"We wanna show niggas that, yo, fuck that, the Wu is some shit," says the RZA. "The hunger is back with us. It ain't about the money or the fame now. It's about that samurai hunger." The Wu-Tang Clan's mastermind producer is sitting in a cramped control room at Track Record studios in North Hollywood, putting the finishing touches on the group's upcoming third album, due out October 31. He's joined by six of his group mates -- GZA, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa -- and the vibe is both industrious and relaxed: While U-God and Method Man scribble lyrics on yellow legal pads (Method: "The work never stops, yo"), Deck and Ghostface sip Hennessy and discuss what they're going to have for dinner.
"This is like how we used to do it in the basement, ya know what I mean?" says the RZA. "We had 200 square feet to work with. I didn't know half of this shit back then."
After spending the past three years working mostly on solo projects, Wu-Tang are back with an album that the RZA promises will spark "a new generation of music and style." To prove the point, he throws in a DAT containing a few of the thirty rough tracks the band has laid down and cranks the studio monitors to infinity. What explodes from the speakers is a thick, rumbling bass line laced with a distorted, looped vocal sample and Method Man's verbal swordplay. Even in this rough iteration, it sounds like an instant Wu-Tang classic. "Yo, that shit's not even finished yet," yells RZA over the window-rattling din. "This is gonna be some shit, ya know what I'm sayin'?"
Since the 1997 release of their two-CD epic, Wu-Tang Forever, the Staten Island-based Clan members have been the undisputed kings of hip-hop invention. And with the new album (potential titles: "Worms in the Big Apple" or "Them"), the group has something to prove. "Everyone in hip-hop is going platinum with recycled beats," says Deck. "We're getting back to the gritty, witty unpredictable, and I think that's what fans want to hear."
Wu-Tang decided to record an album away from home for the first time as a way to maintain focus. "Out here, we don't have all the distractions," says RZA. "We don't have all those pressures taking us away from the work. We love L.A.! Some of us might not go back home."
The band lived together for three months in a mansion on Mulholland Drive. "You got niggas sharing rooms, gambling," says RZA. Adds Meth, "I had to sleep on the living-room couch, 'cause that's where the biggest TV in the house was." Although the manse came with the requisite Olympic-size pool, the Clan avoided it. "I jumped in one morning, and that shit was so cold I almost got hypothermia," says Method.
But not everyone could chill at the house. Ol' Dirty Bastard, who is currently doing time in a halfway house in Los Angeles, has had to squeeze in vocal sessions during weekend furloughs. "Yo, ODB is, like, 250 pounds now," says RZA. "You heard of Sasquatch? Well, we found him."
Even a corpulent ODB would be able to find plenty of room in the Wu's rented twenty-two-seat stretch limousine parked outside the studio, which will zip the Clan to an unannounced show in Pomona after they've wrapped up their studio time tonight. As the Clan slowly load themselves into the cartoonish car, RZA says, "I'm dealing with a group of masters here. I don't need to call anybody else when I've got these niggas. I'm the happiest producer in the world."