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The written Wu

Grade: A
Riverhead Freestyle Trade Paperback Original
Released February 2005
MSRP.: $16

Before Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s untimely demise, he was famous for his antics, most notably going onstage at an awards show and accepting an award The Wu-Tang Clan didn’t actually receive, and then informing the audience that, “Wu-Tang is for da children.” Wu-Tang may not be entirely appropriate for “da children,” but it is good for the general audience and has more musical depth than many give it credit for.

No one combines such an eclectic mix of social commentary, philosophy and hard-hitting beats quite like The Wu-Tang Clan. The RZA, aka Bobby Digital, aka The Abbot, compiled a book that gives the world insights into the nine famous hip-hop masters.

The Wu-Tang Manual: Enter the 36 Chambers, Volume One is a brief look at all that is Wu-Tang. Book I is a basic listing of the members, their nicknames, histories and skills. Vivid black and white photographs make up the book’s primary illustrations.

Book II reveals the Wu-Tang’s sources of spirituality, philosophy, martial arts fascination and the importance of chess and cinema. The manual lists spiritual influences as diverse as the Bible to Buddhism. The second book closes with a slang dictionary full of explanations for many Wu-Tang-isms. An example is a “haggler,” defined as a bothersome individual or a “bald-headed person who looks like boxing champ ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler.” In Book II the RZA also explains in a section about organized crime why almost every hip-hop star has a Scarface poster.

Using the Wu’s definitions as a basis, Book III dissects nine of the Wu’s most popular songs. The list includes “C.R.E.A.M,” “Bring Da Ruckus” and “Protect Ya Neck.” All of the song’s lyrics are listed verbatim, and sidebars explain lyrics that may not have an obvious explanation on first listen. In “C.R.E.A.M,” the RZA explains that when Inspectah Deck says, “Ready to give up so I seek the Old Earth,” he means to get advice from his mother.

The closing installment of Book IV discusses hip-hop and the Wu’s place in the community. The art of rhyme, technology and sampling are all techniques the RZA divulges, as well as some of the Wu’s preferences.

The paperback book looks slick with its silver embossed cover and easy-to-read layouts. Though the book is an easy read, it is relatively packed with information. Not solely for the hip-hop enthusiast, it explores such a wide variety of topics that something is bound to interest an otherwise-uninterested audience. The RZA explains at the beginning of the book that it is not a complete work in any way, but an overview of the important parts of this hip-hop megagroup. He states to consider it an “accompaniment to the album Enter the Wu: 36 Chambers.”

The book details the success of the Wu-Tang members in television and movies. Method Man scored a hit movie called How High with Red Man. The duo also had a short-lived and similarly themed show in 2004 called Method and Red. The RZA and his cousin, the GZA, appeared in the film Coffee and Cigarettes in a scene with Bill Murray, and also made appearances on Chappelle’s Show, representing Wu-Tang.

The RZA will likely have continued success with his interesting view of the world and well-articulated methods of expression. The book closes with a few pages entitled “The Saga Continues,” in which the RZA encourages readers to seek their own truth and knowledge. Hopefully, the saga will continue for the remaining members of the Wu-Tang Clan and they will keep producing such quality work.