Outside the 10th-floor window of Quad Studios in Midtown Manhattan, the neon and LEDs of M&M’s World caught the eye as a brand-new Wu-Tang Clan album blasted through a tiny soundproof room packed with a who’s-who of music writers, producers, and a chosen few rap fans.
“The second song was called ‘Felt’ because we don’t give a fuck how motherfuckers feel anymore,” Wu-Tang impresario the RZA said, about a quarter of a way through a listening party for A Better Tomorrow, the new album he produced for the seminal rap crew. That must be a good feeling, especially as you couldn’t hear a fucking thing over the general din of internet friends catching up IRL. But that didn’t matter to the RZA, who spoke to us over a mic from behind glass in the soundbooth. He heard only what he wanted to.
On the way up, we caught the elevator with the RZA and a couple of his crew. He was name-checking people who had worked out of this studio, including Tupac. There were a few Coldplay platinum plaques on the wall, and the Hall of Records there boasted Lil Wayne, Future, and J. Cole cuts. One ODB gold record hung on the wall near the studio, and when his voice shook through the party, it was sorrowful and surprising.
“Every Wu-Tang member is present on this album,” the RZA boasted, because it was a true statement. That meant you heard Ghostface Killah about once every 15 minutes, and someone actually had the verve to name-check Pusha T in a verse, which seemed weird. But the beats still hit heavy, even if the unity of the crew wasn’t as apparent as in years past. That’s not to say there aren’t good, heartfelt songs on this new record. One of them, “Mistaken Identity,” details how many of the Wu-Tang Clan’s brethren were locked up for things they didn’t do. Others were more literal:
“It ended with ‘Family Reunion’ because we feel Wu-Tang comes together — whether it’s us or our fans or people that ever had any inspiration from Wu-Tang — it’s a family reunion,” said RZA. “We’re a rare breed on the planet Earth.”
Next to a free bar serving Ciroc (OF COURSE IT’S CIROC), Masta Killa mugged for cameras as chintzy plastic cups were ditched on a leather-covered pool table. Someone smoked weed in a stairwell, so as not to set off the smoke detectors.
This new album should not be confused with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, another new Wu-Tang record that will be produced in an edition of one and displayed in museums. But that’s kind of how this night felt, too: the RZA under glass, simply maintaining the culture to proffer the Wu-Tang Clan’s strength, a certain kind of wonderful relic.