By Scott T. Sterling
It’s hard out here for a Wu-Tang Clan fan.
After galvanizing the group’s massive fan base last year with show-stealing performances during the 2014 Coachella festival (watch it here), the hip-hop collective turned up that excitement with the announcement of a new full-length album to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group’s groundbreaking debut, Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), released back in 1993.
That Wu-Tang euphoria hit a fever pitch in the spring of 2013 when it was revealed that the group would follow the triumphant Coachella performances by headlining last year’s Rock the Bells tour, which were to be highlighted by appearances by band’s late rapper, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, courtesy of “virtual performances, not holograms,” according to the tour’s founder, Chang Weisberg.
“It will be 20 years of Wu-Tang history meeting 10 years of ours, in a performance that’s going to be exclusively handcrafted by the members onstage, especially RZA,” Weisberg said during an exclusive Radio.com interview, adding that “minds will be blown.”
Then, Inspectah Deck sweetened the deal by announcing that the 20th anniversary album was going to tentatively be entitled A Better Tomorrow, and would be a true group effort as it would feature previously unheard vocals from Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
“RZA has a bunch of Ol’ Dirty tracks and verses that for years nobody’s heard and, from my last conversation [with RZA], we’re supposed to have an Ol’ Dirty track on there,” Deck told Line Of Best Fit in an interview last summer. “It may be by itself or we might join it on to another song. But Ol’ Dirty is going to be part of this album, that’s a fact,” with RZA himself saying that the group was looking to release it last November in honor of Enter the Wu Tang‘s 20th birthday, saying “that’s my goal.”
While 2013 held so much promise for all things Wu-Tang-related, the momentum began to seriously wane starting with negative reports from the highly publicized Rock the Bells shows, including a Radio.com review stating that not even the Ol’ Dirty Bastard virtual performance could save the San Bernadino, CA, date from being a “miserable” experience as Wu-Tang’s set degenerated into an awkward debacle where Method Man chastised Weisberg from the stage. The last run of shows on the tour were eventually cancelled due in part to poor ticket sales.
With 2014 now upon us and all hopes of a 20th anniversary Wu-Tang Clan album effectively dashed, the group has taken to its Facebook page to announce that A Better Tomorrow is still going to happen, and that what would be the band’s sixth studio release was “coming soon,” although no release date or other details were included.
On the surface, it seems like good news. But for Wu-Tang fans, it feels a little too much like another drawn-out tease from the band instead of the firm declaration of an impending release. Even just a snippet of music could go a long way in assuring their followers that a new release was indeed on its way. Alas, the Wu continues to move in most mysterious ways.
Through it all, Wu-Tang’s cultural relevancy is as high as it’s ever been. Even rap’s current No. 1 star, Drake, helped keep the band’s name in headline with the release of the track “Wu Tang Forever,” from his chart-topping latest album, Nothing Was the Same. Ghostface Killah said the track “just made the movement more bigger,” a sentiment shared by Raekwon during an interview with MTV.
“At the end of the day, regardless of what we were mentioned in a great way. He named the title of his song after brothers, so however you did it, at the end of the day, it’s still love, it’s still respect there,” Ghostface said. “I still thought the record was a great record, regardless of what. It ain’t nothin’ rude about the record, nothin’ disrespectful, it’s all love. Hey, I’m for it.”
So as Wu-Tang Clan has signed off on such ancillary moves as an official Wu-Tang bike and a limited run clothing line with skate wear company DC (including a snazzy pea coat), there is still no tangible evidence of A Better Tomorrow.
None of this is to chastise the band, but instead a meager cry for attention from their global fan base for at least a taste of what to expect, or even a tentative release date to eagerly anticipate.
Even better, the band could pull a Beyoncé and simply unleash the album on the world when it’s finished, bypassing the deluge of pre-release hype and letting the music do the talking.
Regardless, Wu-Tang Clan fans will continue to fly the group’s signature “W” high in the sky, rapping along to every word from classic hits like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Triumph” while eagerly (and most patiently) awaiting the latest addition to the Wu-Tang canon.