The Wu-Tang Clan was a legendary New York Crew and needs no introduction. Birthed at the beginning of the 1990s in the overlooked New York borough of Staten Island, the collective slowly but surely rose to fame and eventually took over the hip-hop charts with their raw and gritty music.
The nine-piece outfit, comprised of RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Capadonna, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa, was a breath of fresh air when they first arose from the underground. One of their most iconic songs was the 1994 smash hit ‘C.R.EA.M.’
The Clan’s tracks all have an interesting backstory, and the group was highly conceptual concerning their music. The collective often focused on the discipline and mentality of martial arts and (inspired by Kung-Fu) drew parallels between the perseverance and mental strength needed in martial arts to the mentality necessary to survive in the impoverished neighbourhoods of New York.
The Wu-Tang Clan first landed a record deal with their 1993 single ‘Protect Ya Neck’. However, their official mainstream breakthrough came from their 1994 track ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ Used as an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” the song’s lyrics explore the importance placed upon money by young African-Americans and how it controls the dynamics of black neighbourhoods and effectively rules supreme.
Sometimes, it is crucial to delve deeper into how a song was made to fully comprehend the artist’s intentions. Often it is helpful to understand the mindset that the artist or collective was in when they made a track, as it can alter our perceptions as listeners and give us a new understanding of the music. ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ was made during an exciting time in the ’90s, and in this article, we will explore further how the anthem was assembled.
Akin to many of the tracks released by the Clan, ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ was produced by the collective’s beatmaker and founder, RZA (real name Robert Diggs). The musician and actor was known for his lof-fi and gritty production style that became the signature sound of the Staten Island group, and this 1994 single was no different. For the epic instrumental, Diggs sampled vocals and music from the 1967 soul song ‘As Long as I’ve Got You’ by The Charmels.
In a 2017 appearance on the Power 106 FM morning radio show, The Cruz Show, RZA opened up about the production of ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ and detailed its recording process. Diggs elaborated on its creation, saying, “Well, the cool thing about C.R.E.A.M. is that we got the chance to go back to the studio and re-record it for a [official] single. It started off with 60 seconds of Assassin doing the ‘ooohs’. You’ll notice that the drums are heavier than the original album cut. What a lot of people don’t know about ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ is that this song must have been recorded about four or five times by Wu-Tang Clan!”
The legend continued, “The first time we recorded it was during a court case I had, and I felt that I shouldn’t have been arrested. So it was [originally] called ‘I’m On Some Sh*t.’ It was just me and Ghostface! Later it got recorded with just Raekwon and Inspectah Deck and it was called ‘Lifestyles Of The Mega-Rich.’ Then when we got to the studio to record The 36 Chambers album, I decided that this track had to be on the Wu-Tang album so I reminded Rae and Deck of their verses but their verses were [too] long. They truncated the verses and then Method Man the master of hooks at the time came in with this hook here!”
Recorded at Firehouse Studios in Brooklyn, ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ was released in 1994 as the third single of Enter the Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers. The term “cream” became a popular slang term following the release of this track, and the single is widely considered one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. You can listen to ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ in the video below.