It’s been a while since the Wu-Tang Clan had a hit song. And this is not a front on the Wu, either. Failing to have a ubiquitous radio-friendly record or a semi-unanimous classic album on the charts in recent years does not negate what the gods of rap have done for the culture. From clothing, slang, movies, pushing self-taught knowledge, timeless albums, and arguably, the most unique sound in hip-hop, the nine-member crew have left their killer bee stings on all corners of the world. But in this fickle music industry, you’re only as good as your last hit, and the golden Wu-Tang era is long behind us.
The ghetto motley crew’s most influential music was released more than twenty years ago (Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Liquid Swords, Supreme Clientele, Wu-Tang Forever, and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, to name a few). So when “The Triumph” rappers released their eighth studio album last week (Oct. 13), The Saga Continues, many Wu fans were overcome with a bit of anxiety. We don’t want our heroes to drop duds and take an embarrassing fall from grace.
But Wu’s frontman, Zig-Zag-Zig Allah, a.k.a. RZA, has a trick up his sleeve. The 48-year-old entrepreneur/rapper/producer/actor/filmmaker allowed his longtime protégé Allah Mathematics to guide the direction of The Saga Continues. Not that Bobby Steels doesn’t have the ammo to complete the album. He’s still, and will forever be, one of the most skilled beatmakers in hip-hop. Bobby Digital is just letting his fellow god breathe a little bit. Math’s extensive catalog includes bangers like “Mighty Healthy” (Ghostface Killa) and “Wu-Banga 101,” (Ghostface Killah) “Mean Streets” (Raekwon),” Stick Me for My Riches” (Wu-Tang Clan), and many others. So the Jamaica, Queens native is qualified and ready for the job.
Recently, RZA and Mathematics stopped by VIBE‘s base of operations to discuss The Saga Continues, its lyrical content, the lukewarm response to 2014’s A Better Tomorrow, and more.
VIBE: Math, you studied Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 before going into this project. What did you learn from these vastly different projects?
Mathematics: I picked up certain things that I never acknowledged before. The use of different sounds, the beginning to the end–the completeness of those albums. I’m grateful and I really took the time to benefit and learn from him [RZA] also. But as far as studying Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), it’s like you in a fight, and you trying to block, you’re going to get caught because he’s going to catch you with something you didn’t see. It was like that. With Chronic 2001, I acknowledged a lot of instruments used by Dre. And the sounds. I studied the use of space and Dre’s drums. His drums are different from our drums. I took pages from each one of those albums and added that to what I already knew.
You’ve produced a lot of tracks over the years. Does this feel like your biggest project to date?
Mathematics: Oh yes. But I’ve never done it in this capacity. This level. And even the knowledge that I had of music today, I didn’t have then. I had a drive, a passion. I wanted this to be as tight as I could make it, and get out. It’s like you got a backed-up nut and you want to get it off.
How would you compare this project to other Wu-Tang albums?
Mathematics: I will let the fans do the comparisons.
RZA: I wouldn’t compare it to another album, but I would say that within what’s going on today in music, it’s great to have some Wu-Tang energy injected into 2017. It’s great that in this time I can turn to a great modern Wu-Tang album with modern verses talking about the concepts of what’s happening today. Like when [Inspectah] Deck said, ‘My price hikin’ like the pills Martin Shkreli sells.’ That’s what I’m excited about–hearing our take on today’s culture and putting them into our metaphors.
A lot of arguments can be made about the best MCs, and we’re still doing that. But I’ve believed that Wu-Tang has the most unique sound in hip-hop.
RZA: I’m not going to be egotistical and say that Wu-Tang is the best. Even if I take that out, Wu is definitely unique. One lyric from Wu can spark an entire movie.
RZA, with Math overseeing the project, was it also a case of the teacher learning from the student?
RZA: Oh definitely. Not only his talent of chopping up sounds or having bands to remake them but his idea to run them through the filter–the ASR–was genius. I’m like, ‘Damn, why didn’t I think to do that with A Better Tomorrow?’ When I first heard the music, I was like ”Oh sh*t.’ You get that spine-tingling in your back.
With Wu, there have been times where unexpected members stepped up on your tracks and make Wu even more interesting. For instance, U-God came through on Ghostface’s “Black Jesus.” Any surprises like that on this album?
RZA: You’re right, with the Wu you never know. Even with Built Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. It’s Rae’s album, but Ghost came in like Joe Pesci on Goodfellas. This one, I think Meth came through. And I’m happy to hear the lyrical content that Meth is giving on this.
Some people were not happy with A Better Tomorrow, but when I discuss that album, I tell folks that you guys are grown men now, husbands and fathers.
RZA: Not just grown, but we’re past that. In all reality, we could do that if we wanted to. But why do that? Because you’re not living that. I’m going to front, every once in a while… I may say some ignorant sh*t. But to have to hear me rap about crack and guns, that means I haven’t evolved. But to hear me say, ‘If I put my fist through the face of a racist/Smack ’em tasteless/Would I face three cases in court, locked in places/Or shackled to a seat of a bus, a hundred of us/Life in America shouldn’t be so tough,’ that’s what’s going on.