Dirty's home in hip-hop was the Wu-Tang Clan, where--commercially speaking--NGE doctrine was part of the package, part of the plan. His cousin and fellow Five Percenter the RZA masterminded it on brooding solo walks around Staten Island, N.Y.: In order to conquer the world, Wu-Tang would have to be a world. Nine killer MCs pickled in late-night kung fu flicks, chess lore, Marvel comics, street life, weed cabbalism, and NGE slang eschatology--a hip-hop Middle Earth, with its own legends and grades of being. No other crew could match the sorcerous allure, the smoky Dungeons & Dragons vibe curling off those minimal Wu-Tang beats. "I lived in at least ten different projects," wrote RZA in The Wu-Tang Manual, "and I got to see that the projects are a science project, in the same way that a prison is a science project. ... And in comics, when a science project goes wrong, it produces monsters. Or superheroes."
This, to me, was what was so great about the Wu. They created another universe, another mythology and then inserted themselves as characters. I think Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is the zenith of that ideal. For some reason, whenever I listen to that join, all I can think about is The Odyssey--it has this incredibly epic, sprawling, fantastical feel. And it's all layered to standard thug, urban, crack era shit. Think about a line "The first branch, the third leaf,Whoever want it, got beef\I politic, show love, crush those who dare creep..." It almost sounds like a spell, like an summoning or something.
This will not sound right--but Wu-Tang, to me, was what I always understood black geekdom to be. Karate flicks, Comic Books (but what about the Wonder Woman bracelet), cartoons (form like Voltron), wrestling (My style broke muthafuckin backs like Ken Patera) etc. They took all of that and then filtered through New York, and through the lense of urban black America, at large. It was a great time. If I'm lucky, one day I hope to write something that moves like Cuban Linx. One day--probably when we're all dead--that album will have its place in the Western canon.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.