I love ‘Wu-Tang: An American Saga,’ so now is a good time to admit that I was pretty much not a fan for a very long time
OPINION: The Hulu series about the legendary Staten Island collective has given me some new perspective and allowed me to revisit the music with different ears.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
It’s really not my fault that I didn’t like the Wu-Tang Clan. Nope. That fault rests firmly at the hands of one of my oldest friends, Titus … whose name has NOT been changed to protect the guilty. Because Titus isn’t innocent. You see when I was 15 years old and carless in 1995, Titus was the only friend who had a car, a brown Buick 1980-something Cutlass he called “Peanut Butter.” Being one of the few friends with a car meant that Titus had full run and control of the music that played. And Titus? Titus was 100 percent all in on the Wu-Tang Clan, especially Ol’ Dirty Bastard. For the final months of 10th grade and the entire summer of 1995, there was one album and one album only playing in Titus’ car, “Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.”
Mind you, leading up to that life-changing summer, Titus obviously loved the Wu-Tang Clan. I guess most people did. I remember being on the fence. When “Protect Ya Neck” was released in December 1992, I was a 13-year-old living in Frankfurt, Germany, who was a huge fan of Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” album. The way I listened to music was very “clean,” and the Wu-Tang sound clashed mightily with my tastes at that point. In the summer of 1993, I moved to Madison, Ala., for high school, and I remember the sounds of the West Coast really running things until Outkast hit. Now, because where I lived was a military town, there were many transplants from all over so the hip-hop tastes of a lot of the folks there varied. For instance, I had a good friend who was really into the sounds of the Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest and other friends who only listened to the Geto Boys.
I vividly remember seeing the video for “Method Man” for the first time and loving the song. I guess Method Man’s star power was evident from the jump. But I didn’t really care for Wu-Tang’s debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” The sound was just too dirty for me. I didn’t even love Method Man’s “Tical” album, though I liked the singles like “Bring The Pain” and of course, “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By.” But you know who loved any and all of it? Titus.
Fast forward two years and we’re in the summer of 1995 and Titus being the one with the car. We used to hang out in an apartment complex called Madison Crest, and every day, Titus would pick me up and on the ride to the Crest or anywhere else we were going on the way there, Titus would blast all things Wu-Tang Clan, but especially all things Ol’ Dirty Bastard. At some point, I got so tired of hearing that dirty sound; I swore off the Wu-Tang Clan in all of its parts. That meant I never bought or listened to Wu-Tang or Wu-Tang-affiliated albums — two exceptions: I purchased “Wu-Tang Forever” because it was released on my 18th birthday, June 3, 1997, and I oddly purchased Killah Priest’s debut album, “Heavy Mental.” I didn’t listen to Raekwon’s “Only Built for Cuban Linx…” or Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman.” I definitely didn’t listen to the GZA’s “Liquid Swords,” and I remember being confused in 1998 about why anybody would buy Cappadonna’s “The Pillage” album when it dropped; I completely didn’t understand the Cappadonna wave. Now, I have to say, I loved some songs by some of the artists. Everybody loved Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Cappadonna’s “Ice Cream” and Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph,” among others.
Point is, I was a fan of the stuff that was easy to enjoy, but I just didn’t dig the sound and that persisted for a very, very long time.
Fast forward to the Hulu series, “Wu-Tang Clan: An American Saga.” I love this series. I have no idea how much of the story is accurate. Obviously, it’s mostly inspired by, and there are some liberties taken with some stories that any hip-hop head who read The Source or other trade magazines would dispute, but as a series, it’s really good. My favorite episodes, though, are the ones where it shows them creating their songs and albums.
Thus far, my favorite episode of the series is season 2, episode 6, “Protect Ya Neck.” This is the episode that shows how RZA created the beat for their first single, “Protect Ya Neck” and how the MCs all came together to drop their verses. Again, I never liked the song, but watching this super abstract episode where RZA brings elements and instruments and samples in and moves them out over and over until ultimately landing on the trademark RZA sound for the final version of the beat gave me such a new appreciation for the song. A few episodes later, the whole Clan got on stage to perform, “Protect Ya Neck,” “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Can It Be That It Was All So Simple,” and I was in my living room standing up applauding like I was in the club in 1993.
All of a sudden, I felt this need to listen to ALL of their albums, in succession. And I hear them differently now. Granted, I’m 43 and my ears are more appreciative of the sounds that shaped the era I grew up in and love the most, but the fact that I fully appreciate “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” 30-plus years after everybody got it is comical, but I’m glad to be here now.
Titus, bro. You were right and I was wrong. I can see clearly now that you were ahead of the game and could hear something I wasn’t ready for. I was still tired of hearing ODB every single day, but that sound was one that was undeniable.
To Titus and the entire Wu-Tang Clan, my bad. Wu-Tang is here forever.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).
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