All is not well in the state of Shaolin, or at least that's what the Wu-Tang Clan's U-God alleged in his recently released memoir, Raw: My Journey Into the Wu-Tang. In an excerpt published in Rolling Stone last month, the rapper called the group's producer-rapper RZA a "control freak" who has hired his family to manage Wu with poor results. U-God claimed that RZA trademarked the group's name and charges the group's members franchise fees, adding that RZA and the rest of the ensemble don't support individual members' solo endeavors when they tour. In a new interview ahead of a tour live-scoring the movie The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, RZA rebuts many of U-God's complaints.
"Look, every man has a right to write a book," he says. "Some books are fiction and some books are nonfiction. Some are myths, some are fantasy, some are sci-fi – I don't know if this book falls totally in nonfiction."
In the excerpt, U-God described RZA as quasi-dictatorial – a claim that makes the producer laugh. "I could never be a control freak," he says. "If Wu-Tang is a dictatorship, how does every Wu-Tang member have their own contract, their own career and have put out more albums without me than they've done with me? Secondly, if I'm the problem for anybody's growth and development in music, then why [is it that] after 18 years after everybody got released from the Wu-Tang Productions contract in 2000, your growth has not shown through your own talent then if that's the problem?"
He also took umbrage with U-God's claim that RZA's hiring of his family members have run Wu-Tang into the ground. In the book, U-God targeted Mitchell "Divine" Diggs, RZA's brother and CEO of Wu-Tang Productions, with a number of allegations. In his opinion, Divine has not been able to sign Wu-Tang to an "A-list agency" like William Morris. "It's really years of BS catching up to RZA," U-God wrote. "See, he put his family in charge of shit, and for years, we would go on the road but the money came up short."
"Nobody showed up for their own video shoot. But you still want the company represent you?"
RZA says that multiple people who work behind the scenes in the industry – including a co-host at New York radio show The Breakfast Club, an exec at Def Jam and managers for Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck – started their careers working for Wu-Tang and went on to success.
"We've helped grow the industry through a small company from Staten Island that made it to Manhattan and has success now," he says. "Look at the facts: The only person who worked for my company from my family were my sister, who was head of video promotion, and because of her job, she triggered success at BET for other executives. My cousin became the president of Wu-Tang Records who put out the gold album Redemption. Of course this is a family business. My brother's always been that guy in my life. I would not have one turntable if my brother didn't buy the turntable. I was the dreamer; he was the doer. It took two of us to make this happen."
As for U-God's claim that Divine couldn't get Wu-Tang a decent agent, RZA says "that's out of my control." "Agents solicit you," he says. "You don't solicit them. I got my agent because I wanted to score movies – I did Ghost Dog – and my manager thought it would be smart to get an agent and I signed with UTA and I ended up becoming a good piece of business for Hollywood, and I grew. That is that."
He also took issue with U-God's grouses about having to pay to use the group's "W" logo. "Divine always told us, 'Y'all can't use that 'W' without paying a brand fee, and if a promoter calls your manager direct to book a Wu-Tang show, best believe they're paying that brand fee,'" he wrote. "Ain't that a motherfucker!"
RZA says he's begun enforcing the usage fee because the brand has become diluted in recent years. He paid for the rights to the logo himself in the early Nineties and has used it since. "Now if you leave a company, you can't use the logo anymore for free," he says. "Method Man can't go and put Def Jam on his stuff anymore. He's no longer signed to Def Jam. Russell Simmons can't even use Def Jam anymore and he created it. I can't even use Loud [Records, who signed Wu-Tang Clan]."
Mostly, RZA takes issue with other record companies using the logo for their own gain without paying for it. "Even if you think in old, Staten Island mafia terms, you've got to kick something back to the family," he says. "For 12 or 13 years, the logo was so diluted, diminished and free-to-the-public that I had to take a legal stance."
He began asking for fees around Wu-Tang's 2014 album A Better Tomorrow, "after letting everybody run wild with it," he says, since 1997. "Nobody was standing behind the 'W' in reality," he says. "Who promoted A Better Tomorrow? Nobody. Even on [2007's] 8 Diagrams, nobody showed up for their own video shoot. But you still want the company represent you? If he's gonna give [the logo] to [another label] who's going to make an economic off that, he should at least pay a 10 percent fee for the usage of my logo. Now 10 percent is a small fee, in all reality, and that's all I ask. But instead of paying 10 percent, they'd rather not use it at all. He's going to say he has the right to stamp my logo on his product and not compensate my company? Nah, that's not fair. So in business terms, it makes pragmatic sense. And even on the personal sense, why wouldn't you give back to the Abbot when you know everybody else gives up on you, he continues to help?"
"Even if you think in old, Staten Island mafia terms, you've got to kick something back to the family."
One of U-God's complaints that RZA agrees with – with a caveat – is that Wu-Tang performs too much older material live at the expense of individual members' newer solo works. "I think one thing that hurt [my solo] releases is that we could never perform any new material at our Wu-Tang shows," U-God wrote. "That’s something I never understood." And, he added, "It's been a long time since we rocked new songs onstage. Shit, we didn't even support the last few albums with proper tours; I mean we went on tour, but stuck to performing the classics. That's backward to me. For us to ask the fans to support us, we had to support ourselves by performing new material – all for one and one for all – first."
"I don't agree about the solo product," RZA says. "Unless it's a Top 10 or 20 single, the solo product belongs in the solo show. But I do think that when we do our tours, we definitely seem to be stuck in a certain chamber of music. First of all, you can't resist them. Some of those songs work. The crowd loves them. That's what they came to see at some point. But I think it's also because they're the most familiar and easy for us to display without even rehearsing them. They're our DNA songs.
"But I agree with U-God," he continues. "We definitely should expand our performance roster because if it gets boring to us, it's going to eventually be boring to the audience. We've got to find ways to spice it up. And DJ Mathematics sometimes spices it up. I remember one night we did a couple of songs that we never play, like [Ghostface's] 'Fish' and 'Assassination Day,' and everybody went crazy. Like, holy shit, 'Assassination Day,' blasting loud out of those big-ass speakers? We went crazy and we started almost fighting each other like the energy we felt and the audience loved it."
Despite all of this, RZA says he doesn't feel any real friction with U-God and that he's looking forward to working with him again. "More than anything, I'm happy because I've watched a couple of U-God's interviews and he seems engaged and happy and satisfied, and that's what an artist needs," RZA says. "He's always been a good artist. In his book, he writes that he was looked down upon. I think he don't really realize how much people love him and I think this particular book tour and promotion, he's realizing, 'Wait a minute, motherfuckers know me and love me.' I think he's learning something we all know." RZA laughs. "He's an important piece to this Wu puzzle, and I've got nothing but love for him, personally."