'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' looks at the iconic hip-hop group's origin, legacy, and lasting influence
The Wu-Tang Clan revolutionized the hip-hop scene in New York and the rest of America, paving way for artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. Read on to know what made the group so important in America's music scene
The Wu-Tang Clan revolutionized hip-hop forever when they released their debut album, 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)'. Twenty-six years later, Hulu is releasing a 10-part miniseries, 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga,' that gives the viewers a fictionalized account of how the group came to be. We look at some of the reasons why the group is so iconic, half a century later.
The entry of the group sparked a renaissance in East Coast hip-hop, paving the way for artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z. RZA, the leader of the group, boldly produced their music, featuring sparse beats and using soul samples that are prominent features of the genre today.
When the Wu-Tang Clan formed, hip-hop on the eastern coast played second fiddle to the western coast. Acts like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube dominated the charts due to their high production values. RZA collaborated with Ghostface Killah to form the group, along with JZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard, to blend "Eastern philosophy picked up from kung fu movies, watered-down Nation of Islam preaching from New York streets, and comic books." The name of the group was inspired by the 1983 Hong Kong martial arts film, 'Shaolin and Wu Tang.'
The Wu-Tang Clan's work differed heavily from the hip-hop music coming out of the West Coast, for one, the use of minimalistic, hardcore sounds mixed with fierce, doleful lyrics helped the group cement their unique style. The group was massive, with nine members, but the styles of each member shone through. Their explicit, free-associative lyrics have influenced the genre even today.
What set the Wu-Tang Clan apart, however, was that they were the first group that allowed their members to release solo works with labels that would complement their styles and personalities. The cycle of releasing albums as a group and as solo artists further cemented the group's position in the genre.
Before Kanye West and Jay_Z started their fashion labels Yeezy and Rocawear respectively, the Wu-Tang Clan cashed in on the popularity of their brand to release their fashion label, Wu Wear in the mid-90s - fans could buy items like shoes, sweatshirts, and pants. The label was a huge success for the Wu-Tang Clan, not only did they have their own stores, but the line was also sold in Macy's and Rich's. But clothes were not all that the group diversified into, before long they had their own production and publishing companies and other ventures.
The group was known to have one of the largest vocabularies among hip-hop and rap groups. With more than 6,000 unique words to be used in their lyrics, their songs featured phrases like "I bomb atomically, Socrates' philosophies / And hypotheses can't define how I be droppin' these / Mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery / Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me."
In an interview with NPR, RZA stated that he "wanted to be a voice of the people" and famously said, "If MC Hammer sells 10 million records, that don’t mean nothing. That’s just 10 million people that are dancing. When Wu-Tang sells a million records, that’s a million people that has woke up." After all, the group's mission was to "open up the minds of the youth and the people and become aware of our people, our situation, our community, martial arts, knowledge of self, and all the things that we put into those songs." Using their home, Staten Island, as a backdrop, the group's lyrics cover many issues that the African-American community still faces - like racism, police brutality, and mass media representations.
This is a group that never forgot their roots, so when they celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of their debut album, 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' on November 9th, 2018, the borough declared the date as "Wu-Tang Clan Day."
The first three episodes of Hulu's 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' will be released on September 4, 2019. The next seven episodes, each corresponding to a studio album, will be aired weekly on Wednesdays.