1. Popular music today isn’t complex enough to be misunderstood
Let’s face it. The idea of a band of young, black rappers named after a style of kung-fu reciting lyrics heavy on cuss words and drug references made our parents uncomfortable. But revisiting their work as adults 20 years later, we hear an audio encyclopedia of 1990s world pop culture, Staten Island-centric but extending to all corners of the world. From the obvious references to Hong Kong cinema to New York City drug life to Vegas gambling, Dorothy Hamill, the Olympics, Guns of Navarone–the list goes on and on–these guys were cultural encyclopedias. Not to mention the obvious evidence that the Wu definitely didn’t skip their World Civilization classes in high school (how many artists do you hear on the radio today that know who Judas, Henry VIII, Genghis Kahn or Constantine the Great are?). And that’s just from a single Ghost verse (“4th Chamber” from the GZA’s Liquid Swords album).
2. The focus today is increasingly about fast money
I’m not saying this in a “when I was your age” kind of way…there’s nothing wrong with doing something with the intention of getting paid. And there’s never been an artist who wasn’t interested in getting paid for his or her craft. But do the math. The best Wu offerings featured up to 10 rappers (if you include Cappadonna). But you’re still just paying $12 bucks for the CD, $25 bucks for the concert–and that has to be split up. These economics just don’t mesh with the money grab mentality of today.
3. The RZA is an underrated gem of a musician
Though the musically-aware know The RZA is one of the all-time great producers, he doesn’t have the popular name recognition enjoyed by the likes of The Neptunes, Timbaland, Kanye, etc. But the man responsible for creating what many consider the best movie soundtrack of all time (see Kill Bill), is a genius. During the Wu days, he produced a truly one-of-a-kind sound; nobody else experimented with the drum patterns and odd twists of unheard-of instruments that he did. And next time you nod to a K.West beat, don’t forget who he acknowledged as the father of the style he has mastered.
4. Audience attention spans are too short
This ties in with Point 2, but can we realistically expect to ever see an album like “Wu-Tang Forever” again? It is a double album, featuring 27 tracks, of which 20 or more are straight studs. With today’s cash grab practice of releasing an album every year, 20 stud tracks would be fodder for 4 or 5 albums. I remember the buildup when Forever was released–I actually faked sick from my second period class in the 12th grade so I could be at the store when it opened on the day the album dropped.
5. Protect Ya Neck
Q: Could this be one of the best rap songs ever? A: Yes, yes it could be.
Could this also be one of the greatest? I know I’m not the only one out there who can still spit every word of this gem 17 years after it dropped.
7. The last verse of “Winter Warz” by Cappadonna (and oh so many other verses by everybody)
To think, this guy wasn’t even part of the “A” lineup?
8. Who can come up with words like “discumbumberate”? (See Item #7)
9. Quality control
Yes, the Wu only released two real albums as a group. But its members released several “solo” albums, which were actually so full of participation by other members that they might as well have all been labeled “Wu-Tang Clan.” And by and large, these albums were every bit as good. Some, such as Ghostface’s “Ironman”, Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” or the Genius’ “Liquid Swords”, were every bit as good as the group albums top to bottom. Where The RZA is in charge, you’ll be getting quality music.