A Beginner’s Guide to Wu-Tang Clan and Their Importance in Hip-Hop History


Legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan have had their story immortalised in Stan’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga, which is currently in its second season on the streamer.

The series is a dramatisation of the events surrounding the formation of the group, who came together to become one of the most important acts in hip-hop history.

If you’ve yet to see the series or are just curious about Wu-Tang Clan, how they came to be and what their impact has been in popular culture, then we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to Wu-Tang to tell you what you need to know.

Who Are Wu-Tang Clan’s Members?

RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God and Masta Killa are the nine original members of the rap group, with Cappadonna later becoming an official member.

The group has released nine studio albums and a staggering 91 solo albums between the 10 members. Ghostface Killa has the most solo albums with 19 and RZA is not far behind with 14.

How and When Did Wu-Tang Clan Form?

The group was formed in 1992 in Staten Island, New York with RZA enlisting two of his cousins (GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and five childhood friends (Masta Killa joined the group in 1993).

The group’s name was inspired by the 1983 kung fu film Shaolin and Wu Tang with the violent imagery of Chinese kung fu martial art films continuing to inspire the artists over the course of their career.

Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in 1993 and quickly cemented themselves as a force of nature on the hip-hop scene. Interestingly, the group revolutionised the way contracts for hip hop artists were set up, as the individual members were all still free to pursue record deals with other labels while the group was signed to Loud/RCA.

How Many Albums Have They Sold

As a collective, Wu-Tang Clan has sold around 6.5 million albums in the US and around 40 million records worldwide, including individual members’ album sales as well as group sales collectively.

When it comes to the Billboard charts, the group has (perhaps surprisingly) only ever reached the Top 10 twice, and the number one spot once with their second studio album Wu-Tang Forever which was released in 1997.

As individuals, Method Man has had six Top 10 albums and Ghostface Killah has had the most albums in the charts with 14 albums in the Top 200.

2019 was the first year since 1993 that there was not a Wu-Tang Clan-related album in The Billboard Top 200, even though six Wu-Tang-related albums were released that year.

Are All of the Members Still Alive?

Sadly, no. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, whose real name was Russell Tyrone Jones, passed away on November 13, 2004 after collapsing in a recording studio in New York. He was just two days shy of his 35th birthday.

An autopsy confirmed he had died of an accidental drug overdose, with a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription opioid tramadol being found in his system.

Why Are Wu-Tang Clan So Important?

In addition to changing the way hip-hop contracts were structured as we previously mentioned, the group was also revolutionary in the way they sounded and how they put East Coast rap back on the map.

When they exploded onto the scene, West Coast rap from artists such as Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg was dominating but the sounds of Wu-Tang were gritty, raw and sounded like nothing that had been done before. One critic described their debut album as sounding like “the past, present and future of hip-hop all wrapped up at once.”

RZA has explained the group’s mission as being:  “To open up the minds of the youth and the people and become aware of our people, our situation, our community, martial arts, knowledge of self, and all the things that we put into those songs.

“It was wisdom of the universe. It was something that should inspire.

“We would say ‘yo, look. If MC Hammer sells 10 million records, that don’t mean nothing. That’s just 10 million people that are dancing’. When Wu Tang sells a million records – that’s a million people that has woke up. That’s a big difference. And that was our goal.”

In addition to that, the group got into the game with the goal of being a global brand. They created their Wu Wear clothing line, which helped turn The Wu-Tang Clan logo into an immediately recognisable emblem worldwide. They made the idea that rappers should have their own clothing lines and side hustles a ubiquitous one, and some of the world’s most profitable hip-hop artists have them to thank for that.

Who Have They Influenced?

Artists that have cited Wu-Tang Clan as their inspiration include Nas, Jay Z, Kanye West and the Notorious B.I.G, among others.

What Is Their Legacy

Wu-Tang are a business, a brand, innovators in music and also leaders in their community. Through diversifying their reach by way of books, films, tv series, documentaries, producing, activism and even their own “slanguage”, they have solidified themselves as some of the most important figures in history and proved that you don’t need chart success and Grammy Awards to be influential.

In case you needed further proof of their legendary status, their seventh studio album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin the most expensive album ever sold, selling in 2015 for the record-smashing price of $2.7 million (US$2 million).

Wu-Tang: An American Saga is now streaming on Stan.

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