"From the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again. The RZA, the GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and the Method Man.â€ Fifteen years ago, this introduction announced the arrival of one of the most important groups in hip-hop history. Five albums, one video game and a fallen member later, director Gerald Barclay looks back on the tumultuous history of Staten Island's finest in his new documentary, Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan. We talked to the filmmaker to get his insider take on the rise and fall of the Clan.
Why did you want to tell the story of the Wu-Tang Clan?
I moved here from Africa and one of the first communities that I lived in was Park Hill [in Staten Island]. I lived there since I was 14 years old and I shared this cool relationship with guys like Raekwon the Chef, Cappadonna and Inspectah Deck. My first summer job was selling newspapers on the Verrazano Bridge and RZA's older brother was my supervisor.
So you were able to witness the growth of the group from its earliest stages?
I knew RZA was an artist and I knew they were working on music, but I didn't even know Raekwon was a rapper. It wasn't until I heard "Protect Ya Neckâ€ that I realized, "Wow, they did it.â€ It was definitely a shock to me.
What role did Staten Island play in the rise of the Wu?
Staten Island was their solid base. Every one of their shows was packed and fans would follow them across state lines. Back in the day, I would get on the phone and call up The Box and order the videos just to get the airplay, so it was a team effort. It was hometown pride.
The film is very optimistic. Why did you choose not to address the infighting in the group?
The guys didn't want to put too much negative energy into [the film] even though it is there. They said whatever the problem is just let it be and don't waste your time trying to resurrect things. The last thing you want to do is bring energy back to certain things. ODB paid the ultimate price. ODB went astray because of all the problems.
How did the death of ODB affect the group?
He was the glue that kept everybody together. Once he died it was like, "Wow.â€ I felt that the Wu was going to do all these things, but I realized that it was no longer when ODB died. I mean the guys were working on getting an amusement park called Wu World
Wu World? Was that going to be like Great Adventure with ninjas?
Yeah, they wanted to do a theme park. Around the time of Wu Tang Forever these guys were getting approached with all these different things, man. With every one thing that you saw come to fruition, there were probably three or four things that never did. When you see Wu Nails [in the film], which was nail polish, that's when you realize what could've been.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
When the Wu Tang came out, they were the epitome of hardcore. These guys were straight-up gangsta. But I think the film shows that there's another layer to them. They hurt. They deal with things like jealousy and drug abuse and the hurt of losing. They're just regular people and that's what it comes down to.--Ryan Murphy
Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan is now on DVD.