Like Your Favorite Superheroes, Wu-Tang Is Forever

28 January 2016 | 4:55 pm | Cyclone Wehner

"I never wanna say that it's the final chapter, because Wu-Tang is forever."

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The Wu-Tang Clan unleashed supposedly their final album, the slept-on
A Better Tomorrow
, in 2014. But the fabled New York hip hop collective are not done touring, descending on Australia next month. The big mystery is who of RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna will turn up. Indeed, the Wu are notoriously unpredictable, which, ironically, is integral to their mythology.

Nonetheless, Masta Killa (aka Elgin Turner) is ready. "Well, first of all, always know that, if it's only one of us, if it's only two of us, you're always gonna get a dynamic show," Turner assures. "But I know everybody wants to see the whole Wu-Tang Clan. Sometimes even for me that's difficult to say [who will perform]. But, as long as you have Masta Killa there, as long as you have any member of Wu-Tang Clan, you will never be disappointed as far as enjoying real hip hop — [we'll be] bringing you back to the golden era of the '90s when everything was lovely." One who will be there in spirit only is the Wu's uniquely eccentric Ol' Dirty Bastard, who died from a drug overdose in 2004. "He's greatly missed," Turner says fondly. "Remember he said, 'My name is Ol' Dirty Bastard because there's no father to my style' (laughs) — that's very true."

"[We'll be] bringing you back to the golden era of the '90s when everything was lovely."

With RZA as chief MC/producer, mogul and mastermind, The Wu formed in Staten Island, NY, which, in a Wuniverse inspired by martial arts flicks, they renamed 'Shaolin'. The clique debuted with 1993's now classic Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which reinvented hardcore rap with its intricate lyricism and innovative production. Turner, then a novice, rapped on one track. RZA negotiated an unprecedented deal with Steve Rifkind's Loud Records, allowing its MCs to pursue independent careers. The Wu developed into not only a movement, but also a franchise, complete with fashion brand. Musically, their quality control did falter. However, today the Wu have influenced everyone from Kanye West to Drake to Run The Jewels.

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The Wu fragmented as RZA, lured away by Hollywood, became less autocratic. He had acolytes cut beats. Yet, after a remobilised RZA decided to take 2007's comeback 8 Diagrams in a more 'musical' direction, other Wu members, notably Raekwon, revolted. These conflicts reemerged during the recording of A Better Tomorrow, with its sentimental over streetwise orientation. Turner just hopes it's not their last LP. "I never wanna say that it's the final chapter, because Wu-Tang is forever. But I don't think that it was our best work, because I'm always striving to get better. I still feel like there's so much more for us to offer. I don't feel like it's over, you know?" Turner acknowledges the Wu's disharmony on A Better Tomorrow, attributing it to the members' divergent artistic trajectories. "It was mixed emotions when it came to the production of the music, because sometimes I think, where RZA has grown to, musically, you have to catch up to things, production-wise or even as an artist." They didn't properly re-bond in the studio, either. "We're so busy, doing so many different things. And just sometimes the magic really comes from us being together. That chemistry that you felt from the first album is what's missing, and that chemistry was us all being in the studio together at one time, resting on the same board."

"When you're a part of an all-star cast, everyone has their favourites."

In theory, the Wu do have another album, the private collectible Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. RZA, who conceived the record with his Dutch-Moroccan protege Cilvaringz, auctioned it to the highest bidder — a statement about the devaluation of music in the digital age. Fans felt the manoeuvre elitist. Some pragmatically initiated a crowdfunding campaign. Turner appreciates RZA's motives. "But I know not too much about that album," he says, despite contributing. "I didn't even hear the finished product!" The story took a twist when it was disclosed that Once Upon A Time In Shaolin was purchased for US$2 million by Martin Shkreli, the controversial CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals (on acquiring the licence for Daraprim, a drug used in HIV treatment, he raised its price astronomically). In December the FBI arrested Shkreli for securities fraud, sparking viral schadenfreude. Ghostface has called Shkreli a "shithead". "To tell you the truth, I know nothing about this person," Turner says diplomatically. "I mean, I thank him for respecting our music and our group enough that he would buy it…"

Turner remains Wu's "most mysterious" MC — the last to drop a solo album (2004's cred No Said Date). "When you're a part of an all-star cast, everyone has their favourites," he laughs. "It's like a comic book of superheroes! Most people are gonna run to Superman and most people are gonna run to Batman and most people are gonna run to whoever. So my thing was always winning, to be successful — as long as my group was successful, ultimately I'm happy."