“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?”