As the Wu-Tang Clan has transitioned into elder statemen of rap where a majority fans want to hear thirty year old classics instead of anything recorded lately, there has been a renewed interest into their superhero origin story. In recent years, the incredible and unprecedented story of the nine-(sometimes ten-)man crew’s ascension from the front of the project building to the top of the hip-hop world has been told multiple times in multiple formats, including a Showtime documentary, a Hulu scripted series, and a pile of books courtesy of both journalists (Chamber Music; From the Streets of Shaolin), and some the group’s members themselves (RZA’s The Wu-Tang Manual and The Tao of Wu; U-God’s Raw: My Journey into the Wu-Tang).
That latter group now also includes Raekwon, the man who created a dictionary’s worth of slang and crafted an album that laid the blueprint for a generation of storytellers with his unique style and prolific pen.
His entrance into the world of nonfiction is no different. While From Staircase to Stage: The Story of Raekwon and the Wu-Tang Clan (written with Anthony Bozza) may be a linear autobiography, the picture it paints is neither clean nor completely happy. Unlike so many of the books that focus on the Wu (especially Fernando’s) From Staircase to Stage dedicates equal time and attention to what has transpired in recent years rather than focusing solely on the glory days of the ’90s.
Even more than than the breadth of narrative, the book’s strength lies in its honesty. “I met my father once.” That’s how Raekwon opens the book and he does not slow down or pull punches for the next 300 pages.
From his early days in the Park Hill projects of Staten Island, to becoming a streetwise dealer that pushed enough weight to have fly clothes and jewelry, to his introduction to the world of rapping and becoming one of the flagship members of the Wu-Tang Clan, to his veteran status, late career choices, and personal growth, Raekwon lays bare his entire life and is brutally honest – about both himself and others.
While not a full on confessional – the writing only touches upon his relationships with significant others and his children – it goes into deep detail into his own career path, including twice failing to develop his own group of younger artists, as well as the dissention within Wu-Tang. Rae relays how competition and egos were a distraction even during the initial years and that getting the group together was never easy:
“There was no listening. Nobody could control all of us at one time, unless there was money involved or the incentive to get on a track. If we had a photo shoot? Not everybody made it. We had to do radio? Not everybody made it. That’s how it was even in the beginning when we were excited, and it got much worse later on.”
In addition to their erratic punctuality, there have been disputes over both music and finances for decades within the Wu. Much of the group was not in favor of Clan founder and de facto leader RZA’s change in sonic approach in the new millennium – focusing more guitars and live instrumentation instead of drum patterns and samples – over the last few albums. Moreover, both U-God and Ghostface Killah have sued RZA for unpaid royalties. Though Raekwon has never gone the litigation route, he has repeatedly made his unhappiness with both RZA and Wu-Tang’s management (overseen by RZA’s brother, Divine) quite clear and does so in great detail here, to the point of writing, “my so-called brother RZA didn’t have my back,” and “our friendship and brotherhood were over.”
Far too many memoirs and autobiographies attempt to serve as marketing or propaganda pieces and while Raekwon certainly has his own view of how certain events transpired, by pulling back the curtain completely he shows the reality behind the myth and the struggle behind the success.
I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.