The Wu-Tang Clan has been referred to as hip-hop’s answer to The Rolling Stones. From their classic output to their logo to their lasting impact to their longevity to their popular live shows to the lukewarm response to their later albums, they are rap’s version of older rockers.
To me, though, they are more than just the greatest hip-hop group of all time. The Clan is representative of my adolescence and the ascendancy of hip-hop and witnessing something great unfold in front of you:
“The Wu-Tang saga is a revolution that swarmed on the music industry like a pack of killer bees. Straight out of the slums of Shaolin, the Clan created an often imitated but never duplicated sound comprised of eerie beats mixed with puzzling stanzas and clashing kung-fu swords. The collective powers of RZA the Abbot, GZA the Genius, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon Shallah, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Cappadonna have entertained and inspired legions with perplexing rhymes full of grit.”
When you’re a teenager, music is vitally important to you. It’s life and death because you immerse yourself in it and connect with it in ways that you usually don’t as you get older. The music either expresses your feelings for you or validates your own views or both. For me, the Wu did both. I love Enter the Wu-Tang [36 Chambers], but Wu-Tang Forever is my favorite musical album by far. It blew my mind when I first heard it. I’m listening to it now and it is still amazing.
They were original. They were different. They did things that had never been done before. They were hard but complex; streetwise but also well-read. RZA was a genius. They were a family, creating group albums and popping up on each other’s solos.
They made it cool to like what you like – chess, kung-fu films, astronomy, science – even if, at the time, those things weren’t seen as being “hip-hop.” They made me want to write about music because I had so much I wanted to say about them. Their unique record deal – the group signed to one label, individual members free to sign to others – made me pay attention to the business side of art for the first time. That deal gave me ideas and inspiration.
In addition to Wu-Tang, I also love good beer. At one time, I probably loved it too much. I can’t count how many times I’ve had beer while listening to the Wu. Dock Street, a brewery in West Philly, took it one step further:
“The Wu Tang inspired brew has been aging for six months in wine barrels while Wu Tang Clan has been playing 24-hours a day next to the cask.”
The beer’s name? Ain’t Nothing to Funk With.
Several people sent the original announcement to me, but as it came closer, I began contemplating making a trip back down to my old city to test it. When it was announced that Inspectah Deck, prominent Clan member and author of one of the greatest verses in hip-hop history, would be at the beer’s release, I decided I had to go.
I took a half-day from work, went home, changed, gave the kid a pound, and drove to Philly, stopping by my old house and old office when I got there. I scooped up my friend at her office downtown and we made our way to West Philly.
The beer was scheduled to be released at 5 p.m. and we arrived exactly on time.
We grabbed a table in a prime spot. There were two special beers – the one that aged with Wu-Tang playing constantly and the control – same ingredients, no music.
Naturally, we got both.
I also went outside and bought two bottles to bring home.
Although I love beer, I can’t handle much liquor and I’ve never acquired a taste for bourbon or scotch, so I’m not a huge fan of beers that are aged in those barrels. This was aged in wine barrels so it was a bit muted, but it still had a boozier, stronger taste than regular beer.
We compared the two and both of us – as well as the waitress – swore that the two did taste slightly different. I chalked this up to being all in my mind, but then I read this:
“Though the constant Wu Tang music is a bit of a gimmick, [Vince] Desrosiers [the head brewer] points out Cambridge Brewing Company’s Will Meyers stimulated the fermentation process using tuning forks for a beer he called Om. ‘It started as a joke,’ Desrosiers says, ‘and then we wondered if the bass would cause enough vibration to move the yeast around and create some different flavors during fermentation.'”
As we had some food and a few more rounds of the Wu, we looked up to realize that the line for the draught was out the door, people of all ages, races, coolness (hipsters, super hipsters, regular people, etc) were in line, many wearing Wu-Tang shirts.
A DJ arrived and began playing deep cuts from the breadth of the Clan’s catalog. Here is just a sample of what was played:
- “Shakey Dog” (off Ghostface’s Fishscale)
- “Sweet Love” (off Method Man’s Tical 2000: Judgment Day)
- “Above the Clouds” (Gang Starr featuring Inspectah Deck off Moment of Truth)
- “Fish” (off Ghostface’s Ironman)
- “Bring Da Ruckus” (off Enter the Wu-Tang [36 Chambers])
- “Nutmeg” (off Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele)
- “4th Chamber” (off GZA’s Liquid Swords)
- “Head Rush” (Pete Rock featuring RZA & GZA off Soul Survivor II)
- “Freek’n You [Mr. Dalvin’s Freek Mix] (Jodeci featuring Raekwon & Ghostface off the “Freek’n You” single)
- “Wu Wear [The Garment Renaissance]” (off the High School High soundtrack)
- “Knuckleheadz” (off Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…)
- “What the Blood Clot” (off Method Man’s Tical)
- “Apollo Kids” (off Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele)
- “Tru Master” (Pete Rock featuring Inspectah Deck & Kurupt off Soul Survivor)
- “Anything [Old Skool Mix]” (SWV featuring Wu-Tang Clan off The Remixes)
- “Glaciers of Ice” (off Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…)
As one can imagine, I lost my shit time and time again, screaming lyrics at the top of my lungs and dancing like a 35-year-old bulky white man who has had a few drinks and is too old to care what anyone thinks.
We noticed Deck taking photos and signing autographs, but I was hesitant. My friend convinced me otherwise.
“How many Wu-Tang members have you met in your life?”
“None,” I replied.
“Exactly. Come on.”
Surprisingly, the line moved quickly and people were respectful. He gave everyone respect and attention, making eye contact and engaging in conversation. One of the dudes in front of me had his verse from “Triumph” on his shirt.
When it was my turn, I just told him the truth.
“You changed my life,” I said. He looked at me with that quiet Deck look I’ve seen in interviews for years. “Everything – Wu-Tang Forever, Uncontrolled Substance – you changed my life.”
He said, “I appreciate that, fam. It means a lot.”
I meant to mention Czarface, but I froze up. Oh well.
We left shortly thereafter. I was still enjoying the music, but my night had been made.
Nothing could top what had just happened.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.