The Wu-Tang Clan were a phenomenon when they first hit the airwaves in 1993. Comprised of members from Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx, the Wu-Tang Clan provided the rough and ready New York kickback to the easygoing G-funk sound that Death Row was cultivating in L.A.
Formed in Staten Island by three relatives, the rap group went through various name and line-up changes before they became what we know as the Wu-Tang Clan today. The clan began as a family crew before locals and friends entered the group. Originally consisting of just RZA, GZA and Ol Dirty Bastard (ODB), who are cousins, the collective was named Force of the Imperial Master.
While RZA permanently resided in the fairly desolate New York City borough of Staten Island, GZA moved back and forth between the island and Brooklyn before finally settling in Brooklyn as a teenager. His cousin, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (commonly known as ODB), also lived in the borough, so as a result, they formed a close bond.
Right from the start of the crew, RZA was the Clan’s primary producer. RZA brought a lo-fi production style that he skillfully fused with a grimey and abrasive edge. It was this sonic that would become the clan’s calling card. As the crew’s de facto leader, RZA suggested that they begin recruiting new members.
Rebranding in 1992, the crew changed its name to the Wu-Tang Clan, deriving from the 1983 kung-fu film Shaolin and Wu Tang. Under this moniker, they began drafting more members, including school friends, other local Staten Island underground rappers and family members. Eventually, the three became nine.
Based out of Brooklyn’s Firehouse Studios, the crew went on to garner much attention. Their debut single, ‘Protect Ya Neck’ is a hip-hop classic. However, their single ‘C.R.E.A.M’ is often considered one of the best hip-hop tracks of all time and was even ranked the sixth best by the BBC, with ‘Juicy’ by Notorious B.I.G. being ranked number one.
The crew did a number of incredible posse cuts and also an incredible number of freestyles. Below you can watch rare 1994 footage of the Wu-Tang Clan freestyling in a televised cypher alongside Yo-Yo, Gang Starr and KRS-One.