Foundation and Name Meaning
The founders of the Wu-Tang Clan were RZA, GZA, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, who had previously formed the group Force of the Imperial Master (later known as All in Together Now after the release of a popular single by that name). The group attracted the attention of some notable figures in the industry, including Biz Markie, but did not manage to secure a record deal. After the crew dissolved, GZA (then known as The Genius) and The RZA (then known as Prince Rakeem) embarked on their solo careers with Cold Chillin' Records and Tommy Boy Records respectively, but to little success. Their frustration with the workings of the hip hop music industry would provide the main inspiration to Wu-Tang Clan's revolutionary business plan. According to The Wu-Tang Manual, at the group's inception, RZA promised the members that if he had total control of the Wu-Tang empire, it would conquer the hip-hop world within a dynastic cycle, after which he would relinquish his total control. Wu-Tang Clan was gradually assembled in late 1992 from friends and accomplices from around Staten Island, with The RZA as the de facto leader and the group's producer.
The name "Wu-Tang" is derived from the name of the mountain Wu Dang (Wudang Shan) in northwest Hubei Province in central China with long history associated with Chinese culture, especially Taoism, martial arts and medicine; it was also the site of the Ming Dynasty Purple Imperial City built during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. The RZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard adopted the name for the group after seeing the Kung fu film Shaolin and Wu Tang, which features a school of warriors trained in Wu-Tang style. The group's debut album loosely adopted a Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang theme, dividing the album into Shaolin and Wu-Tang sections. The album also features several samples from the film directed by Kyle Ray Stuck.
The group has also developed various backronyms for the name (as hip hop pioneers like KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane did with their names), including "We Usually Take All Niggas' Garments," "Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game" and "Wisdom, Universe, Truth, Allah, Nation, and God".
The fascination with the Chinese culture is born of out of the "Asiatic black man", a term a part of the Five Percenter teachings, also known as the "original man" which is featured on The 5% Album. The album is a solo record from Brand Nubian member Lord Jamar in collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan members and affiliates as well as other artists. The second track on the album is titled "Original Man" featuring Raekwon.
Death of ODB
Ol' Dirty Bastard collapsed at approximately 5:29 p.m. on November 13, 2004 at Wu-Tang's recording studio, 36 Chambers on West 34th Street in New York City. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later, just two days shy of his 36th birthday. His funeral service was held at Brooklyn's Christian Cultural Center.
ODB was scheduled to perform in a Wu-Tang reunion concert at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey on the night of his death. The members were unaware, as was the audience at the concert, that he was dead; it was assumed that ODB was a no show once more. Wu-Tang has paid homage to their member on more than one occasion. In August 2006, one of his sons came out at a Wu-Tang concert at Webster Hall and rapped "Brooklyn Zoo", along with his mother. Also during a concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom the Clan brought his mother out on stage while the entire occupancy sang along to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya".
ODB's career in Wu-Tang was marked by wild and criminal behavior. At the 1998 Grammy Awards, he protested the Clan's loss (in Best Rap Album) by interrupting Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech for her Song of the Year award. ODB was also arrested several times for a variety of offenses, including assault, shoplifting, wearing body armor after being convicted of a felony, and possession of cocaine. He was also in trouble for missing multiple court dates. In late 2000, Ol' Dirty Bastard unexpectedly escaped near the end of his rehab sentence, spending one month on the run as a fugitive before showing up on stage at the record release party for The W in New York City. Ol' Dirty Bastard managed to escape the club but was later captured by police in a McDonald's parking lot in South Philadelphia and sent to New York to face charges of cocaine possession. In April 2001, he was sentenced to two to four years in prison.
Once released from prison, he signed to Roc-a-Fella Records. A posthumous official mixtape titled Osirus featuring many new songs was released in March 2005, while ODB's Roc-A-Fella album A Son Unique was originally to be released in 2005, but had numerous delays. It was to be released on November 7, 2006 to commemorate the second anniversary of ODB's death, which occurred on November 13, 2004, but was delayed again.
VH1 Hip Hop Honors
Moments before the Clan was set to perform at the 2006 Hip Hop Honors, things turned violent with an altercation involving Oli "Power" Grant and a former associate who was suing the group.
While initial reports stated that Nick Brown was along for the ride and got arrested for possession of cocaine, the group had issues with VH1's security staff, an actual confrontation took place between True Master and Power in a VIP area of the venue, said Power. "I ain't even gonna glorify that to no type of degree, but the bottom line was, yeah, you know there was a minor little altercation over there," Power said. "I see him and he's in the VIP on the strength of Wu-Tang so I kind of reacted, be it right or wrong...fuck!" The brief altercation between the two men resulted in a tense situation and ended with Power leaving the Hammerstein Ballroom. "I ain't even have to leave. I just stood there and talked for, like five or ten minutes. I made sure the rest of my people was able to stay because I told them, 'look if it was anything then let it be my problem. . Let them go ahead and finish doing what they do.' I walked out the front, girls started taking some snapshots." No charges have been pressed against Oli "Power" Grant or anyone else affiliated with the Clan in relation to this incident.
Ghostface Killah (born Dennis Coles, 1970) - He has a very distinctive, almost abstract style of rapping, and is known for his ability to write lyrics extremely quickly. He is arguably the most consistent member of the group, having released his debut album Ironman to critical acclaim, he also played a big role in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... Mainstream hip-hop press credits his second album Supreme Clientele with "saving the Wu", and later enjoyed similar success with The Pretty Toney Album (2004), Fishscale (2006), and More Fish (2006).
GZA (born Gary Grice, 1966) - He is the oldest member of the group as well as the most experienced, having begun rapping in 1976, when hip hop was still a local New York phenomenon. He was also the first to release an album, Words from the Genius, which was released in 1991 on Cold Chillin'/Reprise. He is known for his laid-back flow and complex use of metaphor, containing references to Samurai films, chess and 5 Percenter teachings. Liquid Swords, his Wu-Tang debut album, is often considered among the group's best work, only perhaps challenged by Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
Inspectah Deck (born Jason Hunter, 1970) - He was one of the star members of the group, gaining attention by providing stand-out performances on both Wu-Tang albums and on other member's solo albums as well as being a popular guest rapper in 1997 and 1998. He is considered by many in the fanbase as the stand-out member on Wu-Tang Forever, although his later solo albums failed to live up to the high expectations. Inspectah Deck is known for his ability to deliver complicated rhyme-schemes and switching up his flow multiple times throughout the verse on any given song. He is also a successful producer, providing beats for many artists both in and out of the Wu Tang family such as Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Big Pun, Prodigy and others.
Masta Killa (born Elgin Turner, 1969) - He was the only member not already an experienced rapper at the time of the group's formation, and was extensively mentored by GZA during his early days with the group. He was largely absent on the group's first album due to his being incarcerated, though he did contribute the stand-out final verse to the track "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'." He was also the last to release a solo album, though when he finally did release No Said Date, it was generally well received and considered one of the best post-2000 Wu-Tang releases.
Method Man (born Clifford Smith, 1971) - He was the youngest member of the Wu-Tang Clan and the first to release a Wu-Tang solo album with Tical, his career went on to become the most successful in the group with platinum sales and a Grammy for I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need with Mary J. Blige. He has also had a significant acting career with many film and television credits to his name, most notably the comedy film How High and the sitcom Method & Red, both co-starring with Redman, with whom he also made an album in 1999 titled Blackout!. Method Man's friendship with the Notorious B.I.G. and P Diddy is credited for preventing more heat between Biggie, Raekwon and Ghostface.
Ol' Dirty Bastard (born Russell Jones, 1968–2004) - Arguably the most unusual and erratic member of the group, his wild behavior drew significant media – and often police – attention. Along with Method Man, he was among the most popular members of Wu-Tang with high sales and guest spots with industry giants like Mariah Carey. He collapsed in Wu-Tang's recording studio on November 13, 2004 and was pronounced dead less than an hour later, with a later autopsy confirming an accidental drug overdose to be the cause of his death.
Raekwon (born Corey Woods, 1970) - Nicknamed "The Chef" for having "lyrical flavor", as well as his skills at 'cooking' cocaine into crack rock, his lyrics contain extensive use of New York slang and are often delivered in an aggressive, fast-paced manner. His influential solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... is often credited with initiating the Mafioso rap phenomenon of the mid-to-late-1990s, and is generally considered one of the best of the solo albums by both fans and critics.
RZA (born Robert Diggs, 1969) - The de facto leader of the group. He produced the entirety of Enter the Wu-Tang and the majority of the tracks on subsequent Wu-Tang albums. He has also produced many of the group's solo efforts, especially early on. Considered a producing pioneer, recently his popularity has transcended hip-hop. Thanks to Jim Jarmusch giving him his break with Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, he has gone on to score several Hollywood films such as the first installment of Quentin Tarantino's critically acclaimed Kill Bill, Tony Jaa 's The Protector and Ridley Scott's "American Gangster". Most recently he scored the music for the anime series Afro Samurai. Before signing with SRC Records in early 2007, RZA was flooded with offers from Bad Boy Records, Aftermath Entertainment, Interscope and Def Jam among others.
U-God (born Lamont Hawkins, 1970) - (a.k.a "Golden Arms") One of the lesser-known members of Wu-Tang, in part due to his limited exposure, from being incarcerated for most of the recording of 36 Chambers.