The Wu-Tang Clan is a pioneering hip-hop group that perfected the art of rapping about things they've done, which you thought were all lies--then found out you were wrong when you were a police officer, tried to pull over ODB and were shot at by him.
The RZA a.k.a. The Abbott a.k.a. Bobby Digital
The Man: RZA, or Robert Diggs, is the founder/producer of the Wu-Tang Clan and the architect of the sound behind their explosion in popularity. You may think that counts as his Badass Achievement of the Century, but no. Not content with creating some of the most incredible beats in hip-hop, he also lays down some of his own psychobabble vocals from time to time, and a lot of the time they actually make sense. If you feel that making sense is hardly an accomplishment, keep in mind that from 1997 to around 2003 he was addicted to weed laced with PCP.
Pictured: the effects of PCP
The Myth: On his breakthrough single, "How to Rob," 50 Cent threatened to run up on RZA and jack him for his funny-ass rings (pictured above). Now ask yourself for a moment: does the idea that Mr. Digital would sit back and take that shit strike you as mythical? It does us. Also, would you really want to be caught in a dark alley mugging a guy who's studied Kung Fu, and whose first punch could knock out one eye and most of your teeth?
The Legend: According to himself, during his shermed-out years Bobby built--using his own rapidly-accruing wealth--an armored suit capable of withstanding AK-47 machine gun fire, so that he could go out and fight crime on the streets armor-plated-Batman-style. Unfortunately, the vastly expensive armor was stolen in an act of comic-book-worthy criminal ballsiness. Ask yourself for a moment which is more terrifying: the idea of a random criminal with an AK-proof deathsuit or a millionaire rapper careening about NYC like a version of Will Smith's Hancock fried on Angel Dust.
The GZA a.k.a. The Genius a.k.a. Maximillian
The Man: GZA, also known as Gary Grice when no one's looking, is RZA's cousin and one of the lyrical backbones of the Wu-Tang clan. He was also one of the only two (along with Method Man--more on that later) that had his own solo track on the group's debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. When he later got the chance to record a RZA-produced solo album, it was considered one of the best rap albums of all time. That might be enough of an accomplishment...if you want to ignore his two-decades-plus-long career in a genre that sees Eminem-level stars come and go within periods of two-to-four years. Also, if you want to ignore that pair of giant guns he's shoving in your face right now. We sure don't.
The Myth: There are no myths about this man, he is 100% raw sexy mystery. Although again, that might just be those gigantic pistols talking.
The Legend: Again according to RZA, during their teenage years he and Grice were trapped in an abandoned building, alone and unarmed, by a group of gang members. Weilding nothing but a Shriners cap, the nickname of Genius and an intimate knowledge of Five Percenter lessons, GZA walked out--still unarmed--and talked mystical gibberjabber at them until they wandered away empty-handed. Okay, so it's not a bulletproof suit of armor...but if a normal human being could pull that shit off, every Rabbi in New York would be bulletproof.
As it stands we have only this guy.
Ol' Dirty Bastard a.k.a. Ason Unique a.k.a. Dirt McGirt
The Man: Cousin to both RZA and GZA, ODB was the Wu's loose cannon--literally. He was known for his lyrical prowess (namely unleashing relentless torrents of crack-feuled nonsense-speak upon unsuspecting listeners). Dirty passed away in 2004 of an exploded motherfucking bag of cocaine--mixed with a painkiller called Tramadol, no less--in his stomach. Before that he was in and out of jail, usually stemming from humdrum, everyday charges like shooting at policemen for pulling him over, being caught with crack, and escaping from rehab facilities (multiple times!).
Want it to get creepy? He died days before his 36th birthday, which holds special significance in the Clan's Divine Mathematics-based numerology system, as evidenced by the titles of both the Clan's debut and his own first album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.
The Myth: Apparently, the late Mr. Bastard was one of the most incredibly unlikely ladies' men the world has ever seen. We're talking truly Zeus-like-mythical proportions here, as in having a veritable cornucopia of children spread out over different women. If he came upon a woman with a boyfriend at a concert, he would introduce the guy to the rest of the Clan. Then, while the poor fuck was sitting there all starstruck, Dirty would take his girl in the back and bang her silly. All of the Clan members maintain that he had a hidden wisdom about him, and if that doesn't say unseen mystical powers, we don't know what does.
The Legend: If you believe the news stories, when he was caught with vials of crack in 1999, ODB asked the cops to "make the crack vials disappear," asserting that it would hurt his image as a role model. The sheer black-hole-spawning density of balls required for this is almost unimaginable. "Hey, officer? Mind chucking that rock down a drain somewhere? Or smoke it yourself, I don't give a fuck. I got an image to maintain here." Really, rest in peace, but a role model for what? Having dozens of kids with a handful of women, spending long stretches in prison, and dying early from a massive overdose?
Method Man a.k.a. Tical a.k.a. Johnny Blaze
The Man: As mentioned, Meth was the only other member of the Wu that got a solo cut on Enter the Wu-Tang. He has a propensity for marijuana perhaps equaled only by Snoop Dogg himself, and his extroverted style made him RZA's choice for the first Wu-Tang Clansman to get a solo album, namely Tical. Since then he's gone on to become a celebrity of massive proportions, posterchild for pot, and generally the class clown heir apparent after the death of ODB.
The Myth: We are told that Method Man will "tie you to the bedpost, put a hanger on the stove, let it sit there for like a half hour, then stick it in ya ass real slow, like SSSSSSSS" but we don't really know. And we don't want to find out. But tell us that 30 minutes of watching a wire hanger glow red-hot on a stove wouldn't prompt you to give him all the weed and malt liquor he wants, plus his run of your girl if he felt like it.
The Legend: In 2009, Meth's famous, eponymous Jeep was repossessed for failure to pay over $50,000 worth of income taxes. His response? "Myself, I'm a pothead. It's no secret. Everyone knows that. I go on the road and forget everything else." Sure, mister tax collector, take my Jeep, fuck it. Want a hit off this blunt?
Ghostface Killah a.k.a. Ironman a.k.a. Tony Stark
The Man: Ghostface is one of the two Wu-Tang members devoted almost exclusively to reliving Scarface as closely as possible with a minimum of getting ejected out of gigantic bay windows by the sheer force of all that machine gun fire.
So many bullets.
He was forced to wear a mask during public appearances early on, because of an outstanding warrant. Also, back when the Wu-Tang would have to brawl their way out of the underground NYC clubs they performed in, Ghost would take on five guys by himself. This terrifying aspect is best summed up by his own appropriately ridiculous words, "Gorilla, injected with strength of eighty midgets."
The Myth: Common wisdom has it that Ghostface doesn't like self-aggrandizing pricks talking shit about his Clan. It's rumored that he's beat up no less than two of the highest-profile rappers (for their respective eras) at the drop of a hat: apparently he slapped the crap out of Ma$e back when he had millions of dollars, breaking his jaw. Also, when 50 Cent was just starting to rise in popularity, Ghost allegedly pushed him down some stairs for that slick talk in "How to Rob."
The Legend: Back in 2007, when most of the Wu-Tang were expressing heavy dissatisfaction with RZA's production work on their fifth group album 8 Diagrams, Ghostface also politely suggested that RZA's production company was coming up severely short with his motherfucking royalties. Seeing as how he had a solo album of his own coming out, and shit like this drums up nice publicity for guys like him who just don't give a fuck, he forced RZA to push back the group album a week just to accomodate what was technically the group's own side project. Then he took the head and founding member of his group to court, won the amount he claimed, and then went on to outsell his own group's album, which he also got paid for, seeing as how he was on it and all.
Raekwon the Chef a.k.a. Shallah Raekwon a.k.a. Lex Diamonds
The Man: Just stare at that picture for a second. Don't try to estimate how much marijuana is sitting on that table. Don't try to tally up how much it must cost. Just stare.
Can you tell that Raekwon is the other guy in the Wu obsessed with a certain Al Pachino portrayal? We thought you could. Raekwon's solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, was assisted by Ghostface Killah (it was more of a collaboration album, really) and is considered--even moreso than Liquid Swords--to be one of the greatest rap albums ever created. Seriously, people are still calling it an album that set the bar, when in this day and age "instant classics" like Tha Carter III are utterly forgotten about a year later. Go ahead; Google "best rap albums of all time." I defy you to find a list that doesn't include Cuban Linx somewhere.
The Myth: Close friends and family say he might have a weed problem, but we don't believe it.
The Legend: We've already mentioned his groundbreaking debut. Well, fourteen years later in 2009, after two all-around duds and four full years of putting off the project, he put out Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II to some heavy critical acclaim and kicked off a wave--no, a monsoon--of rappers putting out poorly-crafted sequels to their "classic" debut albums. So it's kind of a mixed blessing, but hey, the total amount of successful rap sequel albums for 2010-2078 will probably include one: his.
Inspectah Deck a.k.a. Rebel INS a.k.a. Rollie Fingaz
The Man: Inspectah Deck was, for a long time, considered the lyrical pinch-hitter of the Wu. One verse of his could make a single, but unfortunately for him, nobody can really listen to him on a whole song. There's really nothing else you can add to that.
The Myth: Deck continually claims that his next album will be his last one, and also continues to claim that RZA will be producing half or all of it. This is about as mythical as it gets.
The Legend: Legend has it that after the recording of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Liquid Swords, 36 Chambers Studios, the basement studio of one Bobby Digital, flooded out. An entire album's worth of RZA beats recorded for Inspectah Deck's album was destroyed. What with both RZA and Deck being at the top of their game at the time, to rap fan this is the equivalent of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola never getting together to film a little movie called The Godfather: sure, we get on fine without it, but we will never know what could have been.
Masta Killa a.k.a. Jamel Irief a.k.a. Noodles
The Man: That's the most badass picture of him we could find. Not because he's a vegetarian--but because he's probably the only PETA member who could sneak into your room in the night and murder you without a trace. Apparently, Masta Killa decided to model his diet after his nickname, unlike RZA, who modeled his nickname after his debilitating drug habit. Masta Killa wins.
The Myth: According to Killah Priest, the only reason Masta Killa ended up in the Clan and Priest ended up chasing RZA for spare change was because during the recording of the last song for 36 Chambers, Priest fell asleep writing his verse instead of recording it. That is possibly the weakest excuse for not joining a legendary group imaginable.
Jimmy Page: "You guys go ahead, I'm gonna catch a nap."
The Legend: Unlike Killah Priest, Masta Killa pulled off a pissed-reporter-flinging-shoes-at-Bush-level moment of badassery when he completed and recorded his vocals that night. You see, Killa was the only member of the Wu-Tang Clan who didn't even know how to rap when they met. That's like you walking up to John Lennon, picking up a guitar and becoming the fifth Beatle.
U-God a.k.a. Golden Arms a.k.a. "Who?"
Har har...I couldn't resist.
The Man: There is nothing you need to know about U-God. No one cares about him.
The Myth: Like Inspectah Deck, U-God has claimed RZA would fully produce his next album. Fans took a hearty laugh when RZA instead announced he'd be doing GZA's next album Liquid Swords II and Nas' next album. And picking up his mail, taking out his trash--you know, important things.
The Legend: Despite barely having talent to begin with, which quickly ran dry, and routinely putting out the worst albums known to the entire Wu-Tang discography (which includes an Alexandria-sized library of side projects that are affronts to Jesus), U-God is still a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. That is some truly legendary shit.
Despite a truly mind-boggling level of output, there are only a handful of albums that you really need to know about. Those are listed here.
Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Yes, that is a pretty intimidating and badass album cover. Keep that in mind, because that cover basically sums up the entire sound of the album. It's basically a nine-MC brawl over Kung Fu samples. This was the first anybody ever heard of the Clan, and it sold around 500,000 with a total lack of promotion from any label, on the back of two smash-hit singles. This album is notable because it's the most united the Wu-Tang would ever be; their subsequent group albums are nothing special. RZA said of this album, "I didn't know it at the time, but there was an influence of cocaine over this project. Maybe you can hear it?"
We'll give you a hint:
The best part is the ice cream's description, just above this text.
Method Man's debut album, and the first solo album from the group. On this album, Meth sounds like that guy at the party that everyone loves, until he shanks a motherfucker in the kitchen for smudging his Pumas. Needless to say, it makes for some great hip-hop.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
This is the legendary album that we covered earlier. It kicked off not only Raekwon's career, but Ghostface Killah's. We like to imagine that this favor has resulted in countless groupies and drugs that Ghost has thrown Rae's way over the years.
Again, a badass cover. Sadly, the Wu-Tang's music would decline along with the quality of their albums' cover art--a correlation, perhaps? Liquid Swords, GZA's debut, ended with a song by Killah Priest (all by himself!) called Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (or B.I.B.L.E., if you aren't quick on the uptake), which is the maximum amount of shine that Priest has ever achieved. The album also has classic beats and rhymes, for the listening pleasure of anyone who thinks they can be beat (which they can't).
Returning the favor, Ghostface featured Raekwon all over his own debut album, Ironman. He also slapped Cappadonna all over it for some reason that might have to do with the amount of drugs and bitches Cappa was throwing his way for the privelege. Also it probably worked out: when Cappadonna eventually had to cut his losses and become a cab driver, he must have given Raekwon and Ghost rides around New York City for free.
This is GZA's fourth album, Grandmasters, fully produced by the legendary DJ Muggs. Sure, the Genius sounds like he's sleepwalking through most of the tracks, but the lyrics themselves and the beats are top-notch.
Masta Killa's first album, No Said Date, was released in 200-motherfucking-4. A full eleven years after the group's debut. Was he bitter? No--Masta Killa managed to rope together the then-disparate threads of the Clan and put 'em all on his album, the first album in...fuck it...a long time to do so. Also, many fans hold that it salvaged the popularity of the Wu during a time when everybody had (foolishly) decided to forget about them. Remember, we're talking about the guy who didn't learn to rap until he was hanging out with a legendary group, and who waited over a decade for exactly the right time to make his mark on the world. Also, just marvel at that incredible cover art.
Raekwon's fourth album, the sequel to his debut. Originally it was meant to be produced by RZA, but when Rae was feeling slighted by the producer for the production on 8 Diagrams, he stripped the project of all but three of the man's beats. That's fine, because he tossed the rest of the album to luminaries like J. Dilla, Erick Sermon, Pete Rock, Marley Marl and Dr. Dre. Also, he kept fans waiting for four years--an ungodly amount of time for hip-hop fans to wait for absolutely anything, much less a highly-anticipated album. We like to think he was establishing a criminal empire, getting involved in gory shootouts over cocaine, and shooting his best friend for marrying his sister, just to get into character.
You know the members and you know the classics. Here are some things you didn't know, and guys, we promise that if you've ever had problems growing facial and chest hair and not being beaten up for your feminine wussiness, after reading these factoids you will become a normal-sized version of Paul Bunyan.
RZA & co. set up shop: Before the Wu-Tang Clan was formed, this rap shit wasn't really working out for one Robert Diggs. Did he pack up and get a job washing dishes or some shit? Fuck no! He hopped an Amtrak down to Steubenville, Ohio with a briefcase containing a gun, drugs and some Five Percenter lessons.
Not RZA's haul...we imagine there would be more swords and Chinese bitches.
During their stay in Steubenville, the Clan ran shit gangster-style. When RZA was hit with an attempted murder charge, which carried a prison sentence of eight years--which, by the way, would have precluded even the possibility of any Wu-Tang Clan--did he hire a pussy-ass lawyer? Again, fuck no! He represented himself--in an attempted murder trial--and beat the case. Only then, presumably more than satisfied with the mind-boggling power of his jury-pummeling genius-brain, did he move back to New York and put together a genre-redefining rap group.
GZA & RZA in sketch comedy: The two cousins and the de facto foundation of the Wu-Tang have appeared in a few instances of comedic media, including one of the better segments of Jim Jarmusch's Coffee & Cigarettes, alongside the incredible Bill Murray, who arguably has some superpowers of his own.
Bill Murray: the 10th Member of the Wu-Tang Clan
They also put in appearances on Dave Chappelle's show a couple of times, including the classic skit, "Wu-Tang Financial." The awesomeness involved in that clip is enough to tip the scales away from 100 what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking-Raekwon decisions to do songs with the likes of Justin fucking Bieber.
RZA & Quentin Tarantino: After befriending the avant-garde filmmaker, Tarantino contracted RZA to score his 2004 comeback duo of movies, Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2.
Ol' Dirty Bastard vs. LL Cool J: Ladies Love Cool James contacted the most erratic rapper from the Clan to record some music, just one example in a long history of questionable decisions by Mr. Cool J. Predictably, Dirty was fucked up on something or other (probably several different examples of something or other), and took a piss on one of LL's platinum plaques. He was then thrown out of the studio...but the fact that he had all of his teeth and bones intact--or, well, the same number of teeth and unbroken bones he brought in with him--verifies Dirt McGirt's baffling powers of not getting his ass kicked.
Honestly, have you seen LL Cool J?
RZA vs. U-God: At one point, disgruntled with what he felt was lack of attention within the Clan, U-God went on the radio and publicly aired out the group's business, threatening to leave the group. The result? RZA called in and pretty much told him, "fine, go ahead. Fuck you." The two have since made amends, but nothing has really changed...Uey continues to be passed up for RZA beats to this day.
RZA thinks rappers are superheroes: Amongst recent talk of producing Nas' next album, RZA described going onstage in Hawaii to do a song with the Queensbridge rapper. During the interview, he dropped this little jewel: "It was kind of ill because I think hip-hop artists are like mutants and shit, like the X-Men or some shit. To see us all getting along with each other and showing positive energy, it's a real good thing, man." It's nice to know Bobby Digital hasn't completely given up on his PCP-feuled dreams of fighting crime.