Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan

Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan will premiere tonight on BET. It follows the Wu from their beginnings in Staten ("Shaolin") Island through their groundbreaking business practices- inside and outside the record industry, to their eventual break-up. Following the staid format of traditional documentaries-narration, interviews with childhood friends, quick cuts to neighborhoods--the Staten Island ferry, city landscapes-it simplifies the world's most influential hip hop group to an hour and 30 minutes.

But it's not entirely the fault of childhood friend Gerald K. Barclay, director and executive producer. It should have been told in parts-like their albums-one group story, separate solo in-depth examinations of each member, then coming back to the clan again. Wu-Tang Story I, II, III, until all of its told.

It fails to show their eclectic influences of Five Percent ideology, Inspector Clusoe, The Bible, a medley of drugs, the Qur'an, Taoism, the Iliad, Marvel comics, to every kung fu flick shown in a seedy 42nd Street movie house.

It just grazes the tip of their ballet on the microphone, their resurrection of the Wallabees with a new multi-colored flavor, and futuristic musical styles from their beats to their rhymes to their musical influences ranging from kung fu soundtracks to the Original Savannah Band.

Chez Chez La Ghost

Incarcerated Scarfaces--Raekwon:

What '70s girl group is sampled in this? What's the title?

The most poignant moments come with the formulaic, "Behind the Music" approach. Childhood friends come up with the brilliant idea to form a music group, the group becomes wildly successful, they're each lured away by the temptation of having more, being more, and then it all implodes. Competitiveness becomes compulsion and the group breaks up. It usually ends with a breakout star who goes on to a successful solo career, drug addiction, or Melba Moore-like acting in the Chitlin' circuit theater. In this case, the foreshadowing of destruction is Ol' Dirty bastard and his warring personal demons.

Midway through, Ol' Dirty is chubby-faced, recently released from prison, and seemingly having won the war of his addictions. Then vultures pull at him from all angles. Damon Dash signs him to a $1 million deal. His mother brags to the cameras that they have a book deal, a record deal, and a successful clothing line.

Members of the Clan are concerned for his health and urging him to lay low. It's when Ol' Dirty tells Mitchell "Divine" Diggs, CEO of the Wu, "I'm waiting to die, cause when I do, you mf's are gonna wake up," that empathy rules out over the Behind-the-Music irony. It's the moment where you see that Ol' Dirty, dubbed a free spirit by some, out of control by others, needs the Wu, the spotlight, needs to rap and to showcase his talents to stay sane in a newly sober world. He's on fast forward as he realizes his window to say no to the devil is very short.

The Wu story shows rare footage of the group performing in Hawaii, overseas, and in hole in the wall clubs, all in front of breathless, crying fans. It hints at their success in fashion, comic book lines, kung fu videos, all while continuing to sell millions of records.

This is where BET succeeds--in telling the young black youth about the innovation of what the clan did--a community of MC's that were able to step out from the pack, shine, and come back and be a family again. It shows RZA, the genius behind their making, who bargains for less money up front for their deal with Loud Records, in order to have the freedom to sign individual crew members to solo deals.

And it shows how he brought nine MC's from the warring Stapleton and Park Hill projects together in a basement to record Protect Ya Neck, where they were forced to come correct to prove a point. It gives us a slice, albeit a small one, of nine men that in 1993 emerged from the forgotten borough to form one of the most successful rap groups of all time.

Wu-The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan, premieres on BET tonight at 8pm. The soundtrack, due out Nov. 18th , features Wu's biggest hits as well as classics from several of their solo endeavors.

Originally published on How fast can you name all nine members?

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