In the past way-too-long there’s been a lot of speculation on Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the Wu-Tang Clan’s seventh studio album projected for commercial release sometime between a year ago and a day anyone old enough to still give a shit about the Wu-Tang Clan will never see because we’ll all be dead (provided science doesn’t find a way to drastically extend the average lifespan of humans, something I’d imagine the ecosystem can’t discourage enough). Now, to keep it 100, as they say, I’ve not exactly exhausted myself investigating the validity of some of the more outrageous claims beyond a few Pitchfork articles and one [probably] unintentionally hilarious Forbes video, because frankly, true or false, they’re the only reasons I’m even remotely interested in this album.
I could waste my time listing the numerous reasons for which I consider myself something of an authority on the subject of rap music, but really, nothing I say is going to make you think me any less of a fuckhead. You don’t care how old I am or how long I’ve been listening to hip hop. You don’t care how many books I’ve read on the subject or how many concerts I’ve been to. You don’t give a shit about my record collection or the impossible amount of lyrics I can recite. You don’t care, and you shouldn’t. In fact, I’d think less of you if you did. Rap fans are easily one of the most stubborn and argumentative bunch on the blue planet. It could be argued that religious people are more deserving of that title, but that’s just it. Hip hop is our religion, as terribly corny as that sounds, and we defend it with the same unshakable devotion that a Christian does the cross. We have a clear advantage, however, being that Slick Rick is obviously way, way cooler than Jesus.
I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s possible for someone to yawn themselves to death. If it is possible, then I ask that you’d kindly refrain from making any mention of the new Wu-Tang album when talking to me, because I’d have to be getting dangerously close to the limit of yawns one is allotted before keeling over. And even if it isn’t possible, still. I have a lot of important life shit to do and can’t very well drift through my day like a junkie on the nod. I already drink too much coffee as it is.
Being a lifelong disciple of rap music, I do understand people’s reluctance to call RZA – or any rap icon – on his bullshit. His name is respected and his sheer innovativeness is nothing to sneeze at. Still, one of us ought to grab our balls and say what most of us know in our hearts to be true, and that’s that we need another Wu-Tang album like we need another Schwarzenegger movie (read: not at fucking all). If you can manage to strip away some of the folklore and fervent fanboyism that surrounds the Wu (you’ll need a sandblaster), you’ll come to the unfortunate realization that most of their albums really aren’t that good. In fact, they get progressively bad. Sure, I love 36 Chambers as much as the next guy or gal – maybe even a little more – just like I love The Terminator, which is why I’m hard pressed to admit that nearly every album that followed was Last Action Hero at best. I believe that deep inside, in a dark place we keep hidden from ourselves, let alone our friends, we all feel this way.
The height to which Wu-Tang has risen only serves as a testament to how radical 36 Chambers was for its time. Ask yourself – would Wu-Tang be as relevant today had their debut album been anything other than 36 Chambers? Aside from their groundbreaking debut, their success can really only be attributed to how great some of their solo records are. Wu-Tang is survived by solo records. Would the name Wu-Tang carry as much weight if Liquid Swords never existed? Or Tical? Or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx? Or Supreme Clientele? Hell, would 36 Chambers have even been as great without Method Man? And at a time before it was trendy or profitable to at least appear to be completely out of your mind, would the group have even stood out as much without Ol’ Dirty Bastard? Rhetorical questions, Farley.
I, like most people, wasn’t aware a seventh album was even in the works until it was reported that only a single copy would be released, a single copy meaning only one. That’s one copy of one album that will be owned by one human. It’s also one more copy than I personally would ever buy, or even bother to download illegally, regardless of its exclusivity. It’s as if RZA is Willy Wonka and Once Upon A Time In Shaolin a golden ticket. But there aren’t five of them, there’s only one. That’s right, go fuck yourself, Charlie, the fat German kid wins. Only instead getting a tour through RZA’s freaky ass candy factory, you just get to hear Ghostface scream about the same shit he’s been screaming about since ’93.
More recently came the news that the album would in fact be released to the public, but it carried a release date of 88 years from now. I’m not exaggerating, and, as my wife will tell you, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s exaggerate. 88 years. The way I understand it, whoever purchases this coveted piece of hip hop history will be contractually obligated to keep it under wraps until, by my calculations, 2103 ACE, at which point said person will be allowed to release it to the world, should they choose to do so. According to RZA, the number 88 holds a certain symbolic significance, but it’s more than likely just some horseshit he thought up while he was high.
Surely I’m not the first to ask this question, but even if the person to take ownership of this album is a new born baby, isn’t it safe to assume that said baby will have a few pressing issues 88 years from now that may outweigh the importance of the seventh Wu-Tang album? Namely, staying alive? And if the plan is for the album to be passed down from generation to generation until D-day, then, well, that’s a pretty stupid ass plan. I could give that album to my seven-year-old son right now and, unless Justin Beiber is on that joint, he’d give not a fuck.
When asked for his reasons behind what are undoubtedly some of the most bizarre, unorthodox, and quite possibly pretty effective marketing ploys in all of music since, well, more or less ever, RZA explained that he wanted the album to be thought of as a one-of-a-kind piece of art. A piece of history. Well, allow me to retort: that happened already. It’s called 36 Chambers, and it’s long garnered all the acclaim it deserves.
If you haven’t watched the Forbes video, do. Be warned, however, that your ability to keep a straight face should be considered a definite flaw in your character, one you should address with the utmost urgency. The video resembles a shitty SNL sketch more than it does anything Forbes would willingly attach their name to. From the dramatic, pun-heavy journey through the building in which the album has been locked away, to the painfully awkward revealing of Ghostface’s god-awful verse, the whole 14 minute jerk-fest is an absolute hoot. I’ve heard talks of the album being buried in a time capsule, and if Ghostface’s verse is at all indicative of how the rest of the album will sound, then I can only assume the people of the future, upon digging up the time capsule and playing its contents, will say to one another, “Wow, this album was such a piece of mediocre garbage that the people of the past resorted to locking this shit in a box and burying it deep into the ground, presumably to avoid subjecting anyone else to such utter atrociousness.”
Aside from the aforementioned verse by Ghostface, I obviously haven’t heard the album and neither will anyone else, minus the one guy who ends up owning it and all the women he plays it for in attempts to get laid after Wu-Tang concerts. Still, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. These are my predictions:
Raekwon will talk about his clothes. And drugs. And maybe some other things. But mostly just about his clothes and drugs.
GZA a.k.a. MC Monotone a.k.a. the Ben Stein of rap a.k.a. GZZZZZA will be half asleep the entire time. Of all the group’s members I’ve actually found GZA to be the most relatable, particularly on the later Wu albums, because he’s the only one who seems to be as bored as I am.
RZA will mumble about ancient Chinese parables and the gravitational pull of the earth relative to the rings of Saturn and the Law of Conservation of Mass Energy and a bunch of other nerd shit he read on Wikipedia. None can deny that he’s an intelligent dude. However, the length of his goodreads list combined with his being the brains of the operation does not negate his inability to rap better than the very last kid you’d pick for kickball. He’s the reason they invented the metronome. Hey RZA, you know there’s a beat, right? You know, like a set tempo to follow? I mean, I assume you do, since you produced the shit.
Method Man will generally outshine everyone as per usual. Say what you like, but there’s a reason he’s the most successful of the group. He’s the most versatile and he very easily has the most steeze. That isn’t to say I’d list him as one of my favorite rappers, nor is it to say that all of his albums are great, but you’d have to be either a novice or a fool not to admit that he’s fundamentally one of the genre’s greats. Biggie is mostly praised for his style, and if you love Biggie, you can’t dislike Method Man. You could, but you’d be an imbecile.
Inspectah Deck will actually deliver a bunch of relatively fantastic verses, the way he always seems to do, at least on whole-crew albums and many of his features. He’ll get credit for none of them and continue living in the shadows of who we all know are the main five, previously the main six.
As long as they’ve each accumulated enough sick-leave to take time away from making smoothies at Jamba Juice, U-God and Masta Killa might even make an appearance.
And Ghostface Killah will yell. A lot. Because that’s what he does. Word is bond, son wouldn’t last three minutes in a library, b. I bet all his friends turn the speaker volume all the way down before answering his phone calls. I bet he gets more dirty looks in a movie theater than a crack whore does in church. I bet he gets more dirty looks in church than an alter boy who refuses to put out. I bet when he goes to whisper a secret into someone’s ear they start bobbing and weaving like a boxer instinctively dodging punches. I bet even son’s text messages are loud. Son raps like he’s free falling out of a plane and hasn’t pulled the chute yet. Son raps like he’s in the booth wearing headphones but listening to a completely different song than the one he’s recording. Matter fact, son raps like he’s too lazy to even go into the booth and just shouts his verse from the control room. And instead of a pop-filter I bet son’s engineer puts two memory-foam mattresses in front of the mic.
Kung-fu samples, and that’s the album, folks.
Just so we’re crystal clear, it’s not that I’d rather not wait 88 years to buy the album, it’s that I wouldn’t buy it even if it came out tomorrow. How are we to know this won’t become the new standard? You wanna impress me, RZA? Figure out a way to release the album 88 years ago. That’s right, I’m talking about motherfucking time travel, Bobby. Mr. Digital, sir. Send that shit all the way back to 1927, two years before the stock market crashed, twelve years before the Germans invaded Poland, and seventy-seven years before Lil’ Wayne single-handedly changed the entire game, for better or for worse.
The reason most people wouldn’t dare say these things – the reason I’ll undoubtedly catch heaps of shit for this post – is that the name Wu-Tang has become synonymous with hip hop itself. It’s grown into something much greater than just the sum of its parts. There’s an obvious but largely unrecognized difference between Wu-Tang and the Wu-Tang Clan. The Wu-Tang Clan is a rap group from Staten Island. Wu-Tang is an embodiment. A statement. It’s a secret club of sorts, and one’s membership alone is almost its own form of declaration, like belonging to a political party or a religious sect. It represents something none of us can really explain but all of us know exists whenever we cross paths with a stranger whose shirt bears the Wu logo. Wearing a Wu shirt is more like wearing a Che Guevara shirt than it is a Beatles shirt.
I don’t want to say Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is likely to suck a family-size bag of dicks, but all things considered, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is likely to suck a family-size bag of dicks, be it one copy or one million, today or 88 years from now. And that’s okay. I will continue to wear my Wu shirts proudly, to throw up the W when and wherever the opportunity is presented, and to shout-rap along with Ghostface every time Bring Da Ruckus is played. Because, despite it all, I’m a real fan.
Call it profound vision or call it an absurd cry for attention; you have to admit the whole fiasco’s at least a little intriguing and a lot hilarious. Only time will tell whether RZA is a marketing genius, a has-been with a God-complex, or just a troll of the very highest order. I’m putting my chips on all three.