Wu-Tang Clan are one of hip-hop’s most legendary collectives. Formed in New York’s isolated and desolate borough of Staten Island, the Wu-Tang Clan is now considered one of the most impactful crews of 1990s hip hop.
They began as a family crew before locals and friends entered the crew. Originally consisting of just RZA, GZA and Ol Dirty Bastard (ODB), who are cousins, the collective was named Force of the Imperial Master.
Not achieving anything as Force of the Imperial Master, they decided to make music as the All in Together Now Crew. However, during the late ’80s, 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 the fringes of Brooklyn. Under these names as the All In Together Now Crew, no traction was generated.
Under the impression that they would not be able to make enough of an impact as a trio, RZA suggested that the crew begin recruiting new members. Rebranding again 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.
As a nine-piece ensemble, they decided to record their first single. Every single thing necessary to make, promote and distribute was done by the crew and paid for out of their own pockets with RZA producing the track. From their various illegal sources of cash, the clan saved $300. With this, they booked a day at Boerum Hill studio, The Firehouse.
Again having to save and get money where they could, the crew took themselves to a Staten Island pressing plant to press twelve-inch vinyl. The vinyl had three versions of this song. They not only drove around Staten Island with the records, but they also visited every hip-hop record shop in the tri-state area to sell their record on a sale or return basis.
Furthermore, the crew contacted local underground radio stations and small clubs to promote the record. With the crew doing this across New York and the surrounding states before they knew it, Loud Records were asking to sign them.
Method Man once admitted in an interview that ‘Protect Ya Neck’ was wholly funded through the selling of crack. Costing around $900 in total to record and press-up, the rapper unveiled that each crew member had to give RZA $100. Talking to Complex Magazine, the rapper stated, “Ni**as was hustling on the block at the time, so $100 was like sell ten cracks and you in.”
‘Protect Ya Neck’ was the world’s first taste of the Wu-Tang, and everybody became hooked.