In the excerpt, U-God breaks down how the group’s “all for one” mentality disintegrated when “the days of gold and platinum plaques had dried up” and how he thinks RZA, the “mastermind” behind the Wu-Tang Clan and its branding, eventually turned Wu-Tang into a dictatorship.
“Right now, it just looks like the Wu brothers are not on the same page, going at each other’s throats, missing shows, and all that,” U-God writes. “But, to me, it’s really years of BS catching up to RZA. See, he put his family in charge of shit, and for years, we would go on the road but the money came up short.”
Elsewhere in the revealing excerpt, U-God laments about the lack of support Wu-Tang provided for certain members’ solo albums, how bickering over money and royalties further divided the group and how even Wu-Tang’s trademarked “W” is allegedly off-limits to Clan members.
“Just talking about this shit frustrates me. I mean, here we are, the Rolling Stones of hip-hop, and we ain’t even got proper representation,” U-God writes. “Meanwhile, RZA’s always had A-list agents repping him personally. What the fuck is that all about?” Raw: My Journey Into the Wu-Tang is out now.
Despite the growing troubles, [Inspectah] Deck, Masta Killa, and me were just getting started, though, and our solo albums contained some of our best work. Masta finally got his solo album No Said Date released in 2004, Deck dropped the Movement in 2006, and I released Dopium in 2009. All of these were critically acclaimed, but didn’t have the big budgets our brothers received via their major labels. I think one thing that hurt those releases is that we could never perform any new material at our Wu-Tang shows. That’s something I never understood.
“Now that the days of gold and platinum plaques had dried up, dudes started fighting over the W.”
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.
Back in the day, when RZA put the Bat Signal up, the rest of us understood that we needed to stop what we were doing individually and come together, period. For there to be fruit hanging on the tree, the roots needed watering, so we would come together as Wu-Tang first; that was the priority. We were an unstoppable unit at that time, one for all and all for one — at least, that’s what we told ourselves. We’d hit the road, and if one of us was in the middle of promoting a project, the rest would support that project, too. Like when [Raekwon’s 1995 album Only Built 4] Cuban Linx came out, no one knew that the record was supposed to be the next Wu album, but when Raekwon signed the deal, we all agreed to let him have it for his solo joint, no problem.
So years later, when revenue streams started drying up, members who were used to living crazy lifestyles started complaining about everyone’s fees being equal. This led to some of the guys missing shows, holding the entire group for ransom before agreeing to go on tour. Bottom line, no solo member has ever played in front of sold-out arenas; the whole group is the foundation. There is no Earth without Wind and Fire!
Things started changing little by little, guys got fed up, and eventually, we all got individual managers to negotiate and serve as a buffer from all the bullshit. It was no longer one for all and all for one. But now you had people in our brothers’ ears, saying why you getting the same thing he getting? Now that the days of gold and platinum plaques had dried up, dudes started fighting over the W. The whole foundation that we were built on and that made us powerful fell apart. We weren’t building anymore; we were destroying ourselves.
Right now, it just looks like the Wu brothers are not on the same page, going at each other’s throats, missing shows, and all that. But, to me, it’s really years of BS catching up to RZA. See, he put his family in charge of shit, and for years, we would go on the road but the money came up short. Whether it was because [RZA’s brother and Wu-Tang Production CEO] Divine overpromised or cut a deal he couldn’t deliver, or he made bad management decisions, I don’t know.
Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, my brothers and I typically work things out and still come together as the Clan, but in 25 years of being in the business, RZA has never placed the group at an A-list agency. Instead, Divine has always placed us with these B- or C-list guys. I wonder why?
One time I asked him, “’Vine, why aren’t we with William Morris or The Agency?”
And he said, “‘Cause no one wants to deal with our bullshit.”
I just looked back at him and said, “Our bullshit? Or your bullshit?”
Just talking about this shit frustrates me. I mean here we are, the Rolling Stones of hip-hop, and we ain’t even got proper representation. Meanwhile, RZA’s always had A-list agents repping him personally. What the fuck is that all about?
If you let him tell it, Divine would blame a lot of the shit that goes down on these low-level motherfuckers we’re forced to deal with; subpar agents and the like. But if that’s the case, why the fuck did you give your strongest asset, the Wu-Tang fucking Clan, to a shitty dude instead of a top-notch agent in the game?
“In 25 years of being in the business, RZA has never placed the group at an A-list agency.”
I mean, my manager would tell me how some chick from Jersey was booking our European tours from her house? When I heard that, I was like, “Not her again! She owes me fifteen fuckin’ stacks!” Whatever it was, it was always something, excuses, excuses, and more excuses as to why we were always coming up short.
Looking back, there’s other things that I really question, too. For example, Wu Wear is coming back in time for our 25th anniversary, and that’s all great, but what people don’t know is that none of us — the original members who each invested a significant amount (around $40,000 apiece) from our 36 Chambers royalties and the Rage [Against the Machine] tour — ever saw a dime back from the first version of the line founded back in ‘97. And that’s something that needs to be addressed and rectified.
There’s also the use of our logo. Many people don’t know this, but DJ Mathematics drew that logo on the back of a napkin back in the day. RZA quickly trademarked it, and to this very day his brother beefs when any of the original members attempt to use it. That to me is crazy — I mean, I understand if someone was using it without the group’s permission, but the members of the group itself? Wow, that’s just crazy.
Anyway, GZA uses a G that looks like a font similar to the W, Meth uses an upside down M or an M, I have a U that looks like a W that’s cut off — I guess you get creative when necessary, but we all stand behind that W in the end!
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!” Ain’t that a motherfucker!
“RZA doesn’t know how to let go and let motherfuckers be grown men anymore, like he used to back in the day.”
RZA also started becoming a bit of a control freak around this time. He wanted to control budget, publishing, writing hooks, everything. I kept quiet and kept working, but it didn’t take a brain surgeon to see he was trying too hard to control the entire creative process.
Now, RZA’s undeniably talented. He’s also a good talker, smart, and a groundbreaking, genre-bending producer, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a hit record maker. Remember, “All I Need” was Method Man’s biggest single, but remember, RZA’s version didn’t win the Grammy — Puffy’s remix with Mary J. Blige did.
A classic example of how he operates is “Gravel Pit” on The W. It was one of our biggest hits he wrote the hook for, but I hate that fuckin’ hook. Me and Meth were supposed to write that one, but RZA came in and wouldn’t let us do what we do best. He had to jump in the middle of the process to stop what we were building. It was like, “Yeah, you made the beat, now can we work on it?”
And RZA was like, “Nah, let’s publish it.” He just had to get his name on it however he could. It’s like, just give the dudes the fuckin’ music, let them go off by themselves and do their thing, come back with their idea — you know, how we used to do it. Collaboration, not domination.
Trying to exert too much control over grown-ass men leads to problems. RZA doesn’t know how to let go and let motherfuckers be grown men anymore, like he used to back in the day, when it was four or five motherfuckers touring the country in an old Mitsubishi Scorpion. Somewhere along the way, he forgot to let his soldier do what he initially recruited us to do and coached us to do. He forgot that you don’t tear down your soldiers, you build your soldiers up. Because when they rise up, they bring you with them.
On the flip side, you need somebody calling the shots, or it becomes every man for himself. We still needed order, and he was the mastermind who had brought us up to this point. But it can’t become a dictatorship, with everything coming from the top down. It takes a certain kind of personality to be able to run the ship but still be open to ideas and collaboration.
Excerpted from RAW: My Journey into the Wu-Tang by Lamont “U-God” Hawkins. Published by Picador, March 6th 2018. Copyright © 2018 by Lamont “U- God” Hawkins. All rights reserved.