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|Origin||New York City, U.S.|
|Genres||Hardcore hip hop|
|Associated acts||Wu-Tang Killa Beez|
|Past members||Ol' Dirty Bastard|
Wu-Tang Clan is an American hip hop group formed in Staten Island, New York City in 1992, originally composed of RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa. An important act in the East Coast hip hop and hardcore hip hop styles, Wu-Tang Clan are regarded as a highly influential group in hip hop. Their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), released in 1993, is considered one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
Wu-Tang Clan has released four gold and platinum studio albums. The group has introduced and launched the careers of a number of affiliated artists and groups, collectively known as the Wu-Tang Killa Bees. In 2008, About ranked them "the No. 1 greatest hip hop group of all time". Kris Ex of Rolling Stone called Wu-Tang Clan "the best rap group ever". In 2004, NME hailed them as one of the most influential groups of the last ten years.
In the late 1980s, cousins Robert Diggs, Gary Grice, and Russell Jones formed a group named Force of the Imperial Master, also known as the All in Together Now Crew. Each member recorded under an alias: Grice as The Genius, Diggs as Prince Rakeem or The Scientist, and Jones as The Specialist. The group never signed to a major label, but caught the attention of the New York City rap scene and was recognized by rapper Biz Markie. By 1991, The Genius and Prince Rakeem were signed to separate record labels. The Genius released Words from the Genius (1991) on Cold Chillin' Records and Prince Rakeem released Ooh I Love You Rakeem (1991) on Tommy Boy Records. Both were soon dropped by their labels. Embittered but unbowed, they refocused their efforts and on new monikers; The Genius became GZA (pronounced "jizza"), while Prince Rakeem became RZA (pronounced "rizza").
RZA began collaborating with Dennis Coles, later known as Ghostface Killah, another rapper from the Stapleton Houses in Staten Island. The duo decided to create a hip hop group whose ethos would be a blend of "Eastern philosophy picked up from kung fu movies, Five Percent Nation teachings picked up on the New York streets, and comic books." Wu-Tang Clan assembled in late 1992, with RZA as the de facto leader and the group's producer. RZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard adopted the name for the group after the film Shaolin and Wu Tang. Their debut album loosely adopted a Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang theme, dividing the album into Shaolin and Wu-Tang sections.
The group developed backronyms for the name (as hip hop pioneers such as 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 of the Universe, and the Truth of Allah for the Nation of the Gods".
1992–96: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and solo albums
Wu-Tang Clan became known in 1993 following the release of the independent single "Protect Ya Neck", which helped gain the group a sizable underground following. Though there was some difficulty in finding a record label that would sign Wu-Tang Clan while still allowing each member to record solo albums with other labels, Loud/RCA finally agreed, releasing their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in November 1993. The album received critical acclaim, and to date is regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. The success of Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers established the group as a creative and influential force in mid-1990s hip hop, allowing Ol' Dirty Bastard, GZA, RZA, Raekwon, U-God, Method Man, and Ghostface Killah to negotiate solo contracts. RZA spoke on the Wu-Tang Clan's unorthodox business model:
We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else's [...] We still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen Records, feel me? [...] And all these labels still put "Razor Sharp Records" on the credits [...] Wu Tang was a financial movement. So what do you wanna diversify...? [...] Your assets?— RZA
RZA was the first to follow up on the success of Enter the Wu-Tang with a side project, founding the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul and Frukwan (both of Stetsasonic) and Poetic. The Gravediggaz released 6 Feet Deep in August 1994, which became one of the best known works to emerge from hip hop's small subgenre of horrorcore.
RZA held the role of primary producer for the first wave of the group members' solo albums, producing out of his basement studio in Staten Island. In November 1994, Method Man's debut album, Tical, was released. It was entirely produced by RZA, who for the most part continued with the grimy, raw textures he explored on 36 Chambers. RZA's hands-on approach to Tical extended beyond his merely creating the beats to devising song concepts and structures. The track "All I Need" from Tical was the winner of the "Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group" at the 1995 Grammy Awards. After the release of Tical, Ol' Dirty Bastard was the next member to launch a solo career. His debut album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, was released in March 1995, and is considered a hip hop classic.
Raekwon's debut studio album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., was released in August 1995. Cuban Linx was a diverse, theatrical epic that saw RZA move away from the raw, stripped-down beats of the early albums and towards a richer, cinematic sound more reliant on strings and classic soul samples. The album is noted for reviving the mafioso rap subgenre. Cuban Linx featured all but one Wu member, and featured the debut from Cappadonna. The album also featured rapper Nas, who was the first non-Wu-Tang-affiliated rapper to appear on a Wu-Tang Clan album. GZA's debut album, Liquid Swords, was released in November 1995. It had a similar focus on inner-city crime akin to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, but it was far darker, both in GZA's grim lyrics and in the ominous, foreboding production that saw RZA experimenting more with keyboards than ever before. Liquid Swords features guest appearances from every Wu-Tang Clan member, and is linked together by excerpts from the 1980 movie Shogun Assassin. Almost a year after the release of Liquid Swords, Ghostface Killah released his first solo album, Ironman, in October 1996. The album struck a balance between the sinister keyboard-laden textures of Liquid Swords and the sentimental soul samples of Cuban Linx, while Ghostface himself explored new territory as a lyricist. Ironman was critically acclaimed and is still widely considered to be one of the best of Wu-Tang solo albums. Although the 1994–1996 albums were released as solo, RZA's presence behind the production, and the large number of guest appearances from other Wu-Tang Clan members has rendered them to be mostly all-round group efforts.
1997–2000: Wu-Tang Forever, diversification and second string of solo albums
With their solo careers firmly established, the Wu-Tang Clan reassembled to release their second studio album, Wu-Tang Forever, in June 1997; it debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. The album's lead single, "Triumph", is over five minutes long, features nine verses (one from each member plus Cappadonna and excluding Ol' Dirty Bastard who appeared on the intro and bridge), and no hook or a repeated phrase. The sound of the album built significantly on Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), with RZA using more keyboards and string samples, as well as assigning some of the album's production to his protégés True Master and 4th Disciple. The group's lyrics differed significantly from those of 36 Chambers, with many verses written in a dense stream of consciousness form heavily influenced by the teachings of the Five Percent Nation.
Following Wu-Tang Forever, the focus of the Wu-Tang empire largely shifted to the promoting of emerging affiliated artists. Killah Priest, a close associate of the group, released Heavy Mental in March 1998. That same month, Cappadonna released his debut album The Pillage. Affiliated groups Sunz of Man and Killarmy also released well-received albums, followed by Wu-Tang Killa Bees: The Swarm—a compilation album released in 1998, showcasing these and more Wu-affiliated artists, and including new solo tracks from the group members themselves. The Swarm sold well and was certified gold. There was also a long line of releases from secondary affiliates such as Popa Wu, Shyheim, GP Wu, and Wu-Syndicate. Second albums from Gravediggaz and Killarmy, as well as a greatest hits album and a b-sides compilation, also eventually saw release.
The second round of solo albums from Wu-Tang saw second efforts from the five members who had already released albums, as well as debuts from all the remaining members, with the exception of Masta Killa. In the space of two years, RZA's Bobby Digital In Stereo, Method Man's Tical 2000: Judgement Day and Blackout! (with Redman), GZA's Beneath the Surface, Ol' Dirty Bastard's Nigga Please, U-God's Golden Arms Redemption, Raekwon's Immobilarity, Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele and Inspectah Deck's Uncontrolled Substance were all released (seven of them being released in the space of seven months between June 1999 and January 2000). RZA also composed the score for the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, directed by Jim Jarmusch, while he and other Wu-Tang members contributed music to a companion "music inspired by the film" album.
The avalanche of Wu-Tang product between 1997 and 2000 was considered by some critics to have resulted in an oversaturation that was responsible for Wu-Tang's decline in popularity, or at least in critical regard during that time period.
2000–01: The W, Iron Flag and the turn of the millennium
The group reconvened once again to make The W, though without Ol' Dirty Bastard, who was at the time incarcerated in California for violating the terms of his probation. Despite this, Ol' Dirty Bastard managed to make it onto the track "Conditioner" which featured Snoop Dogg. Ol' Dirty Bastard's vocals were recorded via the telephones used for inmates to talk with visitors, while in prison. The W was released in November 2000, and was mostly well received by critics, particularly for RZA's production, and also gave the group a hit single with the uptempo "Gravel Pit", part of a trilogy of videos where the group would visit different eras with a time traveling elevator, which also included "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)" and "Careful (Click, Click)", which were then followed by "I Can't Go to Sleep" featuring Isaac Hayes. The album would go on to reach double platinum status.
In 2001, Wu-Tang Clan released Iron Flag, an album which made extensive use of outside producers and guests. Its crossover vibe and features, including Ron Isley, Flavor Flav, and prominent producers Trackmasters, marked it as a lighter fare; while critically praised, it gained a less than stellar reputation with fans. While originally featured on the cover of Iron Flag, Cappadonna was airbrushed out of the artwork and absent from the album entirely. This may be related to tension that arose within the group when it was revealed that Cappadonna's manager was, or had been, a police informant, a revelation that also brought on the manager's subsequent firing. Cappadonna would however, continue collaborating and touring with the group in the proceeding years.
2004: Legal issues, death of Ol' Dirty Bastard and resurgence
In early 2004, U-God apparently left the group in disgust. A DVD titled Rise of a Fallen Soldier was released detailing his problems, which were mostly with his treatment by RZA, who he claimed had hindered his success as a solo artist. He formed a group of young protegés called the Hillside Scramblers with whom he released the album U-Godzilla Presents the Hillside Scramblers in March 2004. The dispute culminated in a heated phone conversation between RZA and U-God on live radio, which ultimately saw the two reconcile. He has since returned to the group.
2004 saw the unexpected return of the Clan to the live stage. They embarked on a short European tour before coming together as a complete group for the first time in several years to headline the Rock the Bells festival in California. The concert was released on CD under the name Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1, and they also released a music-video greatest hits album, Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Death of Ol' Dirty Bastard
Ol' Dirty Bastard's career in Wu-Tang was marked by erratic behavior. At the 1998 Grammy Awards, he protested the Clan's loss (to Puff Daddy in Best Rap Album) by interrupting Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech for her Song of the Year award. In addition, Ol' Dirty Bastard's run-ins with the law were well publicized—he was arrested several times for offenses including assault, shoplifting, wearing body armor after being convicted of a felony, and possession of cocaine, and he missed 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. He managed to escape the club but was later captured by police in 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 a one million dollar contract with Roc-a-Fella Records.
On November 13, 2004, Ol' Dirty Bastard collapsed at Wu-Tang's recording studio, 36 Chambers on West 34th Street in New York City, and was pronounced dead later that night. Wu-Tang paid him homage a number of times: 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, and during a concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom the Clan brought his mother out on stage for a sing-along to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya".
2006–10: Fourth round of solo albums and 8 Diagrams
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2005 saw the release of RZA's first book, The Wu-Tang Manual, the release of U-God's second album, Mr. Xcitement and the long-awaited collaboration between GZA and producer DJ Muggs, entitled Grandmasters. The collaborative record received good reviews and played fairly well with fans, who by and large had been waiting for the group to improve the quality of their releases.
On March 28, 2006, Ghostface Killah released Fishscale, to much critical acclaim and some commercial success. The entire Clan, including Cappadonna and the deceased Ol' Dirty Bastard, appeared on the track "9 Milli Bros". The album also offered an expansion of Ghostface's traditional sound, precipitated by the moderately successful club song "Be Easy" and battle rhymes in the Just Blaze-produced "The Champ". After its reception from fans, label Def Jam asked Ghostface Killah to release another album that year; the result, More Fish, excited fans and critics somewhat less.
On June 25, 2006, Inspectah Deck released a street album[clarification needed] entitled The Resident Patient, a prelude to his upcoming album, titled The Rebellion, which is said to be his final solo album. Late summer of 2006 saw the release of Masta Killa's second studio album, Made in Brooklyn, to lukewarm reviews, as well as Method Man's 4:21... the Day After, on which the rapper endeavored to make up for the poor response to Tical 0: The Prequel. Around this time, Method Man was heavily featured in the media due to his displeasure with Def Jam's handling of his previous project. Despite what the rapper felt to be little promotion compared to other Def Jam artists, 421... debuted in the Billboard Top Ten, and received much greater reviews than those of his previous album. Method Man also made the decision to fall back from Hollywood, and to only do acting work on films being handled by close friends.
The summer of 2007 was the original release date scheduled for Raekwon's long-anticipated sequel to his 1995 debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, entitled Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II. The album was initially intended to be released on Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, but was eventually released on Raekwon's Ice H2O Records, and EMI on September 8, 2009, after numerous delays.
Ghostface Killah released his seventh full-length album, The Big Doe Rehab, in December 2007, and exactly one week later, Wu-Tang released their fifth group album, 8 Diagrams, on Steve Rifkind's SRC Records, whose now-defunct Loud Records released the group's four previous albums. This album marked the inclusion of Cappadonna as an official member of the group. In an interview with MTV.com, Ghostface Killah stated that he was upset with RZA for starting the 8 Diagrams project while he was in the middle of writing and recording The Big Doe Rehab, and further upset with RZA for giving 8 Diagrams the same release date as The Big Doe Rehab, for which RZA rescheduled a release date one week later. The final outcome of 8 Diagrams received mixed views from both fans and critics, and is regarded as being RZA's most experimental work to date. Both Raekwon and Ghostface Killah were unhappy with the album, and proposed recording a group album titled Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tan without RZA production. That album would eventually become Raekwon's fifth solo album Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang.
In the summer of 2008, RZA released Digi Snacks, which was another Bobby Digital album. He used the album primarily to put over lesser-known Wu-Tang Clan affiliates such as Freemurder, Killa Sin, Black Knights, and others. The summer of 2008 also saw the release of GZA's album, Pro Tools.
Almost a year later, U-God released his third solo album, Dopium, which features guest appearances from several Wu-Tang members, and affiliates, among others, and was met with mostly lukewarm reviews. Released one week later was Wu-Tang Chamber Music, a side project executively produced by RZA, featuring live instrumentation from a Brooklyn soul band called The Revelations. The album features appearances from five Wu-Tang members, along with New York City mainstays AZ, Kool G Rap, Cormega, Havoc, Sean Price, and M.O.P.. The first single from Chamber Music was a track titled "Harbor Masters" featuring Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, and AZ. To clear up confusion, RZA spoke about the album to Billboard.com: "I think the Chamber Music title is very fitting. This music is totally in the chamber, or in the mind-frame of Wu-Tang like in the [Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)] days. But it's not a Wu-Tang album. The whole Clan's not on this album. But it couldn't be in any other category but Wu-Tang.
September 2009 saw the release of Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, which features guest appearances from several big-name artists, and Clan members, with Ghostface being the most prominent, and also production from RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, and J Dilla, among others. The album debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and at number 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and has been praised by most music critics. Several weeks later, Ghostface released Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, which is a hip hop/R&B album.
Talk of the album Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang re-surfaced in July 2009; originally planned as a full-on Wu album without RZA's input. The project evolved to include RZA from an MC standpoint, without contributing to production. Raekwon stated "[It'll] be alter egos challenging each other, really allowing RZA to fall back on the production and allowing us to give him a flashback memory to the things we know we need from the abbot [RZA]. We want him to be involved [with the album as an MC], but the concept was for him not to be involved production-wise". Speaking to MTV.com, Method Man revealed his, Ghostface Killah's and Raekwon's plans to record a separate album as a trio: "I don't want to say it's written in stone, but it's in discussion. I want some feedback from the fans to see how they would take that. RZA produced tracks, some other outside producers, of course, and we gonna have Wu-Tang members on the album, but it'll be a Rae, Ghost and Meth album." Soon after, Ghostface Killah cemented the details: the record, featuring other Wu-Tang Clan members, will consist primarily of him, Method Man, and Raekwon. The title, as announced in three separate trailers (directed by Rik Cordero) promoting the upcoming release, is Wu-Massacre. Speaking on their willingness to complete the album, Ghostface said the three would begin recording within the next few months and estimated the release date to be the end of 2009 or January 2010. It was then announced[when?] that the album would be pushed back from December to March 30, 2010; the single, "Meth vs. Chef Part II," was released after the announcement. Produced by Mathematics, it is an update of the song "Meth vs. Chef" from Method Man's first solo album, Tical, featuring verses by only Method Man and Raekwon. It had been confirmed by Raekwon that Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang would in fact be his next solo album and that Wu-Massacre is a separate project, while the rapper[who?] stated that he himself had petitioned to have Wu-Massacre's release date postponed in order to yield more studio time.
On February 25, 2011, Wu Tang Live At The Palladium NYC was released through the group's official Facebook page as a collectors digital download. This included exclusive, unreleased freestyles. It was limited to 100 downloads before the page was disabled after this figure was reached.
In September 2008, RZA announced that he had inked a deal with digital music company The Orchard to release the Wu-Tang Clan's back catalogue worldwide digitally, for the first time. In addition to forthcoming material, the Wu-Tang Clan's catalogue includes 13 previous releases that have been previously unavailable digitally, including recordings by the group as a whole, U-God, Wu-Syndicate, Killarmy, Shyheim, West Coast Killa Beez, Black Knights and others, and would be available online beginning September 23.[clarification needed] "The time is right to bring some older Wu material to the masses digitally," said RZA, de facto leader of Wu-Tang Clan. "Our fans have been dedicated and patient and they're hungry to hear the music that has set us apart from so many others. Hip-hop is alive in Wu Music, and with The Orchard, we've got a solid partner that understands our audience and is committed to doing all they can to help us reach the fans. I'm definitely looking forward to working with them to see what else we all come up with. There's much more to come."
2011–present: A Better Tomorrow, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and The Saga Continues
A Better Tomorrow
Members went back and forth on the issue. While GZA hinted that a new album was unlikely, the RZA said a new Wu-Tang Clan album might happen after all, on the occasion of the group's 20th anniversary, though Raekwon doubted it.
On January 9, 2013, work on the sixth Wu-Tang Clan album was announced via the group's official Facebook page. In early March 2013 Method Man announced that the Clan was working on a sixth studio album and it would be released during 2013 in celebration of their 20-year anniversary since 36 Chambers. Cappadonna has said the album is in recording process taking place in New York, Los Angeles and the Wu mansion in New Jersey. RZA has also said he had talked to Adrian Younge about working on a song for the album. On April 11, 2013, it was announced via a press release that their upcoming sixth studio album would be titled, A Better Tomorrow and was set to be released in July 2013. During late April 2013, the Clan performed at the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. On May 17, an unreleased Wu-Tang song titled "Execution in Autumn" was released for purchase through RZA's record label Soul Temple Records. They performed at the 2013 HOT 97 Summer Jam at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, twenty years after they performed at the first annual Summer Jam concert. On June 5, 2013, the first promotional single "Family Reunion" featuring Masta Killah, Method Man, Ghostface Killah and RZA was released via the Soul Temple Records website.
In June 2013 RZA said so far every member of the Clan except Raekwon and GZA had put in work on the A Better Tomorrow album and that recording was being done at the Wu-Mansion, and the Wu-Mansion West. Unreleased verses from Ol' Dirty Bastard will also be featured on the album. He also stated he was hoping to release the album in November 2013. In July 2013 Cappadonna indicated the album was half way finished. Once November 2013 arrived, RZA gave an update on the album, saying that not every member had been significantly working on the album. He gave credit to Method Man, Cappadonna, U-God and Masta Killa for working hard on the album, while saying he needed more effort from Ghostface, Raekwon and GZA. Shortly after Method Man stated that Raekwon had not worked on the album at all, and Ghostface had only recorded two songs for the album so far. In late November, RZA suggested that the album was approximately six weeks from completion. In January 2014, the group posted a message on their Facebook page, saying: "The new Wu album 'A Better Tomorrow' coming soon." After several disputes between Raekwon and RZA about the direction of the group and album, they reconciled, with the latter agreeing to record verses for A Better Tomorrow. On October 3, 2014 it was announced that the album will arrive December 2, 2014 courtesy of a new deal with Warner Bros. Records. The album was released late 2014.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
In March 2014 it was reported that in addition to work on A Better Tomorrow, a Wu-Tang Clan compilation album entitled The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin had been recorded, with Wu-Tang-affiliated producer Cilvaringz as the primary producer instead of RZA. The album, a double album consisting of 31 tracks, will not be given a conventional commercial release and only one copy has been produced; this copy will be toured in museums, art galleries and music festivals before being sold at a high price to a single individual. In August 2014, a reporter from Forbes traveled to Marrakech to meet Cilvaringz and hear a 51-second snippet of a song from the album, which featured Cher. The snippet was subsequently put on their website. The album is encased in a handcrafted silver-and-nickel box made by British-Moroccan artist Yahya and features never-before-heard music recorded over years. RZA stated he has been receiving multiple million dollar offers for the album. Despite the album's exclusivity it made an appearance in electronic dance music producer Skrillex's music video for his song "Fuck That" even though he did not purchase the project. The album was sold through Paddle8, an online auction house, for $2 million to Martin Shkreli. When the FBI arrested Martin Shkreli on December 17, 2015, they did not seize the Wu-Tang Clan album. Following the victory of Republican candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Shkreli broadcast excerpts from the album on streaming platforms Periscope and Hitbox.tv.
The Saga Continues
- RZA (born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, 1969) – The de facto leader of the group. He produced the entirety of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and the majority of the tracks on subsequent Wu-Tang albums. He has also produced many of the group members' solo efforts. He has scored several Hollywood films, such as Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, the first installment of Kill Bill, The Protector and American Gangster. He has also scored the anime series Afro Samurai. In 2012, RZA directed, co-wrote, and had a lead acting role in The Man with the Iron Fists.
- GZA (born Gary Grice, 1966) – 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, with Words from the Genius in 1991. He is known for his use of metaphor, containing references to Samurai films, chess and 5 Percenter teachings. Liquid Swords, his second solo album, is often acclaimed as the best Wu-Tang solo project.
- Ol' Dirty Bastard (born Russell Tyrone Jones, 1968–2004) – Arguably the most eccentric and erratic member of the group, his wild behavior drew significant media attention. He was known for his off-beat rhymes, charismatic ululations, slightly garbled style, and unpredictable vocal inflections. ODB was among the most popular members of the Wu-Tang Clan, with high sales and guest spots with industry giants like Mariah Carey. Ol' Dirty Bastard died in 2004 from an accidental drug overdose.
- Method Man (born Clifford Smith, 1971) – The youngest member of the Wu-Tang Clan and the first to release a Wu-Tang solo album with Tical. His career is highlighted by platinum sales and a Grammy for I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By with Mary J. Blige. He has also had a significant acting career with many film and television credits to his name, most notably the popular series, The Wire, where he portrayed the character of Cheese Wagstaff, the lieutenant of drug lord Proposition Joe. He also acted in 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! as well as the 2009 sequel Blackout! 2. Method Man's friendship with The Notorious B.I.G. is credited for preventing more heat between Biggie, Raekwon and Ghostface.
- Raekwon (born Corey Woods, 1970) – Nicknamed "The Chef" for having "lyrical flavor", and ability to cook cocaine into "crack rock." His lyrics contain extensive use of New York slang, which is often delivered in an aggressive, fast-paced manner. He is also known for his storytelling about wealth, power, and prestige derived from the illegal drug trade. His influential solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... is often credited with initiating the Mafioso rap phenomenon of the mid-to-late-1990s. A sequel to the album was released in 2009, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II.
- Ghostface Killah (born Dennis Coles, 1970) – Known for his distinctive, abstract, energetic and emotional style of rapping. He had a large role in Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and later released his debut album Ironman to critical acclaim. Mainstream hip-hop press credits his second album Supreme Clientele with "saving the Wu." He has released 12 solo albums, more than any other member of the group.
- Inspectah Deck (born Jason Hunter, 1970) – Inspectah Deck is known for his use of metaphors and complicated rhyme-schemes. He was a popular guest rapper in 1997 and 1998. He is also a producer, providing beats for artists both in and out of the Wu-Tang Clan, such as Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Big Pun, Prodigy, and others.
- U-God (born Lamont Jody Hawkins, 1970) – A founding member with his own solo career, U-God's has had a relatively low profile, in part due to his limited exposure from being incarcerated for most of the recording of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in which he only delivered short verses on "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" and "Protect Ya Neck." He is known for his "bass-like" voice, and his style of blaxploitation rap.
- Masta Killa (born Elgin Turner, 1969) – The only member not already an experienced rapper at the time of the group's formation, he 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 final verse to the track "Da Mystery of Chessboxin", He also had stand-out verses to Wu-Tang Forever and other members solo albums, delivered with a talk-rap style. He was also the last member to release a solo album, No Said Date in 2004, which was generally well received.
- Cappadonna (born Darryl Hill, 1969) – After growing up as friends with many of the Clan members, Cappadonna made his debut as an affiliate of the Wu-Tang Clan on Raekwon's hit single "Ice Cream". He was also a guest star, along with Raekwon, on Ghostface Killah's solo debut album, Ironman. He made his first appearance on a Wu-Tang Clan album in 1997 on Wu-Tang Forever on the single "Triumph". Following his appearance on Forever, he contributed significantly to the group's third studio album, The W, at which point his appearances were no longer marked with "Feat. Cappadonna", as they had been on Forever. After a falling out with RZA the next year over royalties, he did not appear at all on the group's subsequent album Iron Flag. He eventually reunited with the group for their concert at 2004's Rock the Bells, and appeared on 2007's 8 Diagrams.
- Cappadonna's status as an official member was at one point unclear. While long referred to by both the group and fans as the "unofficial tenth member", there was no confirmation on whether he actually became the official tenth member following the death of Ol' Dirty Bastard. MTV.com's biographies of both him and the group claim that he is an official member. However, while his vocals on 8 Diagrams were not marked with "Feat. Cappadonna", much like his contributions to the group's The W album, he does not appear on the front cover with the original eight living members, and is not featured in the album's booklet with a picture, although he is included in the group's shout-out's sections. A 2007 interview about the Clan before the release of 8 Diagrams also claims that RZA officially added him as a member, but there were no quotations or statements to back up this claim within the article. He would also appear credited as a member on the 2012 Wu-Tang Clan song "Six Directions of Boxing" off the soundtrack for RZA's The Man with the Iron Fists and be confirmed to be working on the group's sixth studio album. Cappadonna would be one of the most significant workers on the sixth album A Better Tomorrow. More recently, multiple publications such as NME, XXL, HipHopDX, and MTV have referred to Cappadonna as an official member of the group. In 2014, RZA definitively clarified Cappadonna's status as an official member stating that Cappadonna had been an official member of the group since the group's 8 Diagrams album.
According to RZA, he tries to have no more than 20–25% sampling on any given record, something starkly different from many other major hip hop groups. He uses "the sampler more like a painter's palette than a Xerox. Then again, I might use it as a Xerox if I find rare beats that nobody had in their crates yet". He played much of the piano himself, with Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk as major influences; for instance, he created the piano part to "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" after watching the Thelonious Monk documentary, Straight, No Chaser.
RZA's production technique, specifically the manner of chopping up and/or speeding or slowing soul samples to fit his beats, has been picked up by currently popular producers, most notably Kanye West and Just Blaze, the two main producers behind Roc-A-Fella Records. West's own take on RZA's style briefly flooded the rap market with what was dubbed "chipmunk soul", the pitch bending of a vocal sample to where it sounded as though the singer had inhaled helium. Several producers at the time copied the style, creating other offshoots. West has admitted that his style was distinctly influenced by RZA's production, and RZA has acknowledged his influence in an issue of Scratch magazine, saying he wished he had produced "Jesus Walks" and "Breathe", two 2004 hits produced by Kanye West and Just Blaze, respectively. Kanye West commented:
Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time... We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that.
Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... helped (with the likes of Kool G Rap) popularize the Mafia theme in rap music that remained widespread for more than half a decade. The landmark album touted a lifestyle patterned on drug dealing, regrets of living in harsh conditions, and partying (including popularizing the Cristal brand of champagne) which Nas, Mobb Deep, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and other popular artists all borrowed and/or expanded upon these themes at points in their respective careers.
The Wu-Tang Clan's slang has long been a staple of their music, wherein members would blend Five Percenter terms, Kung Fu/oriental words, and comic book and street terms to create their own nicknames for actions, people, places and things (such as the christening of Staten Island as "Shaolin Land" and money as "C.R.E.A.M."). RZA noted in The Wu-Tang Manual, that Raekwon was the resident "slang-master" of a great deal of the slang used by the group.
All nine original members of the group were featured in the game Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, released for the PlayStation on October 31, 1999, as well as a special collector's edition controller. Ghostface Killah and Yung Dirty Doucette, as well as collaborators, Redman and Keith Murray, also play themselves in all three games in the Def Jam video games Def Jam Vendetta, Def Jam Fight For NY, and Def Jam: Icon.
Method Man is an avid fan of video games himself and has publicly stated that he loves playing SOCOM online with other PlayStation 2 users, and is part of an online clan ("KMA/Kiss My Ass"). His SOCOM II name is "ICU". He has a fellow SOCOM player featured on a skit on his album 4:21... The Day After.
In Army of Two, main character Salem talks about Wu-Tang asking his teammate Rios who the best member is. Salem says it's RZA but he says Ghostface Killah is pretty good himself. In the ending cut scene, a reference is made when Salem says "Survey says?" and Rios replies "You're dead". The exchange referenced the lyric, "And the survey says? / You're dead!" from "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta F' Wit", from the album Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers).
Several tracks by Clan members and affiliates such as Method Man, Ghostface, Cappadonna, Trife, DJ Mathematics and others were featured in the 2006 game Saints Row.
Oliver "Power" Grant was one of the first to move from music to clothes. The Clan's executive producer, Grant began making clothes in the early 1990s, with little success. But in 1995, after the platinum success of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), manufacturers who earlier wouldn't extend Power credit saw the potential. He opened four Wu Wear stores, in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Norfolk, Virginia. The line was carried in Macy's, Rich's, and d.e.m.o, among others. Power says he earned $10 million in 1998.
Method Man was unhappy with the decision to bring Wu-Tang into the fashion world with Wu Wear, despite the brand being a major money-maker for the group. "When Wu-Wear started making shoes and sneakers and pants, it was shoddy material. I never rocked that shit."
"I'm going to bring out Dirty Wear," declared ODB. "A set of ready-worn clothes: 'Dirty Wear, for the girl who likes to wear her panties three days in a row.'"
In 1999, Nike released a Wu-Tang Clan themed dunk hi. The shoes were produced in low quantities. Their rarity and popularity makes them very sought after, with reseller prices as much as $7,500.
A partnership between Wu-Tang and the Alife NYC clothing group took place in 2007 through 2008 for an exclusive series of custom sneakers, T-shirts, hoodies and other accessories for men and women. The collection was named "A Wu-Tang Life".
Wu-Tang Revealed, a GZA-directed documentary, promised to show behind the scenes of the Clan, has yet to be released.
U-God: Rise of a Fallen Soldier details U-God's side of the struggle between him and RZA circa 2004–2005.
Gerald K. Barclay directed the Wu-Tang documentary, entitled Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan, which premiered on BET on November 13, 2008. The documentary was released on DVD on November 18, 2008.
On November 10, 2009 a documentary on Ol' Dirty Bastard was released entitled; Dirty: The Official ODB Biography. The documentary features interviews and stories from his family members, Wu-Tang members, and affiliates, as well as old interviews with Ol' Dirty, and live performances.
Wu Tang Saga, starring Cappadonna and featuring footage of the Clan dating back to the early nineties through their most recent tours was released on February 25, 2010.
Wu-Tang: An American Saga
On 4 September 2019, Hulu released Wu-Tang: An American Saga, a fictionalized account of the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan. The drama web series was created by RZA and Alex Tse. In January 2020, Hulu renewed the series for a second season.
Ghostface had a non-publicized feud with 50 Cent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. On 50 Cent's track "How to Rob" insults were aimed at many high-profile rappers, including Wu-Tang. In the early 2000s the argument made it on to wax with skits titled "Clyde Smith" on Supreme Clientele featuring a low-pitched recording of what most fans believe to be Raekwon's voice derisively making fun of 50 Cent's behavior and his methods of attracting attention to himself. The skit also joked at other unnamed "gangster rappers" in New York. 50 Cent took offense and came back with a short track dissing Wu-Tang Clan, and Ghostface in particular. That track was later reworked into the titled Too Hot with 50 rapping over a sample of Ghostface on Raekwon's album. 50 rose to fame, both he and Ghostface talked in interviews with SOHH.com and Hot 97 Radio about the supposed argument, both saying that the argument was never that serious and nothing major had happened.
A supposed diss song, "Small Change (Who The Fuck Is 50 Cent)", which circulated the web in the beginning of 2001 was rumoured to be by the Clan, but was proven to be recorded by Polite and Lord Superb of American Cream Team (Raekwon's then side-project). On "One Blood Under W," from The W album, Masta Killa raps, "Fuck fame, I shoot a hole in a 50 cent piece to test my aim/how dare you call the gods in vain."
G-Unit member Tony Yayo has alleged that Ghostface had a ghostwriter for his critically acclaimed album Supreme Clientele. In an interview with Spin magazine, Yayo claimed that Far Rockaway native Lord Superb, who guested on the album, wrote a majority, if not all, of the lyrics. In an interview with hiphopdx.com Raekwon, who also appears on the album, responded saying: "He [Tony Yayo] know damn well he [Superb] ain’t write that fuckin’ album. I don't even wanna get into shit like that, because it just makes me upset that muthafuckas be running they mouth all kinda ways. But at the end of the day, I think Ghost gonna have to really say what he gotta say." However, in a November 2007 interview with Rhapsody Music, Ghost responded with "...'Perb [Superb] is Rae's [Raekwon] man. He been in the studio a few times while we’re doing shit. He ain’t write shit. All ‘Perb contributed was a couple of lines that you could put in the air. When we write, we all do that. 'Say this one right here' or 'Put this one right here.' We all catch lines with each other ‘cause you in the studio. You got niggas around you that write. Even if he did write a verse, he could never make an album of mine. He couldn’t make an album, you feel me? I made Supreme Clientele what it is. Those are my stories, based around whatever they’re based upon. It’s me. I can’t see what songs ‘Perb wrote. He ain’t write 'Mighty Healthy' or 'One' or 'Apollo Kids' or 'Cherchez LaGhost' or 'Saturday Nite' or 'Malcolm.'" U-God called Tony Yayo "a bitch" in an interview with Undergroundhiphop.com, and threatened to beat him down when he sees him, but said that no diss tracks will be recorded.
The Notorious B.I.G.
During his career, The Notorious B.I.G. had a checkered relationship with the Wu-Tang Clan. He collaborated with Raekwon on the 1994 Ron G song "Stop the Breaks," which also featured Killa Sin and KRS-One; the same year, on B.I.G.'s debut album Ready to Die, Method Man was featured on the song "The What" (and was the only featured rapper on the album.) The song, "The What," was produced by Easy Mo Bee, who had strong ties to Notorious B.I.G. as well as several Clan members, such as RZA and GZA. According to Method Man, though even at this point friction was present between Biggie and the Clan, the two rappers got along:
It was no secret: Rae didn’t like him, Ghost didn’t like him. They thought he was a biter. But if you look at Rae and Ghost, they don’t like nobody! The rest of my niggas had love for Big. It was just Rae and Ghost...and my niggas—-it’s like we’re a unit, we moved as a unit. So where if one of my niggas ain’t speakin’, then nobody was speakin’. And we would just roll right by [B.I.G.], walk right past. But Lil' Cease can vouch for this, and my niggas can vouch for this—-I always stopped to give word with Big. No matter what. There was a show...and he had performed, and Wu-Tang had performed that night...outside the club Big approached me and shit. Like, "Yo, I wanna do something with you on my album."
In 1995, on the album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Raekwon and Ghostface Killah commented on Big in a skit called "Shark Niggas (Biters)." Alleging that he copied the cover from Nas' landmark release Illmatic, as well as styles from other rap artists. This generated longstanding controversy over their differences with B.I.G., and in later interviews, both rappers would downplay the incident: "It was one of them skits where we was looking at our competition. And when Ghost is saying whatever he was saying, we kinda knew who he was talking about, but it wasn't like we was trying to start a beef. It's just sometimes, when you get in the booth and you start saying what you wanna say, it just happened."
God bless the dead, I love B.I.G. He's a fucking icon. Even when I seen him out in Cali, I wanted to tell son, yo, let's go ahead and make this record together because I matured through the years, and at the same time, I recognized good music. We shook hands on some peace shit, but that was all, cause they was on their way to leaving out. A day or two later, niggas [killed him].
In the Wu-Tang Manual, a book by the RZA on the origins of the Wu-Tang Clan, he recalls a concert at which Biggie and Wu-Tang both performed, at which Raekwon and Ghostface were reportedly under the influence, and angry at some comments B.I.G. made in The Source. In RZA's view, had the artists and their entourages met up that night, things could have gotten violent, but nothing of the sort ever occurred. It is worth mentioning that on B.I.G.'s final studio album Life After Death he took a shot back at Raekwon on the song "Kick in the Door" (which was a diss song to several other rappers as well) with the line; "Fuck that, why try/Throw bleach in ya eye" which was a response to lyrics from Raekwon's song "Ice Water", where Raekwon rhymed; "...To top it all off, beefin' for White/Pullin' bleach out, tryin'a throw it in my eyesight." On the posthumous 1997 song "Victory," released on Puff Daddy's album No Way Out, B.I.G. also rhymes, "Militant/Y'all faggots ain't killin' shit," in response to a Ghostface Killah line on the song "Criminology" where he raps; "RZA baked the track and it's militant/Then I react like a convict, and start killin' shit." It is also worth mentioning that B.I.G. chose RZA to produce the track "Long Kiss Goodnight", a song allegedly aimed at Biggie's longtime rival Tupac Shakur, which appeared on Life After Death. RZA went on to comment about the collaboration, saying "Biggie was always pretty cool with me. He liked the Wu-Tang sound. He requested me to be on the album. I didn’t know if everybody in his camp agreed with it...but we was always cool with each other...at the end he’s talking about everybody was fucking with them at that time. He could have even been talking about me [laughs], ’cause there was some cuts at Biggie on the Cuban Linx... album"
On the same album, B.I.G. gave thanks to Wu-Tang in the album's liner notes, and also inserted lyrics praising the Wu-Tang Clan single "C.R.E.A.M."; on the song "Notorious Thugs," he states, "I'mma tell you like a nigga told me/Cash rules everything around me." On his 2002 album God's Son, Nas references the feud on his song "Last Real Nigga Alive," implying that although he and Big had their differences, they were friendly; while he was also on good terms with Raekwon, neither Big nor Raekwon got along, and both warned Nas the other would copy his lyrics and style. In 2006, Ghostface and Raekwon did a posthumous collaboration with B.I.G., on the song "Three Bricks," which was originally intended to appear on the posthumous Biggie album, Duets: The Final Chapter, but it instead became a bonus song on the Ghostface Killah album Fishscale. In 2008, Raekwon did a cover of Jadakiss' hit "Letter to B.I.G.," injecting his own thoughts on his deceased former rival.
In 1998, ODB rushed onstage unexpectedly during Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech for "Song of the Year" at the Grammy Awards, and began complaining that he had recently purchased expensive clothes in anticipation of winning the "Best Rap Album" award that he lost to Sean Combs. Before being escorted off-stage, he implored the audience, "I don't know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children. Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best. I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all. Peace!" His bizarre onstage antics were widely reported in the mainstream media. Dirty made it known on The Howard Stern Show that he meant no disrespect to Combs, but that feelings were hurt on Combs' end. Later that night Combs' bodyguards would physically threaten ODB, but Dirty insisted to his friends and family in attendance that no violence broke out. Following the award show, Howard Stern asked Dirty about the incident with Diddy's bodyguards on his radio show, but Dirty wouldn't play up the incident as he didn't want to shine a bad light on hip hop because of one minor altercation.
Ghostface appeared on the 2002 Bad Boy Records release, We Invented the Remix, along with Combs on the remix to the song "Special Delivery." Ghostface even gives Bad Boy Records a shout out for inviting him on the track when he raps "Bad Boy, thank you for this special delivery." Combs was one of the executive producers for Method Man's 2004 album Tical 0: The Prequel, although Meth later voiced his displeasure with the final product. "On the third LP, it was suggested to bring in Harve Pierre and P Diddy. Who am I to argue? Puff knows how to sell some records. But that wasn't the direction to go in, and I know that now." In 2006, Method Man also called out Combs' decisions on the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. album Duets: The Final Chapter, saying that Biggie never would have rocked with some of the sub-par rappers featured on it. He also brought up the fact that he was the only other rapper that Biggie chose to feature on his debut album Ready to Die.
After badmouthing Wu-Tang at a concert, Bad Boy recording artist Mase had a run-in with Ghostface and his entourage at a club in New York City. There was some sort of physical altercation between Mase's and Ghostface's camps, and Mase left the incident with a broken jaw. Kanye West is among several rappers who have made reference to the incident, rapping "...if you could feel how my face felt/ You would know how Mase felt..." on his single "Through the Wire". Shyheim also referred to the incident in a freestyle, with the line "The Empire State, where Ghostface retired Mase". In the June 2007 issue of Hip Hop Connection magazine, Wu-Tang affiliate Cilvaringz stated that Ghostface had in fact done time in jail for "beating up" Mase.
In 2009, Joe Budden posted a video blog voicing his opinion on a "Best rapper" readers' poll posted in Vibe magazine. Throughout the video, Budden gave examples of rappers who were ranked too high, and claimed to be better than half of the rappers on the list. Some of the people he mentioned were Melle Mel, Prodigy, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Method Man. At the end of the video, he went on to say that he'd beat Method Man in a battle if they were face to face. Shortly after this, Budden called into Ed Lover's Power 105.1, and took his claim on Method Man even further by stating, "Lyrically, I will cut that man's head off his shoulders". Several weeks later, Joe Budden did a freestyle track titled "D.O.A. Freestyle", which many speculated of containing veiled shots towards Method Man and several members of Wu-Tang. Method Man was overseas while all of this occurred, but eventually spoke out about it on several radio interviews. While Raekwon was on the Rock the Bells tour with Joe Budden and his group Slaughterhouse, the two got together to settle any bad blood.
This calmed things down for a short while, until Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck released a Joe Budden diss track entitled "House Nigga", which was a response to Budden's remarks. A few days after releasing this track, on July 9, 2009, Deck went on stage at the Columbia, MD show of Rock the Bells, during Raekwon's set, and told the audience the reason for the diss track was because "the nigga tried to diss my brother, he tried to shit on my nigga like my nigga ain't a made man ... fuck Joe Budden" (referring to what Budden said about Method Man). Joe Budden did not retaliate with a diss track, but however, posted a five-minute video blog in which he said that he wanted to slap Deck and called Deck a coward. At the San Bernardino stop of Rock the Bells, Raekwon approached Budden with his Ice Water Inc. entourage, resulting in Budden getting punched in the right eye. Shortly after this occurred, Joe Budden posted yet another online video blog of him with an ice pack over his eye, with many speculating Raekwon as the one who did the assault.
It was later revealed that the punch was thrown by a member of Raekwon's entourage named Hanz. Hanz stated that he "did not appreciate Budden speaking disrespectfully about Inspectah Deck and Method Man in interviews over the summer." He further commented "I punched him in the face because he was outta line. I look at him like, not the school yard bully, but the motherfucker that's always picking on a motherfucker that don't fuck with nobody. To say something about a nigga like Meth is crazy, Meth don't fuck with nobody. I'm not gonna sit here and say Rae made me do it, that was a spontaneous decision on my own. I'm glad I did it, 'cause he got a big mouth...It wasn't actually planned, he could have actually changed that whole situation as it unfolded, as it went on".
Although Joe Budden and Raekwon reportedly were sat down and forced to settle things on the final day of the tour, Budden released a video on his website challenging Raekwon to a one-on-one fight, and called on all his fans to help persuade Raekwon to accept, despite the fact that it wasn't Raekwon who threw the punch. Raekwon however did not accept, and explained that he is a grown man with a family, and that fighting would be childish. He also stated "This has never ever been a Wu-Tang versus Slaughterhouse thing, this is about a kid who gets off on doing blogs. My thing is this, I'm a business man, I'm here to make money, take care of my family and keep as many people safe and sound as possible. We not gonna take it there 'cause that's little shit, we are grown men. I will never jump out the window to sacrifice the situation with my family for something that ain't worth it". Since the incident, Budden has stated in interviews the feud was over, and Raekwon made a similar announcement during a show, stating that he "had love" for Joe Budden.
The Wu-Tang Clan has a wide range of collaborators and associates. Close collaborators to individual members or the group as a whole include or have included mainly East Coast-based artists, including Redman, Mobb Deep, Busta Rhymes, Erick Sermon, Nas, Pete Rock, and others.
- Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
- Wu-Tang Forever (1997)
- The W (2000)
- Iron Flag (2001)
- 8 Diagrams (2007)
- A Better Tomorrow (2014)
- Once Upon a Time in Shaolin (2015)
- The Saga Continues (2017)
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Rap gems for hip hop brigade Hip hop fans should enjoy the soundtrack of the movie Soul In The Hole featuring hardcore rap artists the Wu-Tang Clan, Organized Kon- fusion, Mobb Deep and Xzibit.Cite magazine requires
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