The Galileo example is often utilised by those that claim that the truly influential are often underappreciated in their own time, these great men only become prescient in hindsight, when backed up by the scores of people who would swear by them. This is, of course, piffle. One merely has to travel to Staten Island in the early 90s, the home to what would become the most influential group in rap history, the Wu-Tang Clan, to get a better perspective on this statement.
For the uninitiated, the Wu-Tang Clan is a loose coalition of hip-hopping forces that pleaded guilty to ‘lyrically [performing] armed robbery’ in 1997. More than that however, the Wu-Tang Clan represents an anti-mainstream movement and a revolutionary business as much as it does hip-hop music. The band numbered nine obscenely named rappers, RZA, GZA, Raekwon, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Masta Killa, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, the latter of which is no longer with us, whose driving aim was to change the frustratingly closed music industry.
The plan entailed assembling a group of rappers which would not be the whores of the industry. Having released their debut album to gain attention, the group rejected deal after deal until they finally received one that allowed each member of the group to release their own singles separately, with the albums, under the name Wu-Tang, to be released by Loud/RCA. Their debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was released November 1993.
Their success brought the focus of US rap away from the West Coast and back to the streets of New York, which for so long had seen a generation of young black people without representation. They discussed the hardships of growing up in Shaolin (the group’s slang name for Staten Island); the drug culture that is so prevalent in today’s rap and the partying on Cristal brand champagne, all of which have inspired the likes of Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G and Mopp Deep in their lyrics. Wu-Tang dubbed the swarms that they had inspired 'Killa Bees' and inspiration was not solely dervived from their lyrics. The group's de facto leader, RZA, favoured a raw style that has influenced a large amount of producers, the most famous of whom to publically aknowledge them was Kayne West, speaking in an interview with MTV: "Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time... We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that."
All this and we haven’t even mentioned the music, which includes a plethora of charting albums such as the Grammy Nominated Wu-Tang Forever (which went Number One on the US Billboard charts and eventually would go multiplatinum) and a host of highly successful solo careers. The Wu-Tang Clan have achieved so much in such a short space of time that it is difficult to judge them accurately but it is certain that they rank at least as highly in terms of notoriety as other famous historical clans, ranging from the Wallace clan, into which was born the mythical William of Scottish legend, to the far right Ku Klux Klan formed in 1860s America.
Galileo discovered that it is difficult for revolutionaries and freethinkers to present their own view in any church-dominated mainstream society. Truth will win out however, and just as Galileo’s very own Killa Beez have come to dominate the world of science, it looks like the Wu-Tang Clan-inspired hold over mainstream music may be set to continue for years to come.
Five of the original members of the Wu-Tang Clan (Method Man, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Dj Mathematics and Raekwon) will be performing on the main hip-hop stage of this year's Monegros Festival under the name Wu Legends. Our preview for the festival can be seen here.