By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
U-God disagrees. "Fuck no," the notoriously bad-tempered MC explodes. "None of these groups that's out now can even compare with what my crew can do."
U-God hasn't always been on good terms with the rest of the crew; in a 2004 press conference, he claimed that RZA had promoted the solo careers of other group members while he and others were held back, comparing his tenure to slavery. Despite past differences, though, U-God is excited to be taking part in the tour. "It's been 12 years of miscommunications, 12 years of burned bridges," he says, standing on a Lower Manhattan street corner one cold afternoon. "But Wu-Tang is still the greatest rap crew of all time."
Another Clansman whose status has often been in question is Cappadonna. A Wu-Tang affiliate since 1995, Cappa released two solo albums before moving to Baltimore, where he drove a gypsy cab for a time. He's been advertised as part of the reunion, but a week before the tour was scheduled to start, he still wasn't so sure. "The biggest fuss that's going on right now is me, and how they're trying to get a meeting together to determine whether or not I'm going to be on the tour and how much am I going to get paid," says Cappa on the phone from Baltimore.
"It's only a matter of time until they figure it out that I belong to the team but I also should be respected as an individual," says Cappa. "It's still going to manifest, but it won't be complete unless I'm there. I'm the ODB of this shit. I'm the most controversial member of the Clan. Every time you hear my name, you don't even know if I'm part of the Clan or not."
Even if Wu-Tang squash any lingering internal tensions, they still face a number of challenges. The reunion won't be complete without Ol' Dirty Bastard. "There's definitely going to be an element that's missing," says GZA over the phone from his home. "We will definitely be performing at least two or three of his songs, but it's definitely different. He's sincerely missed, and it's an element that should be here but unfortunately is not. We still have to move on."
And four years have passed since the release of Wu-Tang's last group album, 2001's Iron Flag. It's daunting just to consider the logistics of reassembling the remaining rappers. Many of the group's members remain in the New York area, but Cappa and others have moved south: Raekwon to Atlanta, Ghostface to Miami. "Everyone's kind of busy doing different things," says GZA. "We're all scattered. It was kind of difficult to get everyone together."
"It's always going to be hard to put 12 people together," Mathematics agrees. "You've got a group like the Fugees; sometimes it might be hard to put them three together. Everybody is different, and we all grew up. Everybody is grown men nowadays; we all have family. Twelve, 13 years down the line, people do change."
"I've known them dudes since I was four," says U-God. "When I wrote those rhymes for that first album, I was 19, 20 years old, fresh out of prison. I'm a grown man now."
On the rooftop of a Jersey City apartment complex, another grown man is making a video. Against the backdrop of a dazzlingly bright Manhattan skyline, Ghostface and the young Def Jam r&b singer Ne-Yo stand atop a concrete-flowerpot riser, striking poses and lip-synching the lyrics to "Back Like That," the first single from Ghostface's forthcoming album Fishscale. Dazed tenants wander around and technicians wrestle with enormous lighting rigs and cranes as Ghostface, resplendent in a bright-purple fur coat and about 50 pounds of gold medallions, mimes out his lyrics over and over.
A cult figure within the group back when a ski mask used to hide his face, Ghostface might now be its most visible member. He's one of the few who still have a major-label contract and one of the few who still release solo albums regularly. Speaking about the upcoming tour as he relaxes in a hallway during a quick break from filming, Ghostface is reserved. "We did set the blueprint on how to come in and stick together as a family," says Ghost. "It's somewhat still a family, but we got a lot of miscommunication. This one's thinking this way and this one's thinking this way, and that's what brings confusion and at the same time a lack of understanding. That's what's circulating right now."
Ghost isn't sure whether the tour will lead to further group projects. "It depends," he says. "[The tour is] a test. It might be a test where niggas fuck around and say, 'Nah, I'm not fucking with that nigga.' Or it might be a test where it's like, 'You know what? I'm only fucking with niggas for paper, and if there's paper involved, we could get the paper.' Or it could be like, 'Damn, it's love, y'all. I miss you, son.' It could be any of those three, but I can't tell you what till the end of the tour."
Others echo Ghostface's tentative enthusiasm. "It's been a minute since every Clan member has been all together," says GZA. "I think something good could come out of it other than the tour, other than just doing these dates. This is a trial run."