GZA

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16min2521

Most people generally lack the know-how when it comes to winning in this game we call life, or they possess the know-how but lack the necessary determination and self-discipline to get to that imaginary number one spot that we all dream of, but never work towards. The lack of fulfilment that failure breeds nourishes our obscene worship of those who seem to excel in pursuing their dreams and living their best lives. This behaviour often blinds us from the fundamental truth that we are all flawed and imprecise entities.

The entertainment industry ruthlessly exploits this pitiful and ever present blind spot that we all possess as people by carefully curating experiences and imagery that introduces artificial constructs of beauty and success into our minds. Brands are built around this simple concept and we all fall for on some level or another. Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a four-part documentary about the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, is an exemplary tale of how a multinational brand can be built by a bunch of raggedy ghetto boys with very little, except for a mic and a dream.

“…the Wu-Tang Clan is an extremely flawed thing that is not worthy of honour that comes with being addressed as legendary.”

One normally chooses ignorance when it comes to the personal lives of their favourite musicians because it is often uglier and realer than the stench of sewerage that consistently flows through the streets of Winnie Mandela Zone 4. Once you know, you cannot not know that the Wu-Tang Clan is an extremely flawed thing that is not worthy of honour that comes with being addressed as legendary.

The above opinion does not nullify the fact that a group of impoverished young black men from the grimy streets of New York’s ghettos banded together to build one of the biggest cultural brands of all time. Impressively they did this without embracing the perverting gloss of ostentation which is often essential when one to seeks be prosperous in the entertainment industry. Them ghetto niggas made some of the grimmest joints ever heard on either side of the equator, while selling over 30 million albums between the period of 1993 and 1998. The level of brand recognition that the iron wings logo achieved is easily comparable to that of any global business one can think of. Whether it be Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Red Bull or any other symbol of the Caucasians international hegemonic domination of economics, society and culture. Personally, as a House and a kwaito loving pre-pubescent child in mid-nineties South Africa, the iron-wings represented everything that was Hip-Hop in my mind.

THE LEGENDARY WU LOGO
WU LOGO: THE LEGENDARY IRON WINGS

Timberlands, baggy-jeans, an added bounce to your walk and a propensity to call every Hip-Hop head “My nigga!” Little did I know that I would soon become a fanatical Hip-hop lover, who refused to acknowledge or listen to any other genre of music that was not about these bars. Retrospectively I think the iron wings were the spark that ignited my chronic interest in in Hip-Hop. All this happened in the underdeveloped dusty streets of Tembisa. Which is a testament to the fact that Wu-Tang clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.

As a long time hip-hop head I have grown to realise that when it comes to the clan, a lot of people were (and still are) faking the funk, myself included. Shamefully I have only come to learn the names of all the clan members through watching Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men. I only knew and recognized GZA, RZA, Method man, Ghostface Killah and Old dirty bastard. Them other mother fuckers just didn’t command my attention with the weak ass calibre of their work. Beyond their big hit songs, Wu-tang’s music is so steeped in localised urban colloquialisms and experimental Hip-Hop beats that most heads don’t truly fuck with their music the way they claim they do.

THE CLAN
THE CLAN

Like any global brand, Wu-tang’s core offering is not universally loved but they looked cool as fuck and that’s what most people are after. The cool. Their aesthetics represented a ghetto brotherhood of the hardest and weirdest motherfuckers alive. Urban black youth was proud of the fact that people who looked and behaved like them were represented in mainstream media. Suburban white youth’s curiosity was aroused by the clan’s antics and in their minds Wu-tang represented how the other side lived. Additionally they could piss of their conservative Yankee parents by putting C.R.E.A.M on full blast as they refused to clean their bedrooms, the struggle of any immature white teenager (I think).

My disappointment with the clan stems from how they ran their business as friends and as a family. First of all, do not get into business with family or friends! I repeat, do not go into business with family or friends! One risks irreparably damaging a valued personal relationship and it is difficult to hold people you care about accountable when they are incompetent or insubordinate.

Secondly, RZA’s selection criteria when it came to picking clan members was unsatisfactory to say the least. Old Dirty Bastard is a prime example of this, he was a musical genius with serious impulse control issues. He was one of the first hip-hop artist to sing on hip-hop joints, ululating randomly as the joint went along while sounding gutter as fuck. He was a one man reality show. Keeping fans of the clan glued to their radios and television screens waiting to hear what shit the ODB got up to while they were busy exemplifying mediocracy through their shitty lives.

The dude would arrive late for shows, get wasted while performing, go on wild rants about whatever came to his mind, dissing whoever had the nerve to call him in to order while he was embarrassing the entire clan. Instead of cleaning up to fit in with them Hollywood types, ODB put his poverty on full display because he intuitively knew that white America would be enamoured by the whole spectacle because that’s how they wanted to see black people. As crass and something to be laughed at.

THE WU NEVER DIES. By Wu Tang Clan Facebook
THE WU NEVER DIES. By Wu Tang Clan Facebook

One could argue that Mohammed Ali employed the same tactic to increase his appeal as a public figure when he was coming up as a heavyweight boxer. With all that said, high levels of charisma and creativity are not the only characteristics that a professional artists should possess. Like in any other profession an artists must be disciplined, hardworking and pragmatic. Old Dirty Bastard was none of the above. RZA could not make him toe the line because he was a close cousin and that limited how ruthlessly he could deal with him as a professional.

On the flip side, some of the other clan members lacked the necessary level of talent to be professional recording artist. Masta killa, U-god and Inspectah Deck were subpar talent in my not so humble opinion. They were dead weight who added very little value to the clan’s brand. In the specific case of Ghostface killah he did more harm than good with his bad temperament.

During a HOT97 Summer Jam in 1997. He hyped the crowd into chanting “fuck HOT97”. He was disgruntled with the radio station because at the time HOT97 did not pay artist to perform at their events. They subliminally threatened artists with the possibility of never playing their music on their radio station, which is what they. This negatively affected the reach of their brand because HOT97 was the biggest hip-hop radio station in the mecca of Hip-Hop, New York. Shortly after this incident the clan cancelled tours because certain members could not get along. Simply put, there were too many egos at play and RZA could not keep them in check because he had personal ties with each Wu member.

Throughout the doccie it is clear as daylight that every member of the clan is unhappy with how RZA ran Wu-Tang Clan. Annoyingly nobody ever explicitly expresses this sentiment which makes the whole thing feel inauthentic to me. One suspects that this is because RZA was the one who got the financial backing to shoot the documentary. Thus nobody wanted to bite the hand that feeds them.

Which is why the Wu-Tang clan could not last as a brand. The image they tried to project in public was not an accurate reflection of how their internal processes actually ran as an organisation. That is the only way a brand can remain sustainable in the long term. That requires a logically consistent approach when one seeks to build a successful business and personal feelings are often disruptive to such an approach. Which does not change the fact the Wu-Tang clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.

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10min4700

IN honouring Denzel Washington at the 47th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award Gala Tribute this year, actor Mahershala Ali said “…your influence, your reach transcends race without ever denying it…” Fitting words for a thespian who’ll go down as one of the best to ever do it. Rapsody’s latest album EVE, and her other previous work in fact, displays how much this black female’s art transcends gender, without denying it.

Something rappers who are female tend to get tripped by is the novelty of females in the rap game. You find sisters only rapping about being females who rap, which more often than not, comes off as a homily- not music. Like how the typical “underground” rapper would bog you down with how the mainstream is being manipulated by a secret society and that the biggest artists are actually aliens in human form-all of this without telling you their story and making actual music. But Rapsody has mastered the art of music making and storytelling. When listening to her music, what’s between her legs isn’t relevant and you’re there listening to a dope ass kat. But her sex is unquestionably significant to everything and very much unmissable.

Poignantly titled EVE, Rapsody’s third album is more special because she titled each of the songs with names of powerful black women. From Cleo (the character from the movie Set It Off played by Queen Latifah), Oprah Winfrey to Nina Simone. She paid homage to these women and all others in the globe in the best way she could.

Till this day I think her previous album Laila’s Wisdom is universally underrated. I couldn’t fathom her returning so quickly, with something so rich in sound, lyrics, and concept. Plainly put, I didn’t think home girl could top Laila’s Wisdom.

Ibtihaj is named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, who was the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab while representing the US at the Olympics where she took silver in fencing. Rapsody gives nods to strong female emcees that came before her on the song, like Lady of Rage and Roxanne Shante- and taking a leaf from their book, she shows her bravado and says ain’t an emcee on this earth that make me feel afraid. GZA’s verse has that nice old school feel, thanks to his flow…with D’Angelo vocals complementing both rappers.

There must be something about Rapsody’s chakras because whoever she features, the genuine chemistry is always palpable. Whether it’s  Sojourner with J.Cole, Oprah with Leileki47 or even Iman featuring J.I.D and SiR. In an interview with Sway, she said she wanted Cardi B to be on the track Whoopi. The bouncy beat produced by Khrysis would’ve suited Cardi’s energy. Rapsody’s beat and collaboration selection is like that of a producer; she’s quite decisive in that space.

The opening keys to Hatshepsut took me to church and even when the beat comes on, the warmth of the song remains. It would be wrong to say Rapsody got chowed on this joint because of all the love in the song, but hearing Queen Latifah rap is hella refreshing and inspiring. Her verse was on some Big Sis’ tip not only for Rapsody, but the youth.

Even living single we connected by the tribe
Was raised by a Queen, know how to be one
And love one and raise a King
When he’s older I’ll describe how to love ’em
Queens come in all shapes and colors
Though we sit on thrones we don’t look down on each other
I learned how to rule from my mother and my aunties
Got the blood of the Asante
I could be Cleo or Ghandi to protect mine
It’s peace of mind, word to Jersey
I’m a giant, a Queen’s pride stronger than the lions
Connected by alliance, sisterhood
The day you try to test me, look homie I wish you would
Open doors for the ladies as a Queen like I should
That’s why I’m Queen Latifah in every village, every hood
And I’m good, and every city worldwide
And why I been reigning for the last twenty five
So all hail the Queens and the next ones to arrive
Came out of Jersey with naughty dudes and hella drive
Just another day above ground working my thighs, we runnin’ it
Member the days me and ‘Pac, we had some fun with this
When I would bust you dead in your eye, that’s called humblin’
Been holding the torch, I don’t fumble it
I’m a child of God versus son of men, tellin’ ’em

I enjoyed Rapsody’s heartfelt letter to black folk, especially us black men on the track Afeni. It’s a timely song looking at the issue of Gender Based Violence in South Africa right now. The emcee drops knowledge about how men should learn to treat all women with the respect and love they would their mothers and sisters.

EVE cements her name as one of the best to ever do it. If we’re talking top emcees in the game right now in the mainstream, Rapsody’s name should be mentioned with the Coles and the Kendricks.


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