Wu-Tang Clan forever

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Old 30-Jun-2011
Wu-Tang Clan forever

In 1993, way before most members of current gonzo rap collective Odd Future could even walk, New York City's Wu-Tang Clan were busy reinventing hip-hop. At the time, the genre was dominated by west-coast rappers and G-funk, with Dr Dre and Warren G creating hypnotic, synth-heavy summer anthems that usually involved someone driving a convertible that "bounced" in the video.

By November of that year, Wu-Tang Clan's classic debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), had cast a long shadow with its lyrical wordplay referencing everything from martial arts movies to darkly humorous threats of violence. Central to Wu-Tang Clan's success form the start was Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, aka RZA and his cousins Ol' Dirty Bastard and GZA, along with six other rappers, formed the group in Staten Island.

As well as producing the majority of the Wu-Tang output (including various solo albums), RZA was also the de facto leader, outlining early not only his commitment to the group but also his business mind by creating a "five-year plan", which stated that as long as he had total control, Wu-Tang Clan would dominate hip-hop within five years.

When 1997's Wu-Tang Forever knocked the Spice Girls off the No 1 slot in America, selling more than 600,000 copies in a week, RZA was true to his word, handing over all aspects of the Wu-Tang franchise (which by this point included a successful clothing line, Wu-Wear) to his associates.

It's his idea of them being more of a family than a group that means when he goes off to act or write film scores (as he has done for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog), it's understood that he'll always return.

Directorial debut

"I'm in the middle of editing a movie right now and I'm not allowed to leave California due to contractual agreements," he says. RZA wants the film, The Man with the Iron Fist his directorial debut and produced by Tarantino to show "the creativity of hip-hop artists".

"I've always wanted to show the world that hip-hop artists aren't limited to the bubble we were put in, you know, just a bunch of guys rapping about drugs and streets and things like that," he explains.

The film is clearly important to him, but so is Glastonbury, and a deal has been struck for him to join the rest of Wu-Tang Clan last week.

"I'm doing that one more for the charitable cause of it and I got my producer to slip me out for that one," he laughs.

"I'm very aware of what Bono does; I spent some time with him some years ago and he's always given to a worthy cause and I know he's going to be part of it. I just love when artists come together for a cause other than collecting our fees."

"Jay-Z is in the same ideology that Wu-Tang is in, you know what I mean, guys that started from the bottom, that understand how it is to be at the bottom and make it to the top. There are many people who are still at the bottom and we're trying to give back."

Perhaps it's the alignment with Jay-Z, or working on the last Kanye West album, or the rise of Odd Future, but RZA seems energised by the influence he and Wu-Tang Clan have had. But he's still learning.

It's this desire to cement his legacy that's not only seen him return to his other group, Gravediggaz a horrorcore rap collective who are currently working on a new album, tentatively called Return of the Niggamortis but also bring the late Ol' Dirty Bastard's son Boy Jones into the Wu-Tang fold.

"He's an embodiment of his father, and I mean literally. When you see this kid he looks like his father, he acts like his father and this is without drinking or smoking, you know what I mean," he laughs.

"It's not drug-induced, it's natural. He actually proved a theory to me I always thought that some of Dirty's personality came from substances, but no, it's in his genes, in his blood and his son is an example of it."

In fact, Jones represents the second generation of Wu-Tang. "I hope that he has a good future in hip-hop and he can carry on the Wu-Tang legacy because he's kind of the first-born son of the Wu-Tang. Oldest child out of all the children. I think he'll be the first one to come into the world and show the next generation of Wu-Tang talent."

As well as the Glastonbury performance, there's also a new Wu-Tang EP in the works and a compilation album, Legendary Weapons.

RZA now seems as caught up in the Wu-Tang world as he ever was. Talking about the Gravediggaz reunion, he could also be talking about Wu-Tang Clan when he says: "Hip-hop is almost gone, we might as well go back and recreate it, and why not me recreate it seeing as I'm the father of it?"

Guardian News and Media Ltd

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