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Inside An American Hip-Hop Saga: The Wu-Tang Clan Story Enters A New Chapter

Photo: Jeff Neumann/Hulu

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Inside An American Hip-Hop Saga: The Wu-Tang Clan Story Enters A New Chapter

With a new scripted series premiering on Hulu, the folklore of hip-hop's most influential rap group continues to grow

GRAMMYs/Sep 5, 2019 - 09:56 pm

Almost 20 years after Carl Douglas dropped a #1 disco hit, "Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting," ten other black men showed up to the fight, but they had swords.  On Nov. 9, 1993 RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and later Cappadonna collectively entered battle as Wu-Tang Clan with their groundbreaking Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, forever altering the sound of hip-hop. 

What would come next, no one could have predicted: Seven group albums—including multi-platinum projects and The Guinness Book of Records most valuable album, which sold for $2 million—almost 90 albums recorded collectively, clothing lines, videogames, arguably the most iconic and recognizable logo in music, a GRAMMY and EMMY nomination, and now an original scripted series Wu-Tang: An American Saga premiering on Hulu this week.

Earlier this year, members of the Wu helped executive produce Showtime's Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, which explored the dynamics of the group. So, do fans need another look now?  There are many ways to tell a story, especially a good one. Add to that, there are ten (very different) stories intertwined into one, and even with all the international acclaim and accolades, hip-hop's most influential rap group is still a bit of a conundrum. 

How exactly did 10 emcees (mostly) from Staten Island combine martial arts, The Five-Percent Nation's spiritual principles, Stapleton Housing Projects and gritty street tales—and actually win?  And they didn't just win, they took the whole jackpot, transporting themselves from the hood to heaven right before our eyes.

"I don't think the world had ever seen something so potent at one time," Raekwon tells the Recording Academy. "No one had seen a group of nine emcees like us with so much charisma and talent."

Vision helped, too. You cannot discuss the success of Wu without mentioning RZA, the mastermind behind the Wu collective. Wu-Tang was his brainchild, and while there is no "Beyoncé" or "Michael Jackson" in Wu, there certainly was a Matthew Knowles or Berry Gordy.  RZA was that, and more. However, he was not without reproach.

"There were some things we felt we needed to shine light on," Raekwon says. "And we would have to speak up and that would make him work even harder when producing those songs for all of us."

A master producer, with an unconventional and genius approach, RZA was a clear visionary who saw that the sum of something could be larger than its parts.  

And perhaps it was actually Wu-Tang that did not allow us to crown a group leader, and make inevitable comparisons. Their unique contract with Loud Records provided freedom for Wu to pursue solo projects, and many branched off early (while remaining a part of the collective unit), to showcase the very skillsets that helped distinguish each member from the other. It is hard to make comparisons in the clique, because each member brings such a unique element. It's like trying to pick between steak and chicken, both are good. It just depends on what you have a taste for in that moment. It is about preference, nothing more.

"Sometimes it can be Genius, or Meth, or Cap," says U-God when we asked about his favorite group mate, besides himself of course. "When you're around so many emcees, and everyone has their own style, it's hard to pick a favorite."

But it didn't stop them from creating like they were favorites. They hit us back to back, after the release of Enter the Wu-Tang. Setting them up like dominos, six of the then nine members dropped solo projects before their sophomore, ground breaking Wu album, Wu Tang Forever.   First up (excluding RZA's 6 Feet Deep album with Gravediggaz) was the powerhouse Tical in 1994 from the charismatic and raspy voice of the Wu, Method Man. His swag and sex appeal even got us ladies to listen, or at least look.

In 1995, when L.A. rap was still dominating charts, Wu dropped Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and GZA/Genius' Liquid Swords. Wu had its Wallabee shoe on the industry's neck and wasn't letting up.  

Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version was a classic in its own right, for reasons different from the others. The late beloved Dirt McGirt, a cousin of RZA, was the uninhibited, raw, colorful, wild child of the group whose zany singing and surprisingly impressive bars made ordinary songs extraordinary.

And then there was Raekwon. Often considered the best solo project of the Wu, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (also referred to as the Purple Tape because of the case coloring) is a certified classic with precise lyrics, epic storytelling, a keen Mafiosi style and an assist from Ghostface.  GZA, a cult favorite and cerebral member of the Wu, also dropped an equally important album with Liquid Swords. The flawless production, profound wordplay and impeccable execution are remarkable.

But they still had more. In 1996, putting the rap game in a tighter chokehold, Ghostface Killah released Ironman, cementing his spot as a frontrunner with his natural way with verbs and nouns, strong voice (with a hint of disrespect), and vivid, emotional storytelling gifts. He created visual stories with his words and the influx of his voice alone.

Alone. A funny word to use when describing Wu Tang. The critical success of one of the biggest music groups in the world is not because of one person, one verse, or one sound. It is the resounding sound of an against all odds triumph that emerged from the belly of Wu-Tang.  

Frontrunners like Raekwon, Ghostface, ODB, and Method Man get most of the shine, even in this article, but Inspectah Deck, U-God, GZA, Masta Killa and Cappadonna are all integral ingredients in the sauce that is Wu-Tang.  Many of them have created amazing bodies of work that haven't received attention or recognition, but things like timing, how the stars align and the way a cookie crumbles are hard to explain.  The family will always remain family.

"Sometimes I wonder how we all came together, formulated this, and pulled it off," says U-God.  "And I have no choice but to call them my brothers," he says. 

Wu-Tang is indeed a family of strong brothers, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  Wu tang doesn't have any of those.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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