Clash spent some quality time with New York’s legendary rap crew the Wu-Tang Clan recently, and used our interview slot – a good hour, as it turned out – to speak to the hip-hop heavyweights about a key influential factor in their creative DNA: Shaolin.
Disciples of Shaolin are expected to follow 10 rules (well, so says The Internet) – so Clash put these rules to the Clan to see how they uphold them in their own careers and personal lives.
Read part one of this feature here.
Read part two of this feature here.
- - -
“Forbidden to associate with wicked people, and forbidden to do any kind of wickedness,” from which Clash asks: has the Clan been approached for any collaborations that have been outright laughed from the room?
RZA: Well, is music evil? Of course it’s not. So we’ve just collaborated with whoever we’ve felt is right at the time. Look at Marilyn Manson. Now he represents some pretty gory, hardcore styles right?
Method Man: But he’s smart as f*ck.
RZA: Exactly. Now, as a musician, he’s a heavy metal guy, maybe he looks like he’s into Devil worshipping or something. But as a man, he’s not like that. He’s not really Marilyn Manson. He’s a musician, and Marilyn Manson is his stage name. Look at Gene Simmons. He puts the mask on and sticks his tongue out and he’s KISS. But I’ve seen him at the movie theatre with his kids, and he’s suited and well groomed, his kids look beautiful. They’re sat there like a normal family. But he puts that mask on, and to some people he’s worse than Satan. So music is not evil.
But now, if you do evil, that’s different. We had a guy from our own crew – and I ain’t trying to make him famous or anything – but his name is Lord Superb. He was a great MC, could have been one of the greatest. Maybe he’s still going. But it came out that he raped a young girl. And he goes to jail for it. So you think, well, maybe he didn’t do it. But he comes out, and then he does it again. Okay? Now he can’t hang out with me now, no matter what. He’s not allowed in my cypher, because I don’t respect him.
Method Man: I disagree. He couldn’t have been the greatest ever. He sucks.
RZA: Well, whether he has talent or not, he’s not accepted here because of what he’s done. His music could be good. But personally, he’s not good.
Have you always been in control of how the Wu-Tang ‘brand’ is presented, to avoid any unwanted associations?
RZA: As the abbot of Wu-Tang, a lot of these decisions fall on me. But at the same time I’ve never really been controlling. In the early days you’ll notice that Method Man was a very collaborative artist. He was one of the first from the crew to go out and do songs with other artists. And then later on you had Raekwon with Mobb Deep, and Inspectah Deck with Pete Rock, and I had nothing to do with those collaborations.
As far as the Wu-Tang Clan goes, we kept it personal until ‘The W’, when we invited in artists like Nas, Busta Rhymes and Snoop, and Redman. We invited Aaliyah as well, but it didn’t work out. So we respect the industry and other artists in it, but we also respect how we separate from everyone else. It’s never been: “Oh, we hate that, we can’t do that.” We’ve never had that dynamic.
- - -
Mobb Deep feat. Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, ‘Right Back At You’, from the Mobb Deep album ‘The Infamous’
- - -
“Obliged to be humane, compassionate and spread love, and to realise everlasting peace and happiness for all people,” from which Clash asks: just what does the Wu give back to the society, to the city, that it came from?
Cappadonna: Compassion keeps the crime rate down! You gotta be compassionate. Mercy and compassion also comes with grace, which is at the forefront: it creates stimulation and harmony. And that harmony is the basic foundation of the music.
RZA: You gotta think about humanity and being humane. We do a lot of things that you don’t know about. Like, one time I didn’t see Ghostface for a long time. We were going through a civil case. And they’d awarded him some money from this case, and I disagreed with it. I thought that the principle I was standing on was correct. But one day I see him in an interview, and he’s talking about going to Africa to give money to help people there, to help children. And thought, okay… and I told my lawyer not to argue over the money, as I saw what Ghost was doing with it.
Now that’s not on the news, you don’t know that Ghost is sending charity to kids in Africa. You don’t know that. He doesn’t know those kids, and he’s got his own kids, but he’s sending that money to help them. That’s humane. And we practice that on our own, too. I mean, how many people has Method Man helped? How many has Inspectah Deck helped? They just help people.
I think we have this natural thing about us – whether we know about it amongst each other. I had to find out off the internet that GZA is going into schools and talking to kids. I’ve gone to prisons in LA to speak to inmates, trying to keep them out of the wrong crowds – and I ain’t from LA, I’m from New York. But I’m out there. So we do these things – not for the media, but because our hearts are there, and we understand. We understand that if we hadn’t been given certain chances earlier in life, as a lot of us have felonies to our names, then who knows what we’d be now? We got the chance to have a better life, so we give back.
- - -
Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’’, from the album ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’
- - -
“Obliged to be chivalrous and generous, to nurture talents and pass on the arts to deserving disciples,” from which Clash asks: which hip-hop acts emerging now have the potential for the longevity that the Wu has enjoyed?
RZA: Some people are having long careers, of our generation. We’re not the only ones. But who has the potential now? When I’m with A$AP Rocky and his crew, I think he has the potential. Not because of his music alone, but because of his focus, and what he’s aiming at. The spirit of his movement is what connects. I think his music is growing, but he’s not at grand master level yet. But his energy, and the spirit of what he’s trying to do, through that I can see him reaching grand master level and continuing on. If he doesn’t let he inside forces destroy him.
Lemme say this also to you: why will Kayne West last long? When I had the chance to work with him, and see his focus, his daily routine… it’s like that of a boxer. It’s very methodical and professional. And because of that professionalism, I can see him lasting as long as he wants to.
As far as raw talent goes, an MC with raw talent and focus, Drake has both, Whether he’s rapping or acting, you can tell that the only thing that will stop him is himself. Kendrick Lamar is a lyricist MC whose first album is an award-winning album without him being a pop MC yet. And that’s what happened with us. Kendrick is an underground MC who is not making pop music, but who has managed to become popular. And I see him, as well, having a long career.
- - -
Kanye West, ‘Dark Fantasy’, co-produced by RZA, from the Kanye West album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’
- - -
“Forbidden to be ungrateful and unscrupulous, ignoring the laws of man and heaven,” from which Clash asks: despite the lows alongside all the highs you’ve experienced, would you have had the last 20 years go any other way?
Inspectah Deck: I am grateful, every day.
Method Man: I…
Ghostface Killah: Everything is a blessing. I’m grateful for where I came from, y’know. I’m grateful to eat this chicken right now, because some people ain’t got that. They’re digging out of garbage. So when I’ve been to Africa, I’ve seen how they be living. They’ll do anything for food. So it’s like, when I left that place, I knew that, given where we come from, we take a lot of things for granted.
We’re definitely ungrateful. Brothers don’t get praises, or nothing. But I’m here for a reason, in this life. I give praise to the most high to just be here at this point in time. I got to meet the best MCs in the world here, y’know what I mean? I got to live through the era where hip-hop was at its best – and I got to see it come and go. All that. So I know what the glorious days is like.
These new kids now, they don’t know. They don’t now about the barbeques and the backyards and how it was when we were younger. So I’m grateful, and everyone should be grateful, because it’s like you’re not promised tomorrow – you could catch a heart attack in your sleep. Despite what you go through in life, you should always be grateful to see that sun rise, to go and place a cover on top of you. Growing up, I notice the small things in life more. Fuck the big things – it’s the little things you forget about, like a blanket. Some people don’t even have that.
RZA: And gratefulness… Each one of these Shaolin concepts, they’re all about how a man lives. And gratefulness is important. I echo Ghost’s words. When a man forgets to be grateful, that’s when he’s living in hell on earth, because he’s not paying attention.
The Bible says that in the Garden of Eden we had all the animals, trees, water, all the food, and man was in the Garden of Eden, too. But man messed up, and got kicked out. But I’ll argue that the planet Earth is the Garden of Eden. The only thing that man got kicked out of is seeing that. This is where all the food is. It’s not in any other dimension, or somewhere in space. Man has to realise, all of that is right here.
Me, personally, I’m in heaven, because I appreciate everything that I have. I’m a Shaolin disciple, and my trainer trains himself several times a day, especially before he eats. I’m like, why do you train every morning like that, before you eat? And he says, “Rakim, if I don’t train, I don’t eat.” And he meant that from the position of, if he doesn’t train, he doesn’t deserve to eat. And I took that concept, as what he means is if you don’t work until there’s sweat on your brow, the water won’t taste as cold or as fresh. When he trains before he eats, his body wants that food more. It tastes better. That protein shake that might taste like mud when you don’t work out tastes sweet all of a sudden. This is grace. This is all part of grace. And we do appreciate it, yo. Cappa will echo those words.
Cappadonna: I appreciate everything I have, everything I work for. Especially coming from where I do, because I’m from the slum of Shaolin. I ain’t really had nothing. I had to sell drugs – at least, that’s how I felt. I had to do that because I didn’t want my mom to take care of me, I didn’t want nobody to take care of me. Because that’s the concept and ideology of what we were studying at the time, to gain that supreme wisdom. That’s the same energy that’s got me to today, because I’m still applying that same concept of being grateful.
I know that charity starts at home, so I’m always thinking of ways to save my family. I’ve always got an open hand, and I’m always ready to give, even my last, because that’s how we were structured and that’s how we came up. So I’m grateful for everything.
I have done deeds, travelling, all the time. You’re always looking out for homeless. I’m ready to give someone these [shoes], right here, right off my feet. That’s how I’m always thinking. Me and Ghost, we’ve fed a lot of homeless people. We’ve seen people lying on the street, we bust out $500 and give them everything. Everything off the tourbus, too. And that wasn’t nothing. I wanna do something bigger than that. I wanna give back in a way where people can recognise that I did something that was constructive and productive… That’s what I stand on. And that’s above anything else. That’s love, and that higher form of understanding.
Method Man: Before I was so rudely f*cking interrupted, I was gonna answer the question. I’m grateful that I’m not as longwinded as these mother*ckers. And that’s what I’m grateful for.
- - -
Wu-Tang Clan, ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’, from the album ‘8 Diagrams’
- - -
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here
Wu-Tang Clan’s goddamn beautiful debut album, ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013. Listen to the whole album via Deezer, below.