“I guess a lot of people in ya. I guess they can feel the realness you. They could feel the vibe. And I think hip-hop, that's what I be tellin a lot of people. A lot of record promoters and a lot of artists I mean, it's like, it's music that you gotta touch and feel.” —“Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber - Part II (Conclusion)”
Hip-hop is inherently miraculous. Name another genre where former drug dealers can become a voice for their people? Name another musical expression where a lack of resources can provide conditions for imagination and ingenuity to prevail? Creativity born from samples and struggles is uncommon. The people who enter and exit the halls of hip-hop aren’t ordinary. Regrettably, it’s easy to take miracles for granted when they become mundane. If everyone has a story—one that’s worth being told—only what resonates will break through.
When Wu-Tang Clan arrived in 1992, the group's presence—nine word-slashers who all spoke the Shaolin slang—transmitted a resounding impression within and across New York City, and then all of music. Every chess move following the release of “Protect Ya Neck,” the Staten Island, New York crew's classic first single from their timeless debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), added to their lore. They were simply enchanting.
“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” —Method Man ("Method Man")
When an exceptional clique of artists emerges in hip-hop, there's genuine excitement; a love for community building is in the culture’s DNA. Unfortunately, the industry has placed demands upon music creators that make a successful career easier to accomplish as a solo act. For starters, there's an expectation for more. An invisible clock is always ticking.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is an outstanding body of work and an all-time rap debut—and it was received as such—but eventually, the same thought entered everyone’s mind: What are they going to do next? Will there be another “Protect Ya Neck?” Another “C.R.E.A.M.?” Another “Method Man?”
This demand was and is natural. But we must acknowledge how difficult it is for a sizeable collective to create magic on wax when such a feat requires a rhythm and precision not needed when making art alone. I wasn’t there in the flesh, but having studied the history of Wu-Tang from their breakout period to what came after—how a group of this magnitude, coming from where they’re from, with this many unique styles and personalities, functioned at such a high skill level—I can honestly say they are a fucking rap miracle.
From the start, Wu-Tang and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) were lightning-in-the-bottle gifts from the hip-hop gods. Sadly, we view most industry-shaping events as miracles only in retrospect. Take Odd Future, for example. The Los Angeles-based collective entered the industry in 2007 as disruptive, table-shaking kids who spoke as sailors and embraced the chaos of adolescence. They were striking and full of surprises. A bit immature, too, but what kids aren’t? Something about them felt special.
In many ways, Odd Future's assembly was like Wu-Tang but for hip-hop kids who lived on the internet. Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats’ performance of “Sandwichs” on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is no different than Ralph McDaniels airing “Protect Ya Neck” on Video Music Box in the '90s. People reacted to their visuals.
Looking back on their 2011 Billboard cover story, the photograph of Tyler, Syd, Mike G, Frank Ocean, Domo Genesis, Hodgy Beats, and Left Brain—a youthful collective receiving acclaim for saying something different and being the rebels of the moment—doesn’t accurately foretell the group's future.
Now think of everything they have accomplished; all they have become. Although they disbanded, the ragtag Los Angeles rap cooperative known for their shock value will be remembered forever for delivering some of the most progressive, exciting, and imaginative music of their age. A thought made possible only in retrospect.
Tyler, The Creator was once the sun who allowed these remarkable planets to orbit around the idea of Odd Future, which, besides those on the cover, also introduced the world to Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, Kilo Kish, The Internet, and so much more. That’s what RZA was to GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa; the core that gathered the pieces and executed the plan. Not just hip-hop, but all of pop culture will remember their names.
Wu-Tang Clan resonated. Odd Future resonated. All the marketing money in the world isn’t able to recreate the organic contagiousness of their vibrations. The people don’t need an algorithm to tell them when something is real.
Those who arrived to watch J.I.D and Saba perform on the last domestic date of their co-headlined Catch Me If You Can Tour in Atlanta, Georgia, saw the latter command a room with the zeal of an army general. Fans were engrossed with eyes wide open. J.I.D became flammable while performing; it was like watching Johnny Blaze pursue his rap dreams. His passionate tongue-twisting third verse of "Underwear" caused the audience to combust. They were in awe.
I recognized a similar sentiment when Smino and EarthGang came to Buckhead Theather for the former's Hoopti Tour back in early May. There was a certain electricity that filled the room. They brought out a crowd who came to sing, dance, and live a night worth remembering. It was one hell of a show; one of the best I’ve seen all year. Those who came to see EarthGang and Smino, just like with J.I.D and Saba, exited the venue with faces that said, "I’m going to tell my kids about this show."
As fate would have it, the New York City dates for Catch Me If You Can, and Hoopti Tour were back-to-back double feature performances. That’s 5,000 tickets between the four shows—all sold out in advance. None of the four acts are "superstars"; they have no records taking over RapCaviar, let alone the radio. But that didn't stop hordes of people from spending their hard-earned dough on tickets to see the two live shows in hip-hop’s mecca.
Although the four acts aren’t bound to a central idea, how they all travel and grow together provides the same rush as a larger group like Wu-Tang or Odd Future. There’s a camaraderie to their competitive spirit; a brotherhood that extends outside of their Zero Fatigue, Spillage Village, and Pivot Gang collectives. Many of the artists who attended the January sessions for Revenge of The Dreamers III have grown closer and more collaborative over the past five months.
Classic or not, Revenge of The Dreamers III should only help to further solidify how the gathering of a group of distinctive voices can produce remarkable results. Even if another label follows the same blueprint—and yes, I know, Def Jam did it first—they will be building a completely different house. When the album is released later this week, please remember to consider the conditions of creation—this album is a massive undertaking.
New beginnings are often believed to be the start of a never-ending story. But this line of thinking is flawed. There was once a time when Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, as the duo Rich Gang, appeared to be an unbreakable brotherhood. As we all know, groups aren't forever. Suddenly, what seems to be eternal, ends. It's necessary to appreciate the remarkable—artists can't assemble masterpieces like the latest Mac Book.
As of late, I've been approaching every album like it’s an artist's last body of work. I attend tours as if I’ll never see the full line up again. Enjoying the present is more fun than speculating about what will happen tomorrow. I’m learning to appreciate the music and all its participants as a fleeting dream that is full of twists, turns, and unexpected curveballs.
There is no Wu-Tang without "we." There is no Dreamville without "The Dream." From Soulja Boy to Lil Wayne, Roc-A-Fella to Stones Throw, “Old Town Road” to “Hotline Bling,” there is no art without the miraculous circumstances which turned men into poets and lifestyles into music.
Cherish the miracles, my friends.
By Yoh aka Yoh-Tang Clan aka @Yoh31