Sacha Jenkins production ‘Of Mics and Men’ on Mass Appeal is a four-episode docuseries of in my opinion the best rap collective to ever emerge – The Wu Tang Clan. Its title works on clever wordplay based on John Steinbeck’s literary classic, ‘Of Mice and Men’ as in the same way this series explores friendships and dreams.
Wu Tang changed hip hop with a sound no one had ever heard before or ever has since. They were true pioneers of rap and took it to global heights. Consisting of nine original members; RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa and U-God. Each one was able to hold their own with successful individual albums of unique style and content and when they came together they were unstoppable.
The first episode opens with the familiar sounds of clashing swords from Kung Fu films that inspired their concept, ‘Wu Tang was the best sword style and our tongues are like swords’. RZA walks us through his home adorned with gold and platinum plaques displaying the fruits of his labour to join the rest of the clan in the studio. We cut to Method Man and his verse just takes me back! Those gritty beats RZA is renowned for producing have really stood the test of time.
The series continues to show members of the Wu Tang reunited sitting in the grand St George’s movie theatre in Staten Island to discuss their personal memories of their journey, not always in agreement but united in all the have achieved, together. It felt good to hear their story narrated through their own voices, of how their rise to success helped them achieve ‘economic freedom’ to escape the poverty and racism in the projects and their influences from the 5 percent nation, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam.
We take a journey with them to Park Hill in Staten Island where it all began. It soon becomes evident exactly how they became cultural icons, firmly believing in themselves not allowing record companies to have full control over their artistry. RZA had a vision setting up Wu Tang Productions through which he signed all members to Loud records as a group but convinced Steve Rifkind at Loud to allow each individual member the freedom to sign with other record companies. This at the time was unheard of in the music industry.
We saw the more human aspects of each individual, Method Man talks about working at statue of liberty as one of the highlights of his life as his first job, even after the fame and money from music, showing his humility he even takes to sweeping the floor. U-God also used to work there and cleaned the toilets as a janitor. Some of the honest realities of which were shocking. Ghostface describes his hurt in thinking back to not taking his younger siblings outside to play as they had muscular dystrophy, U-God shares footage of his two year old son recovering after he was shot in the spleen. RZA talks about not wanting to go to the same school as his brothers as they only had three pairs of trousers between them and had to rotate what they wore, being in the same school it was more obvious. Method Man thinks back times he spent in a shelter for abused women with his mother, describing how it was hard to see the friends he had made inside leave, but it hasn’t the type of place anyone stayed in permanently. He even gives names of people he considered his friends, saying they may be surprised he remembers them, but he will never forget.
There is a lot of footage of ODB with his mother and wife as we see the run up to his sad death. A much loved and dearly missed original member of Wu. The clan reminisce on ODB giving them hope when they doubted themselves and the raw energy and unique character he had.
As well as an honesty about money matters throughout this series, they still came together in ‘brotherhood’. There seemed to be no hard feelings when Ghostface acted on impulse on stage at Hot 97 show costing the group a ten-year ban from Hot 97 radio which adversely had a massive impact on their record sales and exposure.
RZA addresses his embrace for multicultural crowds and his vision for Wu Tang transcending above racism, something you will see if you have ever attended any of their shows. There is an honest realisation that this is the reason they sold so many records.
I only wish Martin Shkreli had been left out of this documentary entirely as he has already taken up too much of Wu’s time, but his purchase of the sole copy of ‘Once Upon a time in Shaolin’ helped them make history and appear in the global media. I wrote to Shkreli several years go to express my feelings of angst for his disrespect for Wu Tang in how he treated the album, surprisingly he replied saying they were trying to do something that had never been done before and Wu Tang made history. He had a point, even the FBI was sending tweets about not having confiscated the album.
A quarter of a century later, the clan admit that only come together for business purposes now, having grown apart, but that is to be expected as they’ve known each other since they were five years old and everything they have experienced since. RZA states, ‘at any given time when they come together there is a goodness of energy’. The will always be brothers throughout their ups and downs.
One of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time, it made me love Wu even more than I thought I did. Even as a fan I learnt new facts such as Mathematics was responsible for designing the logo and he only received $400 at the time for a symbol which is now globally recognised. I could have watched Wu discuss their lives for many more episodes, they brought the world focus back to real issues and discussions so their legacy will always live on. We all know… Wu Tang is Forever.
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