The posse cut lives on in hip-hop, but no crew has balanced craft, skill, personality and numbers as well as the Wu-Tang Clan. One of the last great game-changers in rap, Staten Island’s kung-fu connoisseurs redefined the notion of a collective by demonstrating true power in sheer mass. They showed how solo projects can strengthen musical bonds; they developed a mythology; RZA radically redefined hip-hop production as a menacing mood setter. The Clan demonstrated that even the street at its grittiest can support a mainstream cottage industry.
It’s been four years since the last Wu record (a follow-up is promised for 2012), but in many ways the group feels as prominent as ever. RZA remains a visible ringleader; the solo careers of fortysomethings Ghostface Killah and Raekwon are hovering at or near creative highs. GZA recently visited Harvard and M.I.T., where he lectured, dined with biologists, observed a genome sequencer and learned how DNA generates proteins. All for material for an upcoming album. And people compare Odd Future to these guys.
There’s natural wonder in witnessing all the group’s scattered satellites—even lesser entities like U-God and Inspectah Deck—pulled into the same orbit. However precarious and irregular a family reunion can be, the group is shockingly capable of cohering into a precise, rhyme-spitting machine.