By Jeffrey Marcus
The Wu-Tang Clan didn't release its debut album a quarter-century ago for fans to explore only two or three of the 36 chambers. The celebrated rap collective's "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" presented a fully formed universe of kung fu-inspired hip hop to be experienced uncut.
“When we create a body of work, I like that everyone, they heard the body of work," said Ghostface Killah, one of the group's nine MCs. But that may not be how most people listen to music now, with the rise of streaming services.
Ghostface Killah was rueful: "I’m going to paint this picture for you, but yet you’re going to dissect it and take just one?”
Four members of the Wu-Tang Clan shared with Cheddar's Hope King how the expansive ethos of their 1993 debut album ー complete with imagined Shaolin culture and deeply textured lyrics and soulful samples ー remains their signature, even if the music business has fractured.
“Streaming definitely started off with bad economics but those economics are starting to balance themselves out,” said RZA, a founding member of the group.
Though the Wu-Tang Clan maintains its attachment to the album format, Cappadonna, another of the group's MCs (remember, there are a lot of them) said streaming services offer an important route for up-and-coming artists.
“It’s just putting it all out there, the streaming, the music, and creating more avenues for a lot of MCs and artists that don’t have a real chance to get their music heard,” he said.
RZA, however, questioned whether these young artists have the substance to add to the hip-hop canon, one song at a time.
“Hip hop is something that makes people entertained, provides avenues of economics for a lot of families, it expresses the culture of America, black culture, and also the diverse culture that America stand for and that's now the world culture," said RZA. “Hip hop is doing its job, but it could use some more substance.”
“Words should also contain wisdom,” he added.
The Wu-Tang Clan had that wisdom, real and invented, from the start, on albums that borrowed mystique from the legends that inspired kung-fu movies and soul music samples overlaid with intricate, often funny and boastful rhymes.
"Wisdom is an accumulation of experience, and some of these hip-hop artists haven't experienced what we've experienced," RZA said. "By the time we were 19, we experienced about 40 years of life."
For the full interview, click here.