From day one I’ve been a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan. Ever since I heard the cassette single for “Protect Ya Neck”, with one side featuring an onslaught of MCs ripping apart a simplistic and hardcore beat, while the second side offered a verse-long song with Method Man switching up his voice and flow all throughout. The following years brought along 7 albums of pure hip hop greatness, starting with Enter the Wu-Tang and concluding with Wu-Tang Forever, with 5 brilliant solo efforts in between. Commonly referred to as the 5-year plan by RZA himself, this collection of music solidified the Wu’s stamp on the culture and made them an easy first-vote entrance to the hip hop hall of fame. So why is all of this relevant today in 2012? Because apparently Raekwon thinks the solo albums were bad for the group.
Recently the Chef was interviewed by VladTV and he let go of some information that even he admitted he had never discussed before, the fact that he thought the members of the Wu going solo ultimately was the downfall of the group itself. We’ve seen groups break up plenty of times due to the obvious implications that one member was superior to the other and would ultimately go solo (Leaders of the New School anyone?) but it always seemed like those first 5 Wu solo albums were done on purpose, as to showcase the diversity of the group, not to mention the deal the Generals made with their label was a milestone in the record industry. Also, each of those first 5 records never really seemed like a solo album, especially Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Ironman which both announced co-stars on the front covers. So the question remains, was Raekwon talking about the second wave of solo albums, or is he truly saying that those first 5 records hurt the egos of U-God, Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck?
I can certainly understand the concern, as Deck’s and Huey’s debuts didn’t come until 1999, years after the Wu phenomenon had died down. Matter fact both those albums made a lot of fans feel like the Wu had fallen off, it wasn’t until Supreme Clientele in 2000 that people believed the Wu still had it in them. Also Rae’s second effort, sans an RZA production as well as any real Wu General features was the biggest sophomore flop since Lords of the Underground literally made the same album twice. But in the interview he came right out and said that members of the group going solo hurt the group, which I can only interpret to mean that he believes those first 5 solo albums shouldn’t have happened.
Rae went on to say that without the solo careers the clan itself may have had a bunch more albums together, and since most people write off The W and certainly Iron Flag (and most don’t even know about 8 Diagrams) it’s a challenge to wonder if maybe the Clan would have been better off just dropping group records instead of making landmark deals with different labels and dominating the industry for 4 years with those first 7 albums. That would mean no Cuban Linx, an album whose influence is still seen in hip hop today and whose immediate effect was noticeable in classic albums from AZ and Jay-Z. It would have meant no Liquid Swords, which white college kids still consider one of the greatest albums ever in the entire world (the same kids who probably can’t stand the brilliance of anything Cappadonna has ever done outside of “Winter Warz”). It also means that one of the greatest hip hop/R&B anthems wouldn’t have existed which could mean Method Man would have never made his transition to acting, no How High, no Cheese.
Whatever Raekwon meant by his comments, it was devastating as a Wu fan to hear that one of the founding Generals of the group thinks that perhaps 5 classic albums should not have blessed our ears, with knowledge, soul, and a godfather-esque cinematic journey through the life of a crack dealer. We’ll never know what could have been had the Wu-Tang Clan decided to stick together as a group and not branch off, but I still stand by the fact that those first 7 albums from the Wu camp are without a doubt some of the greatest music in the history of rap, and I still applaud RZA for his 5 year plan which definitely took the Wu worldwide and made it certain that Wu-Tang truly is forever.