The Inescapable Allure of Grown-Man Shit

Ghostface Killah on the perils of your fans—or your co-stars—not wanting you to grow up

"RZA is fumbling the ball," Ghost says. "You know what I mean? Fumblin' the ball. He wanna do what he do, when we trying to tell him, like, 'Yo, man, do this or do that.' His music wasn't sounding like how it was when we first came in. And it's hurting us. People want that old Wu-Tang shit, but you tryin' to make new shit—tryin' to play live instruments, instead of just goin' to the crates and just do what you do best. You still a master at what you do, but right now you ain't lookin' like that master, 'cause you tryin' to do other stuff. We were just upset with the way things was comin' out."

To be fair, Diagrams is a dense, abstract, deliberately nauseating, deeply disturbing piece of work—you'd think extensively biting "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" would make a song more accessible, not dramatically less—unlikely to halt the Wu's slide in the public consciousness, losing ground to fresher entities (Southern rap, primarily), a calamity that Ghostface's recent success has valiantly battled against. But it's unfair that the main thing we know about this record, a week before its official release, is that two of its biggest rappers seem to hate it. And even if after five listens you find it repulsive, that's still five hours or so of deep, bewildered fascination. Diagrams deserves better than I fear it's going to get.

And furthermore, isn't RZA just trying to do what Jay-Z tried to do, what Ghostface says you must do: evolve? Grow and develop and experiment, even at the risk of pissing off your fans? "We just need to go back to what we been doin'," Ghostface insists. "If we not gonna go back to what the people—if you tryin' to get somethin' new, then do it right . . . Not just a beat with a bunch of rhymes goin' different types of ways, and the beat's not even all that, but you want everyone to sing on it."

Expressing fatherly alarm over your burnt nose hairs
Daniel Hastings
Expressing fatherly alarm over your burnt nose hairs

Diagrams could undoubtedly benefit from some warmth, some familiarity, some semblance of sanity. But a drop or two of its wide-eyed, half-crazed eccentricity wouldn't have killed The Big Doe Rehab, either. As the tiff gets uglier and more public, interviewers lately have inundated Ghostface with Wu questions, to his understandable frustration: "I don't care if you ask me about it, but let's not just sit there and go for 40 minutes on it," he says. But a reconciliation is crucial here: It could reinvigorate what remains one of East Coast rap's most beloved franchises, and boost to new heights Ghostface, its star attraction, highly evolved relative to his competition but battling a whiff of staleness within his own outstanding catalog. But is it possible to make peace? "I'm not sure," Ghost says. "I can't tell you that, because it's serious with Wu-Tang Clan right now. It's serious. So I don't know." What would have to happen for everyone to reconcile? "I can't even tell you. I can't even tell you. I can't even tell you."

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