Hear Unreleased Snippets From RZA & GZA Demos That Birthed The Wu-Tang Clan (Audio)
Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and GZA each had careers prior to 1993’s game-changing Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). While GZA’s February, 1991 Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros. Records release Words From The Genius garnered some hardcore interest, RZA (t/k/a Prince Rakeem) did not fare as well with his Tommy Boy Records maxi-single, Ooh, I Love You Rakeem. While the July of ’91 maxi included a “Wu-Tang” mix on Side B, the video single of a similar name did not blaze a path for Robert “Rakeem” Diggs as planned.
One of the people who first believed in The Abbott was Monica Lynch. A onetime president of Tommy Boy Records, Lynch was also the A&R responsible for signing, developing, and marketing a litany of acts. While Prince Rakeem was not one of Monica’s successes, she can proudly claim to be one of those who believed in the Shaolin visionary early on. Appearing on episode #171 of The Cipher, Monica brought cassette tapes from 1991 and 1992. Included–and believed to be not previously digitized, these recordings feature post-Ooh, I Love You Rakeem RZA coming into form. In the podcast, Heads can hear snippets of RZA and GZA long before they had a Loud contract or advance. In fact, these are the recordings believed to be the very moments that led a nine-man collective to literally swarm on the labels, suits, and powers that be that did believe.
While Tommy Boy did not release any of the three demos Monica Lynch plays, she certainly stands as a supporter of the movement. The conversation begins right at the top of the episode. Reacting to the snippets, she says, “I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard those since date of issue. Those were demo tapes that A&R man Kevin Maxwell gave to myself and other people at Tommy Boy who were [in power].”
The songs include a mix of “Pass The Bone,” “Enter The Wu-Tang instrumental” dated to 1992, and multiple mixes of “I Get Down For My Crowd” and “Illusions Of Love.” While the snippets are played on Shawn Setaro’s show, expanded snippets (as provided by Monica Lynch) are available to stream through the end of this month by becoming a show patron.
Asked about when and how RZA was signed to Tommy Boy, Lynch replies, “I don’t quite recall how we came across Prince Rakeem. He was from Staten Island. His manager at the time was a guy named The Funky Melquan.” Setaro plays several records—including by Big Daddy Kane that reference this late 1980s and early 1990s New York City Hip-Hop industry figure. “As everybody knows, Prince Rakeem’s origins were with a silly type of a Rap record; I’m sure he’s probably still embarrassed to this day. It was ‘Ooh, [We] Love You Rakeem.’ It didn’t really hit or anything. But he was a great guy. It was interesting: we knew early on—it was apparent that [his music] was not gonna click. It was not gonna be taken seriously. But he went away; he’d make these sort of disappearances. I’d say, ‘Melquan, where’s Rakeem?’ He’d go, ‘Oh, he’s in Cleveland for a while.'”
RZA famously traveled into the Midwest during the pre-Wu-Tang Clan days. He resided, at times, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Steubenville, Ohio, among other cities. Lynch deduces, “My theory is that Rakeem was going through the metamorphosis into RZA. When he fully emerged, as RZA, it was with the Wu-Tang Clan. I think these demos probably represent that transitional period between [his EP and group success]. It’s not like he woke up overnight like, ‘Hey, I’m the RZA.'”
Having taken a misfired MCA Records act named The New Style into massive success as Naughty By Nature, Monica attests, “I think he’s an amazing story about how he went on to completely change. A lot of rappers don’t get that second chance.” Twenty five years after his EP, she notes, “He’s done it all—smart guy.”
Although RZA would not work with Tommy Boy again, he did link with then-label-mate Prince Paul in the early 1990s to form the Gravediggaz.
In 1994, following the Loud Records success of Wu, Cold Chillin’ re-released a RZA-helmed track “Pass The Bone.” Initially recorded during 1990, the effort was held back from an album produced largely by Easy Mo Bee.
Elsewhere in the extensive interview Monica Lynch discusses the 1980s Dance scene in New York, controversial Bay Area MC Paris, and developing Digital Underground.