Wu-Tang Checks In With The Underground

Compilations rarely get labels or retailers excited these days. Yet when Babygrande Records founder Chuck Wilson received a pitch on an album that combines the production talents of Wu-Tang Clan membe

Compilations rarely get labels or retailers excited these days. Yet when Babygrande Records founder Chuck Wilson received a pitch on an album that combines the production talents of Wu-Tang Clan members with hip-hop's underground stars, he could not resist.

"Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture" is due Oct. 18. First single "Biochemical Equation," which pairs RZA with MF Doom, was released exclusively to iTunes in September. Other contributors include Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, the reunited Cannibal Ox (featuring Definitive Jux label head El-P), C-Rayz Walz, Planet Asia, J-Live, Casual and Aesop Rock. In addition to RZA, Wu-Tang members who lent their vocals or beats include GZA, Masta Killa and U-God.

"I'm really surprised something like this hasn't been done before, but RZA didn't even know who MF Doom was," Wilson tells Billboard. "With the crazy nature of the business right now, I think we'll see more collaborations like this going forward."

The gap between mainstream and underground hip-hop acts has been getting narrower since DJ Danger Mouse combined Jay-Z and the Beatles for his 2004 Web-only hit "The Grey Album." Wilson's label, for instance, is a mixture of veteran artists like GZA and such up-and-comers as Lawless Element and Jakki the Motamouth. It just lost flagship artist Jean Grae to Talib Kweli's new Warner imprint, Blackstar Records.

"Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture" was the brainchild of Dreddy Kruger, who was previously signed to Wu-Tang Records. Kruger compiled and mixed the album but was rebuffed a number of times before he found Wilson. Kruger created the Think Differently Music Group brand for the release, and plans to issue two more albums with Babygrande.

In a busy holiday season, Wilson is hoping the assortment of hip artists will make the compilation stand out. Additionally, the album features between-song commentary from indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who collaborated with RZA on his soundtrack to Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai."

"A lot of labels turned this project down," Wilson says, "but from the moment Dreddy told me about it, I was like, 'Dude.' It just all made sense. Compilations are like soundtracks these days; it's just a knee-jerk reaction. But if you take the time and really look at the project, it can work."

Kruger adds, "As an independent company, I told Babygrande this is what they're supposed to be doing. Major labels can't get stuff done like this."