Wu-Tang Clan
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Biography
Emerging in 1993, when Dr. Dre's G-funk had overtaken the hip-hop world, the Staten Island, New York-based Wu-Tang Clan proved to be the most revolutionary rap group of the mid-'90s and only partially because of their music. Turning the standard concept of a hip-hop crew inside out, the Wu-Tang Clan was assembled as a loose congregation of nine MCs almost as a support group. Instead of releasing one album after another, the Clan was designed to overtake the record industry in as profitable a fashion as possible -- the idea was to establish the Wu-Tang as a force with their debut album, and then spin off into as many side projects as possible. In the process, the members would all become individual stars, as well as receive individual royality checks.

Surprsingly, the plan worked. All of the various Wu-Tang solo projects elaborate on the theme the group laid out on their 1993 debut, the spare, menacing Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Taking their group name from an powerful, mythical kung fu sword wielded by an invincible congregation of warriors, the crew is a loose collective of nine MCs. All nine members work under a number of pseudonyms, but they are best known as: the RZA (formerly Prince Rakeem, as well as the Rzarecta, Chief Abbot, and Bobby Steels; b. Robert Diggs), Genius/GZA (a.k.a. Justice, Maxi Million; b. Gary Grice), Ol' Dirty Bastard (aka Unique Ason, Joe Bannanas, Dirt McGirt; b. Russell Jones, circa 1969), Method Man (aka Johnny Blaze, Ticallion Stallion, Shakwon, Methical, the MZA; b. Clifford Smith), Raekwon the Chef (aka Shallah Raekwon, Lou Diamonds; b. Corey Woods), Ghostface Killa (aka Tony Starks, Sun God; b. Dennis Coles), U-God (aka Golden Arms, Lucky Hands, Baby U, 4-Bar Killer; b. Lamont Hawkins), Inspecta Deck (aka Rebel INS, Rollie Fingers; b. Jason Hunter), and Masta Killa (aka Noodles; b. E. Turner)

Although he wasn't one of the two founding members -- Genius/GZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard were the first -- the vision of the Wu-Tang Clan is undoubtedly due to the musical skills of the RZA. Under his direction, the group -- through its own efforts and the solo projects, all of which he produced or co-produced -- created a hazy, surreal and menacing soundscape out of hardcore beats, eerie piano riffs, and minimal samples. Over these surrealistic backing tracks, the MCs rapped hard, updating the old school attack with vicious violence, martial arts imagery, and a welcome warped humor. By 1995, the sound was one of the most instantly recognizable in hip-hop.

It wasn't always that way. Like most rappers, they began their careers trying to get ahead whatever way they could. For the RZA, that meant releasing a silly single, "Ooh, I Love You Rakeem," on Tommy Boy Records in 1991. On the advice of his label and producers, he cut the humorous, lover-man single that went absolutely nowhere. Neither did the followup single, "My Deadly Venom." The experience strengthed his resolve to subvert and attack record industry conventions. He found partners in Genius and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Genius had also released a record in 1991, the full-length Words from the Genius on Cold Chillin', which was preceded by the single "Come Do Me." Both records were unsuccessful. After the failure of his album, Genius teamed with an old friend, Ol' Dirty Bastard, to form the crew that would evolve into the Wu-Tang Clan within a year.

The RZA quickly became part of the crew, as did several other local MCs, including Method Man, Ghost Faced Killa, Raekwon, U-God, Inspecta Deck, and Masta Killa, who rarely raps. The nine rappers made a pact to a form an artistic and financial community -- the Wu-Tang Clan wouldn't merely be a group, it would be its own industry. In order to do this, they decided to establish themselves through a group effort and then begin to spread the word through solo projects, picking up additional collaborators along the way and, in the process, becoming stronger and more influential.

The first Wu-Tang Cl
 
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