U-God Airs Wu-Tang’s Dirty Laundry. It Was Far From Simple Back Then.
The Wu-Tang Clan are in the midst of a 25-year anniversary of their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The New York City Hip-Hop collective has made it to a silver anniversary not without tragedy, or conflict. Founding member O.D.B. died in November of 2004. Surviving members have been vocal about inequalities within the group, and expressed criticism at RZA’s production. Perhaps no member has been more publicly vocal about a dysfunction in the family than U-God.
In late 2016, the Staten Island, New York native hit RZA and his band-mates with a reported $2.5 million lawsuit over unpaid royalties. The MC said he had not been paid for group work since 2010, despite a publicized $2 million album sold at auction, solo records on RZA’s label, and the group’s major label release, A Better Tomorrow. Last October, the “Golden Arms” MC sat out from The Saga Continues album release, only to appear on an official “Hood Go Bang” remix by year’s end. Now, the man born Lamont Hawkins has published a memoir, Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang. U-God is alleging that there are some very human flaws in his legendary group.
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Today (March 20) Rolling Stone published an excerpt of the Picador Books release.”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 pens. “But, to me, it’s really years of BS catching up to RZA. See, he put his family in charge of sh*t, and for years, we would go on the road, but the money came up short,” begins the excerpt. RZA’s brother, Mitchell “Divine” Diggs, along with Oli “Power” Grant, has been part of the group’s management since the ’90s. Another brother of The Abbott, 9th Prince, is a member of Killarmy and a solo artist. Previously, RZA has penned two books: 2005’s The Wu-Tang Manual and 2010’s The Tao Of Wu.
In the chunk of sample text, U-God says that he, Masta Killa, and Inspectah Deck got an unfair shake from Wu. These were the three final artists to release solo material. U-God, whose solo set began with 1999’s Golden Arms Redemption on Wu-Tang/Priority Records, writes that the group made it hard to promote his solo work on the largest stages the same way others did early on. “It’s been a long time since we rocked new songs onstage. Sh*t, 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,” writes Hawkins. In early days, RZA orchestrated support from Wu members on solo albums and on the road for early members. While Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and GZA all had solo albums out by 1996, U-God, Rebel I.N.S., and Masta Killa waited as long as 11 years to secure a place on record shelves.
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“When [Raekwon’s 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!,” he charges, likening the Clan to the Soul group.
U-God says each member of the group made an investment (he estimates $40,000) to get Wu-Wear off the ground in the mid-’90s. “None of us — the original members who each invested a significant amount 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,” declares the Babygrande Records artist. He also says that while the group never used an “A-level” talent firm as representation, RZA has for his solo endeavors. In recent years, the Clan leader has moved into theatrical film roles, brand partnerships with Chipotle, and work with James Blake and Kanye West.
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The MC, who is releasing Venom on March 30, accuses RZA of shady business with the group’s iconic logo. Last Fall, RZA and DJ Mathematics (fka Allah Mathematics) appeared together on The Breakfast Club. In an interesting moment, Charlamagne Tha God pressed the two about Math’s design of the logo, evolving to RZA’s ownership. According to U-God, that logo is currently used as a revenue stream on solo releases, taking money from Wu members. “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,” he writes. This is why, according to “Golden Arms,” members like GZA and Meth’ have emulated the “W” for their “G” and “M,” respectively, as a workaround. Mitchell “Divine” Diggs reportedly seeks fees from members to use this trademark, as well as for third-party bookings through individual artist managers.
U-God charges that RZA has deliberately forced his way into group songs, such as the chorus to 2000’s “Gravel Pit” to create favorable publishing splits for The Abbott. In his own Breakfast Club interview earlier this month, U-God confirmed the existence of pay scales (though he did not specify) that members receive on Wu projects.
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The Wu-Tang Clan is scheduled to headline May’s 2018 Soundset Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At this time, it is unclear if U-God will be joining his crew.
With a full excerpt at Rolling Stone, U-God’s Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang is available now in print, digital, and a self-read audiobook.