From An FBI Investigation To A Snapshot: Wu-Tang Clan’s History With James Comey
In April of 2018, Method Man and Ghostface Killah appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. The Wu-Tang Clan co-founders were featured on the CBS program the same day as former FBI Director James Comey. The Yonkers, New York-born lawyer appeared on Colbert less than one year after being dismissed from his post by Donald Trump.
On the show, the two MCs performed a skit (embedded below). Speaking to a cookie that resembled then-acting US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Staten Island, New York Rap artists demanded the sole copy of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the one-of-a-kind recording that was seized from Martin Shkreli, the embattled pharamaceutical executive who had purchased the album for a reported $2 million, a month earlier.
In May of 2017, the real-life Sessions also recommended that Donald Trump fire James Comey from his FBI Director post. At the time of his dismissal, Comey was leading an investigation of alleged Russian interference into the 2016 Presidential election. The same day, the President acted on Sessions’ recommendation.
A new interview-driven report by The Daily Beast‘s Marlow Stern makes an important connection from Wu-Tang Clan to Comey. Last April, a backstage photo posted on Ghostface Killah’s Instagram account showed him, Meth’, and James Comey together. A caption joked that the dismissed director could help get the copy of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin returned to its creators. The Daily Beast report traces the lighthearted snapshot to some very serious history.
“For those truly familiar with the greatest Rap group ever assembled, this image was a total head-scratcher; an example of two disparate forces colliding. For during the ‘90s and early ‘00s, the FBI had targeted the Wu-Tang Clan, branding it a criminal enterprise (‘the WTC Organization’) that was ‘heavily involved in the sale of drugs, illegal guns, weapons possession, murder, carjackings, and other types of violent crimes,'” Stern writes. Notably, his claims regarding Wu’s place in history as the GOAT group were echoed last year by Ambrosia For Heads‘ voting readers. Between 1999 and 2004, the Bureau consulted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in their attempt to build a case against the nine-man Rap crew. The desired charges included the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the same “R.I.C.O” act often used against gang and mob activity, and recently levied against Tekashi 6ix9ine who is now working with the Feds.
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“You know what’s crazy? Ghostface [Killah] put up a picture with [James] Comey, and during that period of the Feds’ investigation, wasn’t he the leader of it?” RZA told Stern. “Now an FBI director is out here taking pictures with the Wu-Tang Clan, man.” Comey was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from January of 2002 to December of 2003, and then the U.S. Deputy Attorney General from December of 2003 to August of 2005. These agencies were working with the FBI to take more than a friendly snapshot of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Notably, the documents of that investigation were unsealed in 2012, following a Request Of Information Act probe. Much of the focus was on late Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard (aka Russell Jones). The Brooklyn, New Yorker died of a drug overdose in 2004. That moment reportedly led authorities to close their investigation.
Of all the Wu members, O.D.B. had experienced the most legal trouble. Since the release of 1993’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ol’ Dirty had multiple convictions, ranging from assault to drug, and driving charges. The MC/producer was incarcerated several times. In 2000, the Elektra Records artist escaped a court-ordered drug treatment facility before he was caught in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a month later.
Despite the investigation, the results led the Bureau nowhere. “We ain’t never got in trouble with the Feds. They might have been trying to observe us, but they were observing everybody,” says Cappadonna, a group affiliate who was very involved during the period of the investigation. The Staten Island, New Yorker who now tours and records with the Clan denies any truth to a separate Wu-Tang criminal enterprise. In the report, RZA concurs. “It’s not just Hip-Hop, it’s young people they’re targeting. It’s a system, and the system needs to be fed.”
The report does look at some history involving Wu-Tang’s legal challenges. Reportedly using a prison law library, RZA successfully defended himself in a 1991 attempted murder case in Steubenville, Ohio. As RZA lived with his mother during his adolescence and teens in the rust-belt town, Ghostface Killah and O.D.B. were regularly in tow. On lyrics and in interviews, the men have admitted to illegal activity during this period, including drug-dealing.
Following Wu-Tang Forever, a 1997 chart-topping double album, authorities took an increased interest in Wu. On December 30, 1997, Robert “Pooh” Johnson was killed in Staten Island, New York. Per the documents, the FBI alleged that the murder was conducted using firearms that Wu members had purchased in Steubenville. They deemed Johnson to be a former associate of the Clan who was now on the outs. However, the trail led to no further evidence and no group member convictions.
Another Wu member believes the group’s success confused the alphabet-boys. “If music is that tool where you start to see people who are not designed to win start to make it, then you’re going to target that system and try to find a way to control it,” Masta Killa said to The Daily Beast.
During this period, the federal report also tried to link Wu-Tang with factions of the Bloods street gang, through an unidentified informant. That report, as well as accusations of money laundering through record labels came up inconclusive. A 1999 murder investigation of Jerome “Boo Boo” Estrella also pointed back to Wu. A person arrested for ties to the slaying told agents that another party, whose name is redacted in the file, is often a hit-man for Wu.
Despite an attempt to re-open the Estrella murder investigation in late 2015, no Wu-Tang Clan convictions have ever been made that ties the members to these murders.
Last week, Ghostface and Inspectah Deck released Czarface Meets Metal Face. That collaborative album involves I.N.S.’s CZARFACE band-mates Esoteric and DJ 7L.
#BonusBeat: Method Man and Ghostface Killah’s skit: