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Dave East And Shameik Moore Discuss Preparation For 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga'

Get into the world of Wu-Tang Clan.

“Remember that video, Triumph? That video was hard,” Dave East tells a member of his crew on the other side of the phone during our interview. The Harlemite is in Los Angeles for Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga (which debuted on Sept. 4) press showcase, where he plays Method Man in the 10-episode series.

“I could remember running home to catch the video on Rap City—that’s my favorite video to this day because nobody was doing that,” he continues. In the 1997 visual, a faux news report claims that killer bees have taken over New York City. Keep watching, and you’ll see the Clan turn into the bugs before trading in the wings for riding motorcycles through Times Square. As Meth is cruising, he leaves a rapid-fire behind him, which follows with the urgency of a bee who’s faithfully chasing luscious honeycombs.

As the world turns, I spread like germ/Bless the globe with the pestilence, the hard-headed never learn/ This is my testament to those who burned,” he rapped during the ordeal.

If you’re unfamiliar with Method Man, those three lines infer he’s a lyrical acrobat. Meth’s prophetic analysis of those who go against the grain is more often than not accurate. His intellectual approach at piecing the world with philosophy through books and street-smarts is what appealed most to recruiting Dave East to play him.

“Meth was very serious, focused smart and intelligent,” he says. “Meth had a regular job and sh*t like that. He really didn’t want to hustle in the streets. He had to do it, but he was more against it. A lot of people were about that life, but Meth really wanted to get his music off the ground.”

Wu-Tang: An American Saga chronicles the group’s gritty beginnings on Staten Island where the ‘90s crack infested New York served as the backdrop of their origin story. Viewers see RZA (known at the time as Bobby Diggs) form the legendary group, as others like Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coleman), GZA (Gary Grice), Raekwon (Corey Woods), Method Man (Clifford Smith), and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Jones) dabble in and out of rap stardom and the streets. The program highlights the drug battles that occur between two sides of the hill on Staten Island. There’s Stapleton and Park Hill Projects on the island’s North Shore—an intersection where the drug-laced mayhem occurred.

Other members like Inspectah Dek, U-God, Masta Killah, and Cappadonna joined the group at a later point. In the confines of fame and musical success, their lives changed. 

“I feel like dealing with the business slowed me down more,” Meth told VIBE in 1997. “But there ain’t nothing better than waking up in the morning and knowing you ain’t doing anything illegal, that cops have no reason to f**k with you, and your rent is paid.”

Two years before Shamiek Moore was born, Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993. In American Saga, he plays Raekwon a.k.a. “The Chef,” which is a steep departure from his life experiences at 24 years old.

“In real life, I’ve never touched crack cocaine so they call him a chef for a reason,” he laughs. “It was quite interesting to do that and there were memorable moments like I just shot a gun or blew up a building. It’s a bunch of things that are not really me, Shameik.”

Despite Moore treading unfamiliar waters, he excelled at portraying his character. RZA echoes these sentiments. “He just has a natural ability to absorb the material and spit it out,” RZA said to BET. “I really saw him as somebody who could really translate what’s on the page and the art. I got a chance to direct him and I saw how well he is at being the instrument.”

Moore (The Get Down, Spider-man: Into The Spider-Verse, Dope) says his conversations with Raekwon and listening to 36 Chambers helped him to get into character. “It’s gutter, it’s the original Wu. RZA picked up a stick and he would hit the wall, bang! bang! and record it. So we’re listening to these sounds that sound so edgy,” he says of the album. “Some things are super distorted and we don’t even pay attention to them. It’s just like, ah it’s grungy and it just fits the image of what Wu-Tang represents. It’s organic.”

That sense of raw talent is what inspired Dave East to follow his rap dreams and fueled his appreciation for how the Clan created authentic art that reflected their dangerous, less desirable realities.  

“Wu-Tang was going through it. They didn’t come from great homes or families,” he says. “They really came from hard beginnings so it just made me reflect on my own situation. If Wu-Tang was able to make it, why can’t I?”

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Studio Finds No Inappropriate Behavior In 'Rookie' Afton Williamson Allegation

Back in August, former "The Rookie" star Afton Williamson publically outlined claims of bullying, harassment and sexual assault against the head of the show's hair department. Taking to Instagram, the actress alleged Sally Nicole Ciganovich and guest star Demetrius Grosse as the culprits. However on Tuesday, (Sept. 17) Entertainment One released a statement stating after an investigation was conducted, there was no proof to any of Williamson's claims. Williamson, took to social media to blast the findings.

“It’s heartbreaking for everyone on that set, past, and present, and for every actor out there who stands in the face of harassment, discrimination, assault, and injustice,” Williamson wrote. “As a black woman, an artist, an actor, in 2019, my speaking the truth, standing up for myself, and leaving an unsafe work environment changed things for a lot of people: black women, artists, actors, victims, and survivors of injustice and discrimination.”

Demetrius Grosse’s attorney, Andrew Brettler, called Williamson's claim "completely meritless."

"My client was libeled all over the media before any of the claims could even be verified. No one should publish serious allegations like these in such a reckless manner. Demetrius lost multiple jobs as a result of being falsely accused. We’re glad that the investigation has been completed and are grateful to eOne for its unwavering support. Onward.”

In a separate statement, ABC expressed gratitude the investigation was over.

“We are glad that eOne has completed an investigation into allegations on the set of ‘The Rookie.’ We are confident that eOne takes these matters seriously and that they will continue to look for the best ways to surface concerns and address complaints.”

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'Hustlers' Inspiration Wishes Cardi B Portrayed Her Instead Of Jennifer Lopez

Critics and fans have fawned over Jennifer Lopez's strong performance in Hustlers but one important figure wasn't impressed.

Speaking to Vanity Fair Wednesday (Sept. 17), Samantha Barbash admitted she enjoyed parts of the film that were inspired by her life, but most of it–like many adaptions of real-life events–was fabricated. Barbash refused to give her film rights to the producers of the film, leaving them to rely on the infamous New York magazine feature for the screenplay.

Barbash and former friend Roselyn Keo were arrested in 2014 for allegedly drugging men and stealing upwards of $200,000 from them during their employment at Scores, a gentlemen's club in New York.

Barbash pleaded guilty to conspiracy, assault, and grand larceny and served five years of probation. Keo took a plea deal in exchange for no jail time. The ladies reportedly indulged in the finer things in life with the money like cards and Hermes bags. The women have defended their actions after claiming the clients were beyond degrading in the club.

As Barbash watched the film with her family over the weekend, she was shocked at the inaccuracies. She tells the outlet that producers offered her "pennies" to be included in the film. She also says she never talked to Lopez about the role.

“I’m a businesswoman. J. Lo doesn’t work for free. Why would I? At the end of the day, I have bags that are worth more than what they wanted to pay me," she said. "She had my birthmark that I have. I used to have a piercing on the top of my lip. She had it on the bottom. She had a tattoo on her finger. I had it on my wrist.” But her mannerisms? No. I am nothing like that in person.”

The portrayal of her working relationship with Keo was also inaccurate, Barbash said. Social media posts of them partying together reflect a loving friendship but Barbash insists the film take on Keo (named Destiny and played by Constance Wu) was a lie. “She wasn’t a friend—she was a coworker.… There was no sisterhood—it was business and that’s it,” she said.

But the now-business owner praised Cardi B's performance. Although the rapper isn't in the majority of the film, Barbash wishes she was. “Her 10 minutes was a great 10 minutes…It’s funny because, when I first heard that the film was coming out, [my business partner] said [she wished] Cardi would have played me," she said. "Even though she is not an actress, she was in the strip club world and she gets it. She would have maybe played a better me. Not taking away from Jennifer. But just because Cardi was in the business.”

Hustlers proved to be a hit at the box office, grossing over $33 million in its opening weekend. Lopez has also received critical praise for her performance which could turn into nominations in the awards sector next year.

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Stanley Nelson Lays Bare The Complicated Cool Of Miles Davis

Miles Davis had it. Whatever it was, Miles Davis was the sole proprietor. The aura, skill, and style that oozed from Davis’ pores helped propel the trumpeter to stardom. His musical accomplishments were only made more striking by the swagger that garnished them. Davis’ cool, projected best on stage, was an unwavering confidence with a dollop of syrupy charisma. Even his voice, a sandpaper-like whisper, which came as a result of yelling after throat surgery, weaved its way into the mythological-like figure Davis became. To be frank, Miles Davis was a cool-ass motherfucker and he knew it.

Yet underneath Davis’ cool was a man equally tormented by the second-class citizenship his country forced on him, as well as his own personal demons. Standing up to the racist government sometimes proved easier than defeating his alcoholism and drug abuse. Those closest to Davis felt his venom whenever he bit, and graciously allowed their love for him to be a balm for the wounds he left. How could the same man who composed and performed Kind of Blue be responsible for the cruelty of those who loved him so?

Well, it’s complicated.

Director Stanley Nelson lays Miles Davis bare—his good, bad, and beautiful—to a new generation while crystalizing the jazz musician’s legend to longtime fans with Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool. Nelson’s latest demonstrates Davis' complexity and all that he endured.

Nelson invited VIBE to his 5,000-square-foot Harlem office to discuss Davis. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the nearly two-hour film, Nelson offers a firm handshake and an even stronger espresso. He apologizes for not having much sugar but makes up for it with a Wicker basket full of snacks that sits atop his white granite kitchen island. I opt for cookies and sneak the last bag of white cheddar popcorn for the train ride back to the office.

As we walk past the stainless steel appliances and through the dining room, the September sun shines bright through windows striking the white living room walls. Several books about Frederick Douglass are neatly stacked on the dining room table. Nelson reveals the writer and abolitionist will be the subject of his next feature, but for now, the 68-year-old director is entrenched in promotion for Miles Davis, an artist he says “transcends music.”

In between sips of tea, Nelson explains why Davis will always be a figure worth examing,

VIBE: What is your definition of cool? Stanley Nelson: I think the definition of cool changes with the times. I think cool is a certain calmness and being ahead of the times. It’s also a certain sophistication, I think Miles Davis had for so much of his life personified.

What do you think are some of the ingredients that go into making a Miles Davis? I don’t think there are very many people, across all genres, who can compare to Miles Davis. Miles Davis did what he did for five decades and was a leader in so many different movements in music and in jazz. Miles Davis transcends music.

What do you mean when you say "Miles Davis transcends music?" Miles Davis transcended the music because he was a leader in the way he looked, in the way he dressed, in things he demanded as you can see in the film. He demanded that he be treated with an amount of respect. The fact that he had black women on the covers of his albums, all those kinds of things made Miles Davis so different from so many other jazz musicians, who we love and admire for their music. We love and admire Miles Davis for his music, but it wasn’t just the music that made Miles Davis special.

Miles was also undeniably a beautiful looking man, and this was in the 50s and 60s. Miles Davis had very dark skin which was something that was not in the general public how it was thought of, so Miles kind of flipped that on its head.

This is going to sound like a dumb question but I have to ask it anyway. Why did you decide to honor Miles Davis with this film? There are a lot of reasons for making this film. There are a lot of reasons for making any film so whenever filmmakers tell you there’s only one reason they’re probably just lying, or saying whatever their publicist wants them to say. For one, his music is so incredible I would say he is easily one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, maybe the most important, you can argue that in any genre. Two, I’m a jazz lover and three Miles Davis is a very complicated individual so it makes for a better film. It’s not a simple story. I also think as we got into the film that Miles Davis’ story isn’t only about music, but it's about being a black person in the second half of the 20th century in the United States and I think that’s what makes the film work on a different level than a lot of other jazz films.

Veering off from Mr. Davis for a bit, how do you decide which topics or events you want to turn into films? You’ve done the black press, you’ve done a story about The Black Panthers, you did a story about Emmett Till. How do you choose which one to make into a film?

One of the great lessons for me was the first film I made called Two Dollars and A Dream. It was about Madame C.J. Walker and it took me seven years to make the film and I realize at that point films can take a long time to make, to raise the money and actually get the films made, so it's really important that the film be important to me, at least, that’s part of how I think about films when I think about what to do next. I’ve also been afforded the opportunity to paint on a big canvas so I’m trying to make stories that are big. I’m not just making small stories.

Did you always have this mentality of making big stories? I think so. I think part of that was unspoken, not really something I thought of. If you make something you want it to be a success, you want it to be a big success especially if it's going to take seven or 10 years of your life.

Why was Carl Lumbly the one you picked to voice Davis? Carl Lumbly is a great actor and he’s someone that I knew. Carl did the narration for one of our other films a long time ago, so Carl is someone I thought of. We sent him a bunch of tapes of Davis’ actual voice, and he practiced and we got back to him in a week and asked him to give us his Miles Davis voice over the phone and when he did, we were like, that’s good. It wasn’t perfect, but we could make it work.

What I personally loved about the film was that you didn’t glance over Miles Davis’ bitter personality. I loved the interviews with Frances Taylor, but it broke my heart that the creator of Kind of Blue forced his dancer wife to drop out of West Side Story. Miles was not an easy guy.

That’s putting it mildly. I think it was important that we tell that part of the story. I think what makes his story so rich and emotional there’s that dichotomy with Miles. The man that made some of the most beautiful music ever created and then was so rough for so many people. How do those things exist? Miles basically ruined Frances’ career by pulling her out of this show.

Yes! He was abusive to her, and after a few years they broke up. Her career had been ruined. I think one of the things that was so great for us while making the film was that Frances was so resilient and so beautiful and so funny in the film. You realize he tried but he couldn’t break her. I should say that Frances passed away Thanksgiving of last year. It was such a joy to be with Frances and interview her.

What do you hope people who don’t know Miles Davis will take away from the film and what do you hope people who do know Miles Davis will learn? One of the challenges of making any film, especially a film about Miles Davis, some people come in thinking there’s everything to know about Miles Davis. Some people come in and say "Miles who? Why’d you drag me to the theater?" You’ve got to walk that line and tell everybody something new and also be entertaining.

My mission in this film is partly to entertain. I don’t care how much you know about Miles. If you walk into this film and it’s two hours long you’re going to learn something new, or it’s going to be told to you in a different way. Certainly you’ve never been exposed to Frances. Just being exposed to Frances in and of itself is a trip. Part of the job is to entertain and frankly, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool is in select theaters. Click here

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