The Wu-Tang Clan are one of hip hop’s most notorious crews. Formed in New York’s isolated and desolate borough of Staten Island, the Wu-Tang Clan would go on to become one of the most impactful crews of 1990s hip hop.
During its peak, the clan was compromised of: RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, ODB, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa. The clan were lauded the world over for their lyricism, diversity and approach to using hip hop as a philosophical vehicle. However, their roots were far more humble. Like most collectives, they underwent some name changes before settling with the name we know the clan by today.
Originally consisting of just RZA, GZA and Ol Dirty Bastard (ODB) who were cousins, the collective was named Force of the Imperial Master. They then changed to All in Together Now Crew. During the late 1980s, as part of the crew, they also made solo music under different monikers. RZA named himself Prince Rakeem, GZA recorded under the pseudonym The Genius and ODB was The Specialist. Aside from some minor buzz on Staten Island and on the fringes of Brooklyn. Under these names as the All In Together Now Crew, no traction was generated.
Starting afresh in 1992, the crew changed its name to The Wu-Tang Clan, deriving its name from the 1983 kung-fu film Shaolin and Wu Tang. Under this name, they began drafting in more members, including school friends, other local Staten Island underground rappers and family members. Eventually, the three became nine, and upon the release of their debut single, ‘Protect Ya Neck’, the crew found a buzz.
Released on Wu-Tang Records in 1992, the single circulated Staten Island and with ODB living in Brooklyn, it began to circulate on the Brooklyn underground. Before long, it spread into Queens and across bridges until ‘Protect Ya Neck’ played everywhere in New York.
With this then becoming the case, in 1993, seeing the impact the crew had made with just one single, the clan were signed to Loud Records to record a full-length album. Released in 1994, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was instantaneously adorned within hip hop. Recorded at Firehouse Studio in New York City but arranged and produced by RZA himself. The slightly underproduced grit and imperfection it provided sonically reflected the streets in a way the professionally cleaned up, and polished rap albums didn’t. It is still considered a classic.
However, the Wu-Tang Clan couldn’t ride their high forever. Many of the crew members wanted to pursue solo careers and did on Loud Records. With all nine members recording and releasing solo material erratically and out of sync, yet still all referencing the clan in their music, it led to what some felt was an oversaturation of the group, and, as a result of being force-fed Wu-Tang, there was a colossal decline in their popularity.
At the turn of the millennium, the crew reunited to create The W, which was lapped up by fans. However, a year later, in 2001, they reunited for Iron Flag. The clan wanted to experiment for this third group album by not having RZA as the sole producer and collaborating more. The result was backlash and poor album sales. By now some of the group’s members were out of control and untameable.
In 2001 during a two-year prison stint for possession of crack, ODB was dropped from Elektra Records but was picked up by Roc-A-Fella Records in 2003. In an online biography written by Steve Huey, during the early noughties, “it was difficult for observers to tell whether Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s wildly erratic behaviour was the result of serious drug problems or genuine mental instability.” However, while recording with the Clan at RZA’s Manhattan studio in 2004, ODB collapsed and died as a result of what was found to be a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription opioid tramadol.
With Raekwon and Method Man having far more success with their solo careers, and with ODB dead, the Wu-Tang Clan slowly dissipated and by the end of 2004, the crew was effectively non-existent.
Irrespective of the fact the crew is no longer fully active, they made some amazing hits while they were. below we have assembled the 25 essential songs from the Wu-Tang Clan.
25 best Wu-Tang Clan songs:
- ‘Method Man’
- ‘Protect Ya Neck’
- ‘Triumph’ featuring Cappadonna
- ‘Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’
- ‘Gravel Pit’
- ‘Ice Cream’
- ‘Severe Punishment’
- ‘Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber (part II)’
- ‘Bells Of War’
- ‘It’s Yourz’
- ‘Heaterz’ featuring Cappadonna
- ‘Dog Sh*t’
- ‘Maria’ featuring Cappadonna
- ‘Duck Seazon’
- ‘Uzi Pinky Ring’
- ‘Let My N*ggas Live’ featuring Nas
- ‘G’d Up’
- ‘Black Shampoo’
- ‘Think Differently’