“When I first saw the Wu-Tang Clan, I just saw stars,” Steve Rifkind recently told Radio.com. Rifkind had the same response to Wu as most fans but as the founder of Loud Records, he was able to peer into the future from his office desk. “I never felt anything like the energy in that room.”
It was 20 years ago when Rifkind was introduced to the Wu-Tang Clan. They crowded into his small office in New York City and took turns spitting thorny raps, transforming the four walls into a show of lyrical fireworks. Rifkind would go on to play a big role in launching the crew’s career.
“I will never forget that day,” Rifkind said of the moment that has become Wu-legend. “There were nine guys in a group that could spit their asses off. When I saw them I thought they could be as big as the Rolling Stones. I was proven correct, because 20 years later, they are performing at Coachella.”
Ahead of the crew’s Coachella performance this weekend, we delved into Wu lore for this episode of Radio.com Essentials, tapping various members and experts to sound off. Watch below.
The ambitious crew galvanized a movement in hip-hop with their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, which showcased the distinct voices of nine rappers: RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killa, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, U-God (later Cappadonna would join the crew).
“It came across as chaos,” said Joe Budden, who is a member of the four-man crew Slaughterhouse. “RZA had this array of MC ready to attack at any given moment.”
After two decades of building their rap legend, Wu-Tang is headlining the Coachella festival with the same stable of MCs who are still ready to spaz any chance they get. It is a testament to the Clan’s ongoing relevance that fans still fiend to party with the Wu. The faithful have the same expectations they did when Rifkind first heard them in his office.
“Fans expect pandemonium,” said Jermaine Hall, editor-in-chief of Vibe. “Fans don’t expect anything rehearsed… Not like you have an MC and a hype man. It’s like an MC with seven hype men.”
But Cappadonna, who was incarcerated at the time of the Wu’s first album, sees the “chaos” differently from within.
“It looks like confusion,” he said. “But out of counfusion and chaos comes order. Once the order is established the confusion becomes organized.”
Their approach to music and culture mashup (Kung-Fu vs. Street) attracted a legion of fans without racial or socio-economic boundaries.
“They are a hip-hop band and they are a rock’n’roll band,” said Rifkind. “They were on tour with Rage Against The Machine and it was the first time I saw 30-40,000 people there to watch Wu-Tang. Rock fans identified with them because there was nothing fancy or flossy it was just them. They represented the blue collar.”