I’m sure that quite a few of you joined me and several million others this past weekend in binge-watching the new Wu-Tang Clan documentary on Showtime, Of Mics and Men. Directed by the gifted Sacha Jenkins, the film is more than just a triumph; it’s a lesson plan in grit and gusto and a mandatory assignment for anyone attempting to use their talents to better their own situation as well as the world around them.
Since even aunts and uncles of mine who don’t know Raekwon from Ray J have asked for my thoughts about the doc, I think I can forego the gratuitous explanation that’s typically offered when hip-hop comes up. For some reason, even though acts such as Nas, Tupac, and Wu-Tang have sold billions of records combined, most reporters have catered to stodgy demographics, spoon-feeding consumers with descriptions that are never given for artists who white Baby Boomers worship. Just imagine an NPR announcer assuming that listeners don’t know who the Beatles are.
But things are changing, just as I always hoped they would. These past few weeks of seeing the Clan in the spotlight—on major talk shows, getting a street on their native Staten Island named for the group—has been a reminder of how far hip-hop has come. I’m not simply talking about how many records rappers have sold; if that was the bar for real change, then you could have said that the genre made its indelible mark decades ago. Rather, I’m talking about how those of us who were raised by Wu-Tang have come of age and in innumerable ways use their scriptures to navigate our own lives.
As somebody who worships the crew and has been lucky enough to collaborate on books with RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and the family of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, I have followed their rhymes and business-life model closely. I even run this newspaper in Wu-Tang fashion, nurturing the finest talent from around the way to be part of our team, all while giving them my full support when they are doing projects outside of the mothership. I have found wisdom in their tutelage, and the Jenkins doc is no exception; of the many lines of inspiration I took from it, some standouts came from RZA (“I didn’t know the [major record] label could be wrong [early in his career]”); Raekwon (“It’s time to do it ourselves”); and ODB (“Don’t let these people change you, baby”).
I couldn’t agree more; fuck changing yourself, it’s about changing the world around you. On that note, watching the Wu clock all these headlines this month made me think of an article that I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review back in 2008, in which I criticized the New York Times for only letting non-hip-hop musicians like Marilyn Manson use monikers. “At the Times,” I wrote, “the penalty for being a rapper is twofold: you are routinely called out on your birth name (no matter how nerdy and ironic it might be), and you rarely are addressed as ‘Mr.’”
I visited the Times website last week to see the paper’s write-up on Of Mics and Men, and guess what I found? Unlike the old days, when they referred to members as Robert Diggs and Dennis Coles, now they’re simply called by their Clan names—RZA and Ghostface Killah, respectively.
It’s about time, though I always knew that they would break eventually. Unlike elitist honorifics, Wu-Tang and hip-hop are forever.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.