Wu-Tang Clan and hip-hop are synonyms. This close connection, however, is a double-edged liquid sword. Since Wu’s earliest work is some of the most influential material ever produced, an anxiety in fans is summoned whenever a new album is announced. No one wants to see their favorite OG act fall from grace, and in a genre as dynamic as hip-hop, the likelihood of a drop-off is heightened.
Enter: DJ Mathematics, the producer behind Wu-Tang’s upcoming album, The Saga Continues. Mathematics and Wu-Tang are also synonyms or as the veteran producer gleefully described himself to me over the phone, “Wu-Tang day one.” As one of the main architects of the Wu-Tang sound, all of my fears immediately dissipate. It also doesn't hurt that RZA recently called the project "a masterpiece."
Still, the question remains: Is it possible for Wu-Tang Clan to sound fresh in 2017?
To that point, Math explained that he prides himself on forever “being a student of the music,” while simultaneously cultivating his own style. An emphasis on balance and self-expression underscore Mathematics’ answers.
Mathematics goes on to stress the importance of innovation but also highlights the value of sticking to your roots as an artist. “For this album, the inspiration comes from listening to a lot of oldies and classics. Before I started this album, I listened to two albums from beginning to end. One was 36 Chambers and the other one was The Chronic: 2001,” he explains.
Revisiting Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) allowed him to study the grit and rawness of the classic Wu-Tang sound, while Dr. Dre’s production on his second album pushed him to make beats that are as eclectic as they are full-bodied. Following that research phase, Math shut himself off from all other music, zeroing in on his own feelings and artistic desires. His aim was to create something raw and true to the essence of hip-hop while reflecting the music of today.
Math speaks passionately about his craft, and when asked how he goes about making beats that reflect the growth of everyone in the Clan, he once again stresses the idea of self-expression. “It’s about letting everybody be them,” he explains. “When you’re dealing with crafting something, you have to make something that’s going to bring the best out of everyone. That’s my motive whenever I make a beat.”
Surprisingly enough, Math reveals that The Saga Continues is entirely sample-free. Instead, working around heightened sampling restrictions, Math brings in live instruments and singers to capture the warmth of a sample on a track like “Lesson Learn’d.”
Math is no stranger to transformation and rebuilding, which is how the album’s first single, “People Say,” comes to pass. Adding and subtracting from the beat is one thing, but Math also alludes to a healthy and driving competition amongst members, which helped the song reach its full potential. “On the verses, I had a brother come back to me like: ‘Oh, that’s what he said? Word, I have to go back and kill it again,’” Math says.
When it comes to producing for Wu-Tang, Mathe believes he has something of a sixth sense. “I can feel who the beat is for, then I bring it to them and make sure that they love it, too,” Math says. “If they love [the beat], then they’re going to bring their best to the table. I want you to be a cold-blooded assassin on the beat.”
To that degree, Math’s approach to production is in line with his understanding of Wu-Tang’s legacy. He doesn’t let the notion that their heritage is put on trial with every new album dampen his creative process. Instead, Math sees this album—and any other Wu-Tang project—as a showcase of the group’s ability and unity. “This is about showcasing our family… it’s about showing the world what me and my brothers can do,” he tells me confidently.
In terms of how The Saga Continues will shape Wu-Tang’s legacy, Math believes "that’s up to the people.” He describes the album as a journey to get lost in and invites fans new and old alike to brace themselves for the project and enjoy it to the fullest.
On a personal note, Mathematics views the Wu-Tang legacy as infinite, always to be improved upon, and here to stay. “At the end of the day, if I wasn’t doing this professionally, I would still be doing it,” Math attests. “Hip-hop is in me.”
“Wu-Tang is forever,” he finally adds with pride. “We’re staying true to ourselves, so Wu-Tang is forever. It’s for the children and forever, and children grow up to be our future.”
In the future that is 2017, Wu-Tang’s legacy, music, and bond are strong as ever.