas was feeling like they should get more than $45,000 a night. Rage [Against The Machine] [was] getting all the money." The fallout from the Wu's decision to leave the tour prematurely would mark what many consider the beginning of the end of their legendary run as a full unit.
How Police Brutality Impacted The Group
Throughout the Wu-Tang Clan's dominant run in the '90s, the group's relationship with law enforcement was often strained, with members and their affiliates feeling targeted by the police, particularly in their home borough of Staten Island. One incident that rocked the Clan was the murder of Ernest "Kase" Sayon, a close friend of Method Man who died in police custody following an assault at the hands of police. Footage of the attack quickly spread, resulting in a string of protests in Park Hill and its surrounding areas, prompting a close examination between the history of police brutality against African American residents of Staten Island. In addition to Sayon's murder, tension between the Wu and law enforcement reached a fever pitch when Ol' Dirty Bastard was accused of shooting at plainclothed cops during a car chase, a charge that was ultimately dropped after it was determined the rapper was not in possession of a firearm during the time of the incident. These two instances, which were highlighted in Of Mics And Men, were clear indicators that even their stardom didn't protect the Wu from the harsh realities of race relations in America.
Ol' Dirty Bastard's Beef With RZA Over Signing With Roc-A-Fella Records
RZA's professional relationship with various members of the Wu-Tang Clan has been contentious, but the rift that hit home most for the producer was his spat with Ol' Dirty Bastard, who requested a release from his Wu-Tang Productions contract following his release from prison in 2003. Announcing a partnership with Damon Dash and Roc-A-Fella Records - as well as a name change to Dirt McGirt - during a press conference on his first day as a free man, Ol' Dirty Bastard's decision to switch teams ruffled a few feathers, most notably RZA, who shared his feelings on the situation in Of Mics And Men. "I did not want to sign Dirty off of Wu-Tang Productions," he explains. "I had a lot of plans for him. 'Yo, you're gonna come home, I got a home for you. I got a studio for you. You're gonna have at least a half-million fucking dollars to sit around and play with and we're gonna make the best f**king album. And that's what I had planned for him. And for him to think that anybody's gonna care about him or his music or his career or his life or his babies' life more than me is trick knowledge to me."
However, according to Ol' Dirty's mother, Cheryl Jones, her son had no choice but to part ways with his cousin due to a lack of financial stability. "He was penniless," Jones recalls. "He had no money when he came out. I called RZA, I said, 'Come on.' Everybody thought that he shouldn't have rushed back into work, but if he would've have rushed back into work, he would've been back in jail. Because if that child support wasn't being paid, they would've locked him back up again." Unfortunately, Ol' Dirty Bastard never got the opportunity to release his Roc-A-Fella debut, as the rapper passed away on November 13, 2004, from a drug overdose, snuffing out the light of one of rap's most animated figures.
Masta Killa's Connection To Marvin Gaye
Of all of the Wu-Tang Clan members, the most mysterious is Masta Killa, one of the last artists to join the Wu family. A native of Brooklyn's East New York section, Masta Killa's love for music can be traced back to his youth, where his father introduced him to R&B. "My father was a singer, he was heavy into R&B," Masta Killa shares. "And he would even come up the block singing sometimes. And when I would hear his voice, I would almost jump out the window 'cause I was excited to know that my father was coming home. So, through trials and tribulations, when he left the home for good, that was traumatic for me." However, even though he was absent physically, his father's record collection helped foster a bond between the two in spirit. "One thing he left was all his records and I would play them every day because that's how I connected with him. I remember him singing this record and I would get it and put it on the turntable and listen to it, just to remember hearing his voice."
In Of Mics And Men, Masta Killa reconnected with his father, who gave insight into the rapper's rich legacy, which includes ties to one of the legendary singers of all time, as well as an iconic revolutionary. "When he was a baby, I used to sing The Stylistics to put him to sleep,” says his Killa’s father. “He was always calm, that's his nature, but he needed that music just to put him to sleep, he'd just go right out (laughs).” Killa adds: “Music has always been our foundation in my family. With my mother, her cousin was Marvin Gaye and we had that music in the family, the arts. My mother, her maiden name was Gaye. My mother's from North Carolina and my father's from Virginia, which we are direct descendants of Nat Turner. That's his family."