'Wu Tang: An American Saga': How RZA established the East coast hip-hop scene and inspired others to follow
RZA's role in bringing together the Wu-Tang Clan is phenomenal. His unique production styles has influenced some of the major hip-hop artistes of today. We look at his legacy in the group and beyond
Think of the Wu-Tang Clan and you think of RZA. The man was responsible for bringing together the greatest hip-hop group in history. Born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, RZA was the mind behind the success of the Wu-Tang Clan, so much so that he has called his leadership style "dictatorial" more than once.
And the extent of his and the Wu-Tang Clan's legacy is seen widely today. Chances are, if you listen to hip-hop but haven't consciously listened to the Wu-Tang Clan, you would have heard the Clan's music sampled in the music of many artistes today, including Cardi B, Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
RZA did what seemed to be an impossible job, bringing together eight rappers with distinct voices and styles to create one group, the inimitable Wu-Tang Clan. For five years, he produced nearly every Wu-Tang track and that of its individual members.
That was another thing that RZA revolutionized: when the Wu-Tang Clan was formed, each member was given the right to sign their solo deals with the label of their choosing, thus ensuring the artistes were not caught up in the greed of production companies looking to cash in on the success of the group.
One of RZA's most famous lines is "diversify your bonds". RZA applied this principle to the group as well. Not only did he start multiple production labels, but he also started Wu Wear. 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 from the brand. The label was so successful that not only were four stores opened in New York, the label was sold in high-end stores like Macy's.
The same is true of RZA's career as well. After the members of the Wu-Tang Clan went their separate ways, RZA diversified his career as well. He moved to Los Angeles and began scoring for films.
His first film score was for Jim Jarmusch's 'Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai' in 1999. More famously, RZA scored for Quentin Tarantino's martial arts films, 'Kill Bill Vol. 1' and 'Kill Bill Vol. 2'.
He also moved into directing. Not only did he write and direct 'The Man With the Iron Fists' starring Russel Crowe and Lucy Liu, he also acted in it as well. RZA also directed an episode of the Netflix series, 'Marvel's Iron Fist'.
More importantly, RZA's production technique was so unique and scene-changing, that he influenced future artistes from the east coast too. Artistes like Kanye West and Jay-Z often imitated his style of chopping up or speeding up or slowing down soul samples to fit in with his beats.
In an interview with MTV, Kanye said "Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time, We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that."
In May 2019, Showtime released 'Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men', a documentary from Sacha Jenkins. While RZA was consulted with the making of the documentary, he wanted to tell the story with more control.
This, he will be doing with Hulu's upcoming 10-episode miniseries 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga'. RZA has created the series with Alex Tse and is serving as Executive Producer as well.
With the Hulu series, RZA exerted more control in how the story was told — right from the casting, to the final episodes that are set to start airing on September 4, 2019. Ashton Sanders (best known for his role in Academy-Award winning film, 'Moonlight') will be playing RZA in the show.