In the summer of 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan emerged from the slums of Staten Island and took the hip-hop world by storm. Their legacy spanned over a decade, garnering fans worldwide and generating sales in excess of $50 million. This is their story. Written by Gerald Barclay.
In his opening narration, director Gerald Barclay reveals that he grew up with members of the Wu-Tang Clan. That makes his profile a first-person feature, even if he doesn’t turn the camera on himself. As a video producer, Barclay contributed to the hip-hop collective’s early success, so he isn’t exactly a disinterested observer, which gives him access, but can also result in a limited perspective. Fortunately, he adds enough outside voices to stave off accusations of bias. To set the scene, Barclay takes a brief tour of Staten Island (“Shaolin” in Wu speak) and the martial arts movies that inspired the crew’s ideology.
Founded in 1991, Wu-Tang formed around Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, Method Man, Raekwon the Chef, RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and OI’ Dirty Bastard. As actor/rapper RZA explains, Wu-Tang stands for Wise Universal Truth Allah Now God… though he’s open to other interpretations. As writer Margeaux Watson observes, “It is a typical ‘Behind the Music’ story,” and Barclay dutifully tracks their rise, fall, and rebirth by speaking with friends, business associates, disc jockeys, and journalist-turned-A&R rep Bonz Malone, who admits he didn’t get them at first.
Sadly, the darkest moments revolve around ODB, who went from substance abuse to assault charges to incarceration, and passed away in 2004. Special features include Barclay’s “Protect Ya Neck” video and extended interviews with Raekwon and RZA, who relates Wu’s solo-career master plan. In addition, the filmmaker discusses the making of the documentary, while ODB’s widow, Iceline Jones, remembers her late husband. –Kathleen C. Fennessy