The Wu-Tang Clan is among the most iconic hip hop formations that helped shape the 90s the way we remember them today. This legendary rap group is, in fact, by far one of the strongest influences in the genre and has become a symbol of old school hip hop, with millions of fans and followers across the world. Even to this day, the Wu-Tang Clan is dubbed to be one of the pillars of the golden age of hip hop, sculpting today’s most popular music type and paving the way for younger artists.
Anyone, who grew up in the nineties, even those as far from the hip hop lifestyle and genre as can be, are well aware of these giants of East Coast gangster rap, whose fame and accomplishments put them well in the category of legends of the music world. And what’s most important is that all of the individual Wu-Tang Clan members, whom we all very well know by name and for their independent work and who are their own wholesome artists, are just as important to the genre separately, as they are as a group. We’ve dedicated this list to some of the least-known and most interesting facts about this old-school hip hop formation and its members.
15. Why The Masks On The First Album Cover?
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is truly one of hip hop’s most remarkable albums ever released. It is regarded as one of the top most influential ones in the genre and is also thought to have paved the way for a number of artists that rose to fame after the album’s creation, like The Notorious B.I.G, Nas, Mobb Deep and even Jay Z. This was Wu-Tang’s first official album and it definitely sealed their name in the history of rap. But have you ever wondered about the album cover? The picture, in which six figures are lined up, standing behind one another, wearing stocking masks?
Well, the idea actually came as a sort of necessity, as a result of a no-show of some of the members. As photographer Daniel Hastings shared in an interview, three of the group’s members did not come to the shoot, for whatever reason. Something that would later become a sort of trademark of the group (more about that later). But, as this was a fresh formation, nobody could guarantee the success of which, they couldn’t take the chance of investing even more time and money and had to work with what they had. Thus, Hastings came up with the grand plan of hiding their faces and instead emphasizing on Wu-Tang, as opposed to the individuals in the group. So, thanks to the photographer’s creativity, the cult album had a cult cover to go with it. Also of note, the famous Wu-Tang Logo was supposedly first drawn by DJ and producer Allah Mathematics, an old friend of GZA, and frequent collaborator.
14. Method Man Is A Notorious Gamer
And a pretty good chess player, as well. Who would have known?! Well, not only does the famous rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member love to spend his time playing video games, it’s also very likely that if you’re a gamer, too – you may have played with him. Yes, and that side of him first became known to the public with the craze over SOCOM, when a player called ICU emerged and started drawing other players’ attention with the fact that he was just so brilliant. So, as you can guess, that great player was no other than Method Man himself. But rest assured, that’s not the only game he’s been playing and today you’re likely to catch him under the name of MethodManGWF on XBox Live. And since we mentioned chess, we should by all means also let you know that Method Man was so into it that he had even set up what he called “the world’s first online chess and urban social network”. Sadly, however, the site no longer exists anymore.
13. Their Name Comes From A Movie
Those curious about why the Wu-Tang Clan chose that particular name for themselves are sure to know about this. But for those still unaware – the band was named after the 1983 Hong Kong martial arts movie Shaolin and Wu Tang (also called Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang). If you haven’t seen it yet (which any real Wu-Tang Clan fan should, by the way), the film is about two rivaling martial arts schools, one called Wu-Tang, the other – Shaolin. In fact, the rappers were so inspired by the film that their entire first album is a tribute to it. Some of the tracks on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) actually feature audio samples from the English version of the movie and not to mention the fact that the album is divided in Shaolin and Wu-Tang sections.
12. Final Album Won’t Be Released Till 2103?!
No, the Wu-Tang Clan doesn’t plan to be to still be alive and making music nearly a century from now. At least, not that we know of. However, there is an album of theirs, comprised of thirty-one tracks that have never been heard yet and the band has made sure that none probably will. We’re guessing this is a way of ensuring that their legacy lives on for at least some reasonable time after they are no longer. Or who knows? Maybe there’s an even higher purpose to this move? Be it as it may, though, the fact of the matter is that this mystery album called Once Upon A Time In Shaolin exists in a single vinyl copy and was recorded in secret over the course of six years. After this, it was kept in a vault in Morocco until it was auctioned last year to highest bidder Martin Shkreli, for $2 million, making it the most valuable album in existence. And here comes the catch: according to the legal agreement, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is not to be commercially released for 88 years from that date, or not until the year 2103.
And if you’re disappointed to hear this, so were some of the band members. Method Mad spoke openly out against the decision to put a commercial ban on the album, but RZA stood his ground, arguing that this would preserve Once Upon A Time In Shaolin as a work of art and will maintain its integrity. On the brighter side of things, the album might potentially be released for free listening next year. Fingers crossed!
11. They’re Older Than You Think
Strange thing with celebrities, especially those you grow up with and maybe even look up to, in a sense – they don’t seem to age in our minds. No matter how much time passes, they’re still stuck in that place in time when you first got to know them. Ready for the reality check then? Though they’re all pretty much around the same age, the youngest member, Method Man, is today… 45 years old. U-God, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck are each 46 years of age, while Masta Killa, Cappadonna and de facto leader RZA are now at the mysterious age of 47. If it weren’t for his unfortunate death in 2004, Ol’ Dirty Bastard would have turned 48 years old this month, only two years younger than the group’s eldest member – GZA, who reached the half-century mark in August.
10. RZA, ODB and GZA Go Way Back
Speaking of the eldest band members, its de facto leader, GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard actually knew each other before Wu-Tang and were, in fact, already making music together. Back then, the three of them formed a band and called themselves FOI: Force of the Imperial Master. And though they were pretty well-received, even by local writers, they somehow never managed to get signed by any label. What we know of their work today is a single called ‘All In Together Now’, featured on New York mixtapes. Thus, the FOI: Force of the Imperial Master trio gradually started adding new members and eventually formed what is now known as the Wu-Tang Clan.
9. Method Man Stopped Biggie Beef From Escalating
Everybody knows that the Wu-Tang Clan had their beef with other famous rapper The Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie. There were plenty of diss tracks to illustrate just how unfriendly things were, but the truth is that this was so because of only two members of the group: Raekwon and Ghostface. Out of all the nine band members, these are the only ones, who didn’t like Biggie Smalls, and you can find proof of this in those very same diss tracks. Method Man, who was friends with Biggie, even mentioned, that Ghostface and Rae were the only ones to dislike the Notorious B.I.G., but, according to him, they never really liked anyone anyway. But seeing as the band took the stance of any and all of its separate rappers, if those two had a feud going on – so did the rest of the formation. Nevertheless, Method Man did play a big role in not allowing the beef to escalate.
8. Entire Group Rarely Perform Together
Remember, in the beginning of this list we pointed out that three of the band members never showed up for the photoshoot of their first album cover? Well, that seemed to have set the trend throughout the whole span of their long career, as seeing all members on stage at the same time is rare, to say the least. History has its fair share of cancelled shows due to simply not enough members being there to perform. And it’s really no surprise, as with the group comprising of so many people, most of whom had their side projects and solo acts going on, conflicting schedules would be bound to be part of the equation. Not to mention that in the world of gangster rap, there are quite a few more factors that could result in someone missing their own show.
7. ODB Recorded From Prison
Wu Tang’s third studio album, The W was released almost sixteen years ago, in November 2000 and featured a number of guest artists, such as Snoop Dogg, Redman, Nas, Busta Rhymes and others. Track number six on the album Conditioner, features Ol’ Dirty Bastard, which doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that Wu-Tang’s most flamboyant member was actually doing time in California, when the track was recorded. It would appear that ODB managed to record his verse in the song, as well as the chorus, over the prison phone.
6. RZA Co-Founded Gravediggaz
Yes, the horrorcore pioneers Gravediggaz are actually RZA’s side project. The Wu-Tang Clan are known for having a variety of side projects and pretty much each of the members had their own thing going on, but Gravediggaz is somewhat special in this case. For one, not everyone knows that one of the group’s founding members and leader actually was also a part of this well-known representative of the rather small subgenre of horrorcore. But good luck trying to get RZA to comment on that nowadays – when asked, he’s usually a bit reluctant to say anything at all on the matter. However, he has mentioned that his rapping for Gravediggaz was largely fueled by his own childhood nightmares.
5. Wu-Tang Also Became A Style Icon
Well, you didn’t think that a band of this significance would only limit its influence to music now, did you? Hip hop is more than just rap, it’s a lifestyle also, which has always been made abundantly clear by artists in this genre. And what’s a lifestyle without fashion? So, to get to the point, Wu-Tang actually set a trend back in the day, with band member Raekwon introducing what is arguably the most iconic piece of hip hop clothing to this date: the Ralph Lauren Polo Snow Beach jacket. It was first worn by the artist in the Can It be All So Simple video.
4. Their Connection To The Five-Percent Nation
This should probably apply to RZA to a greater degree, but pretty much all members of the group follow Nation of Gods and Earth. To those of you, who aren’t familiar with the name, the Nation of Gods and Earth (NGE), also referred to as the Five-Percent Nation, is an offshoot of the Nation Of Islam. The teachings of NGE involve a great deal of mysticism, numerology (Supreme Mathematics), symbolism and coded language (Supreme Alphabet), which can also be traced in many (if not all) Wu-Tang songs. Hip hop is generally closely associated with the Five-Percent Nation, especially in its early days, and you shouldn’t be surprised to find that the majority of rappers of that time were NGE followers.
3. The Investigation By The FBI
After the death of the Wu-Tang Clan’s most popular member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who was known for his often erratic behavior and very unique artistic style, as well as frequent legal issues, the FBI released his file after a Freedom of Information Act request. The file revealed that the deceased rapper had been involved in a shootout with the NYPD and had allegedly to do with several murders, but ironically enough, the file also showed that the FBI were investigating the entire hip hop band as a criminal organization. The band was accused of crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking, shootings and various other acts of violence, as well as carjacking – and that’s not even the full list…
2. Influence Reached Outside The Genre
We have already pointed out more than just once in this list that the Wu-Tang Clan have proven to be a great influence, not just in music, but in other areas, as well – even fashion. But what is oddly even more fascinating than that is how their music was able to inspire and affect the work of other artists outside the world of rap and hip hop. What’s more, they were able to reach out as far as to electronic music, with big beat giants The Prodigy being among the first artists to ‘borrow’ some of their stuff. The renowned UK band used the opening of Wu-Tang’s Da Mystery Of Chessboxin for their own song Breathe.
1. Invented New Words
Raekwon’s first solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was a groundbreaking release and to this day is still regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums ever. Produced by RZA in his basement studio, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… became an instant classic from the moment it dropped, featuring Raekwon’s musical counterpart Ghostface Killah, or Tony Starks, as he appears on the album. The two rappers had discovered such an incredible musical chemistry, which is one of the key components of the huge success this piece of work still enjoys. Even the title is a reflection of their inseparable bond. Aside from its obvious musical significance, the album actually opened a whole new lyrical world and even introduced new slang words that were distinctive to the two artists. The Five-Percent language is by all means present throughout the tracks, but the two also managed to include words picked up on the New York inner-city streets. Words like boo (girlfriend) and grill (mouth) are among the most popular.