Wu-Tang Clan principal RZA says he always viewed music biographies as a "post-career type of thing," but the offer to detail the guiding philosophies behind the pioneering Staten Island-based hip-hop
Wu-Tang Clan principal RZA says he always viewed music biographies as a "post-career type of thing," but the offer to detail the guiding philosophies behind the pioneering Staten Island-based hip-hop collective was one he couldn't refuse. Such is the bulk of the content in the 243-page "The Wu-Tang Manual," out now via Riverhead Books, which RZA assembled with journalist Chris Norris.
The book dives into the "key themes of the Wu-Tang universe," specifically martial arts, spirituality and how the glorification of organized crime on Staten Island shaped the persona of the fledgling group, which also features the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, GZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa.
Also included are annotated lyrics for such classic Wu tracks as "Protect Ya Neck" and "C.R.E.A.M.," thumbnail sketches of the core members and RZA's detailed descriptions of the Wu-Tang creative process in the studio, on stage and outside of the public eye.
Although it would be comforting to imagine RZA, ODB and Method Man sitting down over tea to peruse the proverbial Wu-Tang scrapbook while selecting material for the book, "The Wu-Tang Manual" was not an expressly team effort.
"There were certain lyrics certain members said that even I didn't know the meaning of," RZA tells Billboard.com with a laugh. "We needed those deciphered, but other things I deciphered out of my own opinion. So it wasn't so collaborative, but [the project was] much supported by the rest of the group."
And while detailed biographies of the Wu's personnel are absent, RZA says "those brief descriptions are flashbacks to old memories. I talk about how me and Method Man used to travel from Staten Island to Manhattan and Brooklyn just to go to clubs, parties and be involved in the MC circle. Nobody was really leaving Staten Island to do those kinds of things. It just flashed me back to being young and ambitious."
RZA acknowledges that Wu-Tang's larger-than-life cast of characters would seem prime fodder for a film project at some point. "One of my agents from Hollywood told me, 'When you finish the book, don't be surprised if people want to do a comic or some kind of movie,'" he says. "It was interesting because I don't really know too much about this world, but I'm learning more about it."
Originally, the release of "The Wu-Tang Manual" was planned to coincide with a major Wu-Tang Clan tour that would have been the group's first since a controversial, aborted run of dates with Rage Against The Machine in 1997. However, the book took longer than expected to complete, and members' increasingly busy schedules made it impossible to get the trek off the ground.
Wu-Tang was able to reassemble for one show in California in July (chronicled on the CD/DVD "Disciples of the 36 Chambers") and another in New Jersey in November that took place the night before Ol' Dirty Bastard collapsed and died in a Manhattan recording studio.
"I think it would be a wise thing for all the members to take a summer or winter off and just tour together," RZA says hopefully. "We get distracted by so many opportunities, but I've really been suggesting we put everything on hold and forget the money."
"I know everybody has a lifestyle they have to maintain," he continues. "Let's just say a Wu-Tang Clan album is worth a couple million dollars. Once 10 guys get on it, it's still worth a couple hundred grand. Some guys' lifestyles require them to make five or six hundred thousand dollars a year regardless. Maybe doing Wu-Tang will make you that much money, but doing it by yourself could you make you a million, because there aren't so many hands involved. But for the legacy, I think we should be willing to make that sacrifice and get it cracking."