With ten members, eight solo projects in the works and a swarm of managers, cellular communication is a necessity Wu-tang clan and the people who surround it communicate with the frequency and urgency of a shuttle mission leaving Cape Canaveral. The Wu, you see, is not so much a ten-member rap group from Staten Island as it is a chaotic way of life. Wu-Tangers release solo albums on a distracting array of different labels; then there’s Wu Wear, their national clothing line (with its own store), and the usual video shoots, recording sessions and shows. Most of the Clan’s members have children, and all of them make time for their families. Life is hectic.
“We’re a unit,” proclaims Power, the business mind behind Wu Wear and most of the group’s deals. “A unit is always in communication. You need to monitor your components.” Today, a few of said components are on the Manhattan set of Black and White, a film by James Toback that explores the relationship between a group of Upper East Side whites and a collective of black rappers. Power and Raekwon have starring roles alongside Ben Stiller (that’s “Benzilla” to Wu-Tang), Robert Downey Jr., Brooke Shields, Claudia Schiffer and a host of cameos, including Mike Tyson in his big-screen debut. Cappadonna is somewhere nearby, here to lend support and to meet Iron Mike. A cluster of groupies hovers as a constant stream of film staffers, friends and associates filters in and out of the Wu trailer.
Inside, it’s ground zero. Power intermittently barks into his Motorola i1000 mobile phone, a few Wu Wear reps stop in, and soon the narrow trailer is stuffed. Raekwon, who is kicking back on the couch, calls Inspectah Deck, who is “taking care of some personals” in Jersey but may stop in later. Two other phones start ringing, and everybody checks theirs. “It’s crazy in here, man!” Rae yells, brandishing his phone. “Phones ringing all over this motherfucker. What? Yeah, I can hear you.” The frenetic energy surrounding Wu-Tang is turned up a notch today Claudia Schiffer may be floating about the set. Steve Rifkind, the owner of Wu’s label, Loud Records, calls from L. A. Power clicks on the speakerphone. Let’s listen in.
POWER: Yo, Steve, where you at?
RIFKIND: In my back yard. Have you seen Claudia?
RlFKIND: Power, who’s got the soundtrack deal to this movie?
POWER: I got it.
RIFKIND: When’s it coming out?
RAEKWON: Steve, we trying to be award winners right here! Straight up.
POWER: It’s gonna be in the Cannes Film Festival in May.
RIFKIND: Cannes is incredible. We’re going together.
POWER: Let’s do it.
RIFKIND: Is Claudia coming?
POWER: No doubt she comin’. Hold on, Steve, my other line. Yo yo yo, what up? Hold that thought. [Switches back] Steve? Rae wants you.
RAEKWON: Mr. Rifkind.
RIFKIND: Mr. Rae.
RAEKWON: What’s going on? You ready for me?
RIFKIND: Yeah, I’m ready. The movie going well?
RAEKWON: The movie’s going excellent. I want to do press on this thing. I want to do it like Muhammad Ali at the Thrilla in Manila.
Raekwon and Power both have Motorola i1000s, compact units that open like Star Trek communicators. The phone is both digital and analog. It has Caller ID, text paging, call waiting and speakerphone, and -this is cool – it’s connected to the private satellite provider Nextel and so features a walkie-talkie capability within the user’s central calling area. (In the case of the Wus, the range extends as far north as Connecticut and as far south as New Jersey.) Rae-kwon’s phone beeps, and his publicist’s voice comes over the speaker.
RAEKWON: What’s up, baby? What’s the matter?
PUBLICIST: Are you coming to Wy-clef’s surprise party tonight?
RAEKWON: C’mon, baby, you know I’m politickin’ right now. You enjoy yourself at the party and send my regards to him, aiight? My love is there, my spirit is there, but I’m trying to focus on Rae right now.
PUBLICIST: You’re a superstar.
RAEKWON: C’mon, baby, the only stars I know are in the sky. I’m just a replica of something powerful, that’s all. I got the power to teach and build, serve and protect. See what I’m sayin’? Word up. You know what time it is. [Silence] Where you at? You at the movie set with me? Publicist: No, sweetie, I’m in SoHo.
RAEKWON: Yo, when you out there, pick me up a pack a drawers and some hats and shit. I need a crisp pair of white-on-white Nikes. Straight up. You know my size – eight and a half.
Raekwon, over and out. “This phone is the shit right here,” he says. “You always want to be on that. We call that walkie-talkie life or death. Yo, you always want to know where your people at. The most illest shit they could have done is giving you the power to hear someone just like that. You got twenty cats down with you and you got twenty of these shits – it’s real.”
“Word,” Power says. “I wanna be able to hit cats as long as they in the vicinity. Brooklyn, Bronx, New Jersey – any of the five boroughs, we still all in the same place at the same time, at the flip of a button. It just go to show that the digital, modern technology is real.”
A wardrobe staffer knocks on the trailer door and informs Rae and Power that they’re needed for rehearsal. Everyone piles out as the two Wus are led onto a gym set – replete with burly boxers working out and Tyson, who sits in an office surrounded by very authentic Mafiosi types. As the director blocks the scene, Power’s phone rings. “Yo, what up?” he says as he sidles over to the window, keeping one eye on the action.
AROUND THE CORNER FROM THE set, Cappadonna is sitting in a white stretch limo. He has four, maybe five peeps from his neighborhood with him today – it’s hard to tell who was invited -and Mike Tyson’s sister in the back seat. He blows in a call to his publicist, who is standing on the sidewalk half a block away, to order his lunch: a foot-long tuna sub. “Foot-long,” he insists.
Cappa whips open his Motorola V-Series, the smallest mobile phone on the market; when closed, it’s the size of a pack of Bubble Yum. “This phone has got good reception,” he says. “The size is good, it’s compact – it’s not like you’re fronting or anything. Very conservative, very comfortable. I like that.” Cap’s eyes draw a bead. “Hey, how you doin’?” he says to a passing blond girl, who smiles at him. “I haven’t seen you in a long time.” They chat awhile before Cap borrows paper and a pen from his interlocutor. He gives her his cell number and says goodbye. “Call me later tonight,” he says. And who was that? “I don’t know. I just met her.”
Rehearsal over, Tyson drops in for a quick hang. After he’s gone, Cap quickly calls his friend Boy Blue. “Yo, it’s me, J-bird. I was just chillin’ with Tyson.” J-bird hangs up, slips his phone into his pocket and holds forth on what makes a worthy cellie: “Reasonable rates and good reception. This one right here, I can use it in a store; right now I’m between a lot of tall buildings, and it sounds good. I guess maybe the smaller the phone, the bigger the advantage.” Cap has been listening to his solo effort, The Pillage, and he tracks back to hear the songs he missed while talking to the blonde. “I think soon they gonna have cell phones with perhaps a monitor device as a watch for your wrist, so you can tap right in and talk and listen at one time, with very good reception. Maybe they could do a Batman phone, or perhaps a James Bond device. That will all be beneficial to us in the days to come.”
Back in the Wu trailer, Power and Rae are entertaining Iron Mike and model Bijou Phillips, who have a common friend in David Blaine, the celebrity magician. Phillips uses Rae’s phone to dial up Blaine, and Tyson leaves him a message. “Yo, my nigga!” he says by way of a greeting. “This is Mike Tyson. We chillin’ out. You gotta get your ass down here!”
Someone calls to give the word that Cappadonna is watching a porno in the limo, if anybody wants to drop in. The conversation swirls around from the film to the rap game to Tyson’s career setbacks and everyone’s future projects. Time rolls by, and soon the crew is ready to shoot. Rae slips his phone into the pocket of his blue velour sweat suit and heads out. “I pull this out and people think I got a little baby beeper box in my hand,” he remarks. “But it’s a phone. That’s my whole style – I be freakin’ ‘cm. Havin’ the latest new things of technology, you just want to show it, like, ‘Yeah, you can hold it.’ Most importantly, when I’m coming through the movie theater, I can let my niggas know – ‘Yo, I’m up at the flicks right now. I gonna be up here two hours. I’ll get with y’all later, but I’m all right.’ That’s how the Clan niggas like to roll. You might see ten of us together, you might only see one of us, but we always right in touch.”