Wu-Tang Clan Members Revisit ‘Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers’
This past Saturday (November 9) was the 20th anniversary of Wu-Tang Clan's debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, undoubtedly one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time and the launching pad for nine of Shaolin's finest. Grounded by RZA's sample-heavy and dirty production (as well as his drive to make the business side work), the Wu-Tang movement took a ramshackle collection of up-and-coming MCs and morphed them into Kung fu-fighting, sword-wielding, fire-spitting phenoms, sent by the Abbot to assassinate all rappers who stood in their way.
But 20 years is a long time, and the Clan has gone through their ups and downs along the way, not least of which has happened in the past year. As the 20th anniversary of the album came closer, a summer reunion tour and the pressures of commemorating Enter The Wu-Tang with a new release grew, overshadowing and sometimes obscuring the love that each of the eight brothers [R.I.P. O.D.B.] has for each other. Though business, ego and musical direction disagreements have reared their heads along the way, each member of the Clan has stuck by one another personally, like the family they started out as. Over the past few months, XXL spoke with Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa [Ed. Note: RZA, GZA and Raekwon declined opportunities to be interviewed for this story] about their experiences making Enter The Wu-Tang, the recording process, and how it all feels after 20 years in the game. —Interviews by Dan Rys, B.J. Steiner, Reed Jackson, Dan Jackson and Jaeki Cho
The Birth Of The Wu
Inspectah Deck: RZA didn’t know that I knew Method Man, Raekwon and U-God, we were all from the same neighborhood. I came to RZA’s house with them the next time we met up and it was just like, “Where’s the beats? What do you want to do?” And [RZA] threw some beats on and I hadn’t heard anything like that at the time like that. I looked at Meth and we look at each other like, "Yo, we’ll get back." I got [RZA’s] number then and came back to Park Hill and it was one day—I used to sell drugs and all that craziness—me and Meth were out on the avenue and we didn’t have anything left. We had a pocket full of money and I say, “What you wanna do?” He was like, “Yo! RZA invited us down so we should go see.” That’s when I met Ol’ Dirty, GZA, it was like a family affair, Ghostface was there. Everybody! The whole clan was there. That’s how we all got formally introduced as far as that side of the fence. Me, Ghost, Raekwon and U-God grew up and went to school together and things like that.
"[Ol' Dirty Bastard was] the best. The best. You can’t really put it into words. Just the best. Energy, character. That’s all he’s got to say: 'Y’all ain’t shit without me.' That’s my brother.” —Ghostface Killah
Ghostface Killah: Things started happening, and I started seeing a little bit of money here, a little bit of money there. I was still making money in ’93 though. My last brick was probably in ’95, ’96, and after that I was just seeing money. $300,000 over here, $500,000 over there—you know what I mean? There’s no reason for me to still be doing a bunch of shit. That was it. We was doin’ it.
Deck: Our mothers were involved. RZA’s mother was involved in a lot of things going on. Raekwon’s mother, she was the cook. She used to sell dinners in the hood for $5, so she was feeding us. RZA’s mother was helping us take care of our financial things as his partner at the time. It was more of a family thing.
Ghost: [Ol' Dirty Bastard was] the best. The best. You can’t really put it into words. Just the best. Energy, character. He never did anything to hurt your feelings, but he’d come in and say he was the best—you know what I mean? That’s all he’s got to say: “Y’all ain’t shit without me.” That’s my brother. You can say whatever you want to me or us—whatchu gonna say to him? Whatchu gonna do to him? Nothing.
Deck: We didn’t come together to make a record. We were already together. The record just happened to fall together upon us. “Hey! You guys want to make a record? Fuck it! Let’s do it." If the record didn’t happen, we still would be as tight as we are. We probably would have moved off into our own lives but it’s not like we came together to make a record like, "I don’t really know you." Wu-Tang is from the karate pictures we used to watch all the time. Wu-Tang turned into a word we used for dope. “Yo. That shit’s Wu! It’s Wu-Tang.” Just making things up. [RZA] was like, I want to take that to a whole other level and he had this ideology behind it like Clan means family and Wu-Tang is a sword, the tongue is a sword.
Masta Killa: In a Shaolin school, there are students and then there are the abbots. The abbot would be the Kung fu instructor teaching the students the different styles. I would consider RZA to be that abbot. It was recorded at the Temple of the Shaolin, which was RZA’s house. You have these different styles, which is coming from the elements of what they’re studying and the chambers that they’re coming from. And we’re all meeting at this one place. It kind of surrounded what was ever on [RZA’s mind]. He could have just come from the block where there was a shootout, and that experience would transform right to the mic. These experiences through the music was so raw, the essence of it, because it was actually being lived.
"I’m listening to all these Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté and all these people, and I was like, I can do that. But can I make a record and be successful at it? That’s where [RZA] came in...” —Inspectah Deck
Ghost: Me and RZA was always there. I’m the one that gave Wu-Tang the name. I’m the dude. He didn’t reach out to me, we just did it. My man—we fuckin’ sleep in the same house. He just had an idea and he was the only one that could carry it out. He executed it. You can talk about it all day, but if nobody’s executing it for you, you’re gonna be talking about it for the next 20 years. And that’s what he did, that’s why he’s the main piece other than me through those beats and stuff like that and being the nucleus to bring everybody together. That’s RZA's position.
Deck: We were up every day coming out here on the Ferry just going to different labels. Loud, RCA, we went to Def Jam, we went all over the place and there was so much non-faith in what we had to bring to the table. But [RZA] was so strong about it. His energy, his drive, every morning, “Yo! I’m going to 34th Street. You want to come?” A lot of people don’t want to come. A lot of people are still on the block, still doing this and that but I was like, “Yeah, I’m coming.” Because I wanted to learn the other side of the fence. I wanted to know “What are you saying to these people? What are they saying to you?” I always wanted to make a record and be an MC but I never thought it would be possible. I’m listening to all these Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté and all these people, and I was like, I can do that. But can I make a record and be successful at it? That’s where [RZA] came in and just restructured everything that we were doing. Method Man was the king over here. I was the king over here. Raekwon was the king of that. Everybody was kings so he came and just handpicked everybody, pulled them together and was like, “We are going to be the Wu-Tang Clan.”
Ghost: Everybody was all-in. We wasn’t rich niggas. Everybody was all-in. We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that—that’s what we love to do. You know how music was at that time—everybody loved rap music. RZA had a good reputation with everybody. He’s the one that put us all together. He knew what he wanted, he had a vision, and it worked. It wasn’t easy at first, we was gettin’ turned down like anybody gets turned down, like, "Nah—too many of y’all." But he made it work and that was it.
Ghost: We came in to destroy niggas. First niggas on the line was Hit Squad because—that was them. No disrespect, I loved Hit Squad, but we wanted to destroy them. They had a big group, they had Das, K-Solo, Redman, Erick Sermon and Parrish, and those were the only ones that were saying shit we wanted to hear. So, who you got? You’ve got Genius, RZA, Ol’ Dirty, Method Man, you’ve got Inspectah Deck, killas that just straight... It’s a sport! Those are the guys you gotta go beat! You gotta go get ‘em!
So they had “Headbanger,” we came in with a little “Protect Ya Neck” right in back of it and shit. Not saying that “Protect Ya Neck” beat them niggas out because “Headbanger” was strong—they had lines in there. Redman was going crazy in there—clearing everything. But they’re the ones that... I just remember watching “Headbanger” and then “Protect Ya Neck” came in with a bunch of dudes and from there... It wasn’t like our focus was on them, even after that, because everyone started doing other shit. But for that first record, that’s how I was sizing it up.
Deck: Wu was the biggest machine moving. Wu came through like the first Terminator. Everybody in the way terminated it. Once the eyes were on you, you were in the way. We went through that with the Hit Squad. I remember us sitting in the house and wondering, “Man, if we do make it. We gotta deal with the Hit Squad. Redman, Das EFX, Erick Sermon. Fuck!” These are my dudes. Part of my rapping comes from that. So how do you approach that? I remember we was there like, “Meth, you take Redman. You get K-Solo. You get Das EFX.” We sat there really mapping it out and then Hit Squad broke up. Then we were thinking, “Damn, Brand Nubian are on the same tip that we are, teaching knowledge.” Then Brand Nubian broke up. N.W.A reminded us of us and they broke up. Leaders Of The New School broke up.
Everybody was breaking up so RZA said it’s the perfect time. Clan means family. We brought the idea of nine of us. That’s my brother. I don’t care. We got saying with you. That’s how we do. That idea kind of spawned everything. People respected that. I think Wu-Tang had the utmost respect in the beginning especially because it was something new. You didn’t know us. We had our faces covered on the first album until you bought it and opened it up.
In The Booth
"Bring Da Ruckus"
Deck: I heard [RZA] making a beat and this dude is so ill that he does shit, like, you’ll hear one sound on the beat and never hear it again. You’ll hear it in the middle of the record. On "Bring Da Ruckus" at the end when all the beats drop, there’s this obnoxious horn in there but it’s not obnoxious when you’re caught in the moment. When I was sitting there listening to him, I hear [Imitates the horn] and he’s doing that. I’m like, “Why are you doing that? You’re fucking up the beat.” He’s like, “Nah. I’m giving it a bridge or something like that. I’m giving it a breakdown, a lead to the end where it’s like [Sings end of song] 'So Bring It On.'" He changed the whole beat from what we were rapping on, but you only got that at the end.
He does that from time to time. You hear one sound, two sounds. He might take a paint bucket, turns it upside down and puts the mic under the paint bucket and bangs on it with a stick. That’s the snare from “Bring Da Ruckus.” That “Boom! Kow! Boom! Boom! Kow!” Who thinks of that? Who really thinks of that? He was doing shit like putting water in the glass, banging it with his finger and getting new sounds on the mic. It’s one of the reasons that he doesn’t really like to sample nowadays either because, “Back in the days, I had to dig for those sounds and I had to manipulate and rearrange something from nothing.” Now they sell all that in a flash drive. You can go in the store and buy a Casio keyboard and insert a CD or flash drive and all that shit is prearranged. It takes away from the excitement of him having to actually... Me and him sitting in their record by record just... “How does that sound?” “Oh, that’s dope.” Put the record to the side.
Ghost: I just remember laying in bed thinking about that verse, writing it when I was laying down and shit. Elephant tusks and all that shit. I was laying down when it came to me: “Ghostface / Catch the blast of a hype verse / My glock burst..."
"Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'"
Ghost: I started really coming into myself on “Mystery of Chessboxing” and tryna keep up with that brothas that’s around me. I was last place, but I got Rookie of the Year. With 36 Chambers, I’m in last place. I didn’t really give a fuck that much about it but it was what it was. Cappadonna was supposed to be on there but Cap wasn’t home yet. Cap came home when we did Cuban Links. He would’ve been on it. Cap was the best. He was locked up during the time. “Mystery” was—it was the “Mystery Of Chessboxin'." That’s all it was. I just had to make sure that I was okay. Like, okay, “You got Dirty on the track, you got that. Just get busy.” Just do something. "Mystery Of Chessboxin,'” it just happened, man. Write your shit to the beat and try to ride it a certain way, “Speaking of the devil/ Sike, that shit right."
Masta Killa: I don’t remember exactly how that went. I remember [Killah Priest] was there. I don’t remember if he had already laid a verse on the beat; I know there was a few people who laid other verses. There were a few people who were there that had an opportunity (to jump on the song). I love Killah Priest, but I’m pretty sure he would have said something. He would have been more respected.
I actually went to GZA with those “Chessboxin” thoughts at that time on paper—I had written my thoughts down on paper and actually went to him one day and asked him, “What you think about this?” He read it and was like, “You wrote this? If you can learn how to say this, aw man.” He saw there was potential in that I respected him so much lyrically, and he is who he is to the Wu-Tang Clan, which is the head and the master of it all. So if he said there was potential there, then I knew I had something.
Deck: For fans who don’t know. Hip-hop historians and shit. Me and Rae had two verses a piece to the original “C.R.E.A.M.” I was trying to get RZA to put it out, to re-release it. He still has the original. The original has two verses from Raekwon and two verses from me. I took the first half of the first verse and the second half of the second verse and put them together. That’s where you get the “C.R.E.A.M” that the world knows now.
I still have the second half of the first verse and the first half of the second verse that I could put together and it could be a Part Two to “C.R.E.A.M.” I would like for the world to hear the original like you hear us young. We sound really young. We sound really hungry. I was like they need to hear that. I think that might inspire a lot of people. Just because the song is done don’t mean the song is done. Even if that’s what you get from it but RZA is like, “It doesn’t need to be that long. It’s a touching song. You hit it right on the nose.” We just brought Meth in to hit that hook. To this day, I didn’t think it would be that significant. That song is like one of the greatest songs that Wu-Tang has put out to the world.
Method Man: [Those sessions] were brutal for me at first. 'Cause certain opinions and shit, because I had a certain... I don't know, it was just weird. Rae and Ghost used to be hard on me and shit. But I used to give as well as I got, you know what I mean. As far as recording, I never had any problems there, I was always on top of my G, I was just being fucked with about my ways and actions and the things that I would do. I was a big kid, I was having fun and shit, but that didn't ride or sit well with everybody in the crew. So egos would clash and things of that nature—it never got into a physical battle, never got into that—but you know, dudes would stop talking for a month, and shit like that.
In the studio this nigga think he's the nicest, you think you're the fuckin' nicest and shit, well alright, let's prove it on this track. It brought out the best in all of us, because them ribbing me about certain things, it made me look at certain elements so that when I was around certain individuals without them there, that influence was still there, I knew how to carry myself.
We did ["Method Man"] in RZA's house. I had happened to go over to his house one day, he was in there making beats, and, God, the "Method Man" beat, right. He's in there making beats, and I had just written this fuckin' rhyme that was inspired, the hook, the whole fuckin' rhyme really, was inspired by different records I'd heard. "Hey you get off my cloud," you know what that's from, right? Then the whole, "M-E-T-H-O-D"? "Method of Modern Love," Hall & Oates. Even the "Man" part was taken from Masta Ace's "Music Man." Alright. And then you got "I got, myself a—" You know what that's from? "Come Together." [Sings] "Come together, right now... I've got, fat bags of skunk, I got, white owl blunts...." That's genius shit.
"Protect Ya Neck"
Ghost: It’s not the first song we’d done but it was the first song that we did for Wu-Tang as a group. That was actually one of my weakest verses, because like I said, I had to hurry up and lay something down because all these niggas was already on the tracks already. I wasn’t writing in the studio, I don’t like writing in the studio. I write at home. So I just spat like 8 bars or 10 bars, whatever it was, and kept it moving. I don’t even do that verse, I stop it every time. I’m ready to write another verse and stick it in there. But you know what, I’ve realized that sometimes even if your verse seems imperfect to you, it is what it is—you can’t change time. Every verse that you spit, even if it’s a bullshit verse, it still came from your mental. It’s still one of your babies, whether you want to call it a deformed baby or a baby with insecurities or a baby with disabilities—it’s still a baby, it’s from you. You gave birth to that.
Masta Killa: I can’t front: The first time I heard “Protect Ya Neck,” I saw dollar signs. I knew if this is ever made it, that people would love it.
Deck: At 7 o’clock, we went to RZA’s mom’s house and RZA’s sisters, everybody’s family there, the whole Clan was there. We are all gathered in the living room listening to something about this small [Points to tape recorder]. We had the volume turned up. “Shut up! Shut up!” We was just listening when Kid Capri out of nowhere said, “I got something from this new group from Staten Island called ‘Wu-Tang Clan.’ I want y’all to check this out.” [Imitates opening bars of "Protect Ya Neck"] He plays the record and we just like... It was like surreal but it’s like, “Now back to what we was doing,” and the commercial came back on. For the most part, I was just blown away to hear my voice coming through the speaker for the first time and that’s when I knew that RZA was real. He did everything he said he was going to do and he marketed it the way he was supposed to do.
20 Years In The Game
Deck: Twenty years in retrospect, it feels good. I wish that shit would have been noticed back then. Not that it would have changed anything but it’s like being a leadoff hitter in Major League baseball. The pitcher is nervous to pitch to you because he knows that you are going to set the tone of the game. I could take the first pitch, first swing and go out the park fucking with me. That’s the approach that I took to this whole thing from day one. My mom, rest in peace, she’s been like a mentor to me through this whole thing. She don’t know anything about music but knows business and relationships and circumstances and things like that. She used to tell me all these different things. “When you get on that mic, you make sure they remember you were on that mic.” That’s my mom saying that. Never really listened to my lyrics or anything until one day I actually brought it to her and said, “What do you think about this?” I had to handpick songs where I’m not talking about a whole bunch of bullshit but she taught me a long time ago. Twenty years later, nobody killed each other, nobody went at each other’s heads. No real stories of Wu-Tang going after each other or breaking up because of money or this, that and a third. We have our issues but that’s like anybody.
Masta Killa: To say it would be a platinum album? I wasn’t thinking that far, because I was really green to the music industry and how the mechanics work. I know good music, no matter what genre or whether I’m a part of it or not. So I knew we had something very unique, and it was crazy to me—just the sound of it and the different voices. But I never imagined it would be global and that people would have our logo tatted on their faces. I never imagined that. [After 20 years] you should know about royalties and publishing. You should know the business of music. Anything you’re involved in business-wise, you should know the business of it. You just shouldn’t be talent because then you’ll just be talent for hire.
Meth: It's alright. It's alright. It's bittersweet, like I said, it's great to be doing something for 20 years, it's great to be recognized as a pivotal group in the business. But in the same sense, the fame don't reflect that shit; the profits don't reflect the fame, at all. And it's a constant struggle to stay relevant, or a constant struggle to keep some type of revenue coming in. 'Cause at the end of the day, the same place the labels picked you up at, when they're done with you they wanna drop you off there. And it's up to you and what you do in order to maintain your lifestyle. I'm just glad that I just rhyme 'cause I want to, not 'cause I have to.
"RZA made a Kung fu movie last year. If that's not screaming childhood fantasy, I don't know what is. Rae's living the lifestyle of a mobster and shit. Me? I got millions of pairs of sneakers and video games, shit that I didn't have as a child.” —Method Man
[What's changed?] Zip codes. That's as simple as I can put it—zip codes have changed. We're all still the same dudes. At least, I feel like we're the same dudes; you'd have to ask somebody on the outside looking in. I still see the child in all my niggas. And it's funny, I can see it in the things they do. RZA made a Kung fu movie last year. If that's not screaming childhood fantasy, I don't know what is, you know what I mean? Rae's living the lifestyle of a mobster and shit—childhood fantasy? Yeah. Me? I got millions of pairs of sneakers and video games, shit that I didn't have as a child. So in that sense, yeah.
U-God: I'm glad to have a little than to have none. If I'd had none, I probably wouldn't be here talking to you right now. I might have one and a half, but my one and a half shook the world. Praise the Lord, he gave me that one and a half, and from that one and a half, I've been crawling my way back to a whole. I made myself a whole person. That's a beautiful thing. I think about that all the time. Even though I was in the dugout, I was in the can. Before you know it, they'll probably give me a lifetime achievement award, probably give the whole Clan a lifetime achievement award. Because you know why? We keep moving forward.
[20 years?] It is what it is. I don't feel strange about nothing. I'm happy to be doing this rather than have to dig in your pockets and go in your house and pull your hair out your head and take your glasses and steal your wallet. [Laughs] Nah, I'll stop it. Be a detriment to society. Hip-hop saved my life. I'm just happy I'm still doing it and hopefully I can still be writing dope shit years down the line. We had no other choice but to last because we ain't going back to our past.