We’re still waiting on the sequel
The tour dates have been trickling out for a few weeks, but now it’s official: the entire surviving original roster of the Wu-Tang Clan, plus Cappadonna and Street Life, is reuniting for a short East Coast tour. We probably shouldn’t get too excited; it could easily be an unmitigated disaster. Wu-Tang guys can never really be counted on to actually show up to their shows, and even when they do, the shows could be extremely late or truncated or disorganized or just sloppy. The one time I saw the entire group together, sandwiched between the Ramones and Soundgarden at Lollapalooza 96, they were just terrible: way too many dudes onstage, nobody giving anyone else room to rap, no more than thirty seconds of any song, ad nauseum cries to put peace signs in the air or yell “America is dying slowly” (remember that?). There’s no guarantee that the presence of the other Clan guys will keep Method Man from acting like a douchebag or that Raekwon and Ghostface will regain their old chemistry or that the whole thing will even really happen at all. And the one New York show is on Valentine’s Day; what the fuck is that?
But still, the prospect of seeing all these guys returning to the stage together and basking in their old glory is just too much to resist. It’s not that weird rappers are completely shut out of the spotlight in 2006; they aren’t. Peedi Crack and Nore and Paul Wall are all truly bizarre in one way or another. But we’re light-years removed from an time when a sprawling collective of grimy, violent, hyperarticulate knuckleheads could come out of nowhere and become just about the biggest thing in rap without compromising the virtually impenetrable cosmology they’d created for themselves, all while rapping about the dorkiest shit imaginable (ninjas, pro wrestling, excessive nicknames). The group’s sudden emergence is still maybe the most welcome and unexpected personality jolt that rap has ever experienced. The Diplomats will never, ever reach the levels of ecstatic weirdness that Wu-Tang brought to rap, no matter what color they decide to popularize next.
It’s hard to remember all that stuff now, after the decade-long dissolution and the steep decline, after the flood of weak-ass side-projects destroyed the Wu-Tang brand identity and Method Man made that Right Guard commercial and RZA found a career in making Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino feel cool. And the decline was inevitable, not just because of the fickle public; it’s remarkable that a group of nine unhinged rappers managed to stay in harmony for as long as it did, especially considering the presence of one spotlight-hogging cheeseball and one truly unstable walking id. The two-year period in which the group released its debut and its first five solo albums remains one of the greatest winning streaks in rap history. And the name still means something these days, even if turtles have become the group’s primary audience. Without their cultural context, the group’s members still make great albums. Last year’s DJ Muggs/GZA collaboration album The Grandmasters somehow managed to be both slept-on and overpraised, but its sharp retro-pastiche still has a genuine punch. The absence of Ol Dirty Bastard, as every smirky blogger points out, keeps the reunion from being complete, but his tragic death might give the shows a tragic emotional resonance. And then there’s Ghostface, still one of the greatest rappers on earth. If these new shows have anywhere near the chaotic intensity and dizzy joy of his show at BB King’s last October, they’ll be well worth the price tag. These guys are playing clubs instead of arenas now; their moment in the spotlight ended years ago. But maybe they can still do something transcendent. And even if they can’t, we owe them a chance.