Hip-hop has never been a stranger to the duo, trio or even the quartet, but with a grand total of ten members strong, there is no group more prominent or influential than that of the Wu-Tang Clan. Not only were they a force to be reckoned with when all together, each member stood tall as a solo artist in their own right, able to individually etch their names into the hip-hop history books with their ultra unique take on the rhyming arts.
Led by their fearless leader, RZA, The Wu-Tang Clan blazed a definitive trail across the musical landscape with world-class lyrical finesse. Somehow, with all those voices in the mix, each members personality was able to shine through and they easily separated themselves with style while staying complete as a whole.
Even from the word ‘go’, they broke boundaries by securing a never-before-seen record deal that allowed each member to write and record on their own under any other label they wanted while the group itself remained signed to just one (Geez, can you imagine the paperwork?). With such an impressive legacy behind them, there’s no better time than now to dissect The Wu and get to know the artists that make up this ironclad brotherhood of rappers. This is hip-hop of the nineties.
Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (a.k.a. RZA) was born in Brooklyn, New York (Like so many other great artists of the era) and was already a competent rapper by the age of 11. It wasn’t enough for him to just write the rhymes, he had to make the beats as well. Not just for him, but for nearly every Wu-Tang project and it’s this particular skill set that would firmly cement his position as their unofficial leader. It was in his basement that the first foundations were laid and after releasing a bit of solo material, he decided to form a rap group with his two cousins.
Both his hands-on and hands-off production gained notice throughout the industry he continued to flourish by composing musical scores for movies and ultimately directing them.
Formerly known as ‘The Genius”, Gary Grice (a.k.a. GZA) was the oldest and most experienced member of the group. Even while in a group with his cousin, Robert, he was already making impressive progress as a solo artist, managing to release his first album Words from the Genius in 1991. After failing to make the desired breakthrough, he officially joined the Wu-Tang Clan and would thrive as the crew’s spiritual beacon.
He shone as the most lyrically gifted as well, but surprisingly, the solo albums he released later on would not reflect that despite the positive responses from critics.
3. Method Man
Named after the martial arts movie (and his love for marijuana), Clifford Smith (a.k.a. Method Man) was easily the breakout star of the group. His distinct voice and witty personality were able to transcend the heights of mainstream media while still keeping his underground credibility. It’s no surprise that his talents were able to stretch to film and television as well, with starring roles in many high profile movies and television series.
Despite his musical success as a solo act (and the abundance of star quality he has), Method Man remains a well-respected member of the legendary hip-hop group.
4. Inspectah Deck
Jason Hunter (a.k.a. Inspectah Deck) was born in Brooklyn, New York and attended the same school as a few other Wu-Tang members, including Method Man and Raekwon. He featured heavily on the groups’ debut album and was a popular guest artist throughout the late 90s, whether he was appearing on Wu-Tang tracks or not. Unfortunately, Inspectah Deck’s solo work failed to live up to the same incredible reputation he built with the talented verses he supplied for various artists.
Nevertheless, his skills expanded into the beat-making realm as well and he more than once was able to take over production duties from RZA.
5. Raekwon The Chef
From laying down tasty rhymes to being able to cook crack, it’s no wonder they call Corey Woods (a.k.a. Raekwon) the Chef. He used his lyrical prowess to tell grand stories of the glamour, power, luxury and wealth that come with a life of a drug kingpin and he brought that unique character to the table with his 1995 solo debut Only Built for Cuban Linx. This album was where his Mafioso persona shone wholeheartedly and helped to pioneer a movement that even The Notorious B.I.G. would be a part of.
It took almost fifteen years (and a few more albums) for the sequel to be released but Raekwon’s character has stayed relevant in music throughout.
Any great album by Raekwon is definitely going to have an abundance of featured verse by none other than Dennis Coles (a.k.a. Ghostface Killah). He was a roommate of RZA and has been credited with bringing the other 7 members together. Regardless, it’s his unique ability to paint epic stories across vivid urban landscapes that separated him as an artist and led to much of the success he found once he went solo.
He has periodically released his own material throughout the years and has unleashed twelve albums to date (the most so far).
7. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (deceased)
Russel Tyrone Jones (a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard) was by far the most eccentric and down right unpredictable member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Throw in a mixed bag of relentless profanity and a career decorated with criminal escapades and you’ve got an artist that seemed to never really grasp the concepts of fame and influence. He stayed true to who he was throughout his time in the spotlight and left behind a notorious legacy that was spearheaded by phenomenal rapping talent.
Unfortunately for Wu-Tang fans everywhere, the one and only ODB passed away on November 13th, 2004 from an accidental drug overdose.
Wu-Tang Clans debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang, was like it’s own sonic film fusion of hip-hop and old school martial arts, but one of the stars in this particular movie had a part so small that you would’ve missed him if you blinked. Thankfully, Lamont Jody Hawkins (a.k.a. U-God) was able to survive incarceration and returned to the forefront with a massive contribution to their follow-up album, Wu-Tang Forever.
Despite keeping a much lower profile than the other members, he too was able to find moderate success once he stepped out alone.
9. Masta Killa
Elgin Turner (a.k.a. Masta Killa) was the only member that wasn’t already an experienced rapper when the group first started recording music together. After receiving exclusive mentorship from GZA himself, he narrowly managed to cross the finish line in good form and squeeze in a single verse on Wu-Tangs debut album. It was the Clansmen’s solo projects that gave him the proper exposure he needed and showed many fans why he was worthy of the name Wu-Tang.
He finally got his chance to do a solo project in 2004 and has since released more albums that tend to exclusively feature Clan members.
Darryl Hill (a.k.a. Cappadonna) has always had an unclear standing with the group. His membership was a hotly debated topic amongst fans since he didn’t feature in the album art and the fact that the tracks that he appeared on were marked with “feat. Cappadonna”. It was the RZA himself who finally stated in a 2014 interview with HipHopDX that Cappadonna is an official member of the Wu-Tang Clan and that he has been since their fifth album, 8 Diagrams.
Although he was around during the group’s formation (and a longtime friend of many of the members), his early incarceration kept him out of the movement.
Where Are They Now?
You can find members of the Wu-Tang clan scattered across many facets of the entertainment industry, as producers, filmmakers and even record label executives. There is no denying the trail that they have blazed across the globe and fans wait eagerly for new material from each and every member of this legendary rap group.
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Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com
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