Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wu-Tang Clan -- "Protect Ya Neck" (1993)

First of all, who's your A&R?
A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?
But he don't know the meaning of "dope"
When he's lookin for a suit-and-tie rap
That's cleaner than a bar of soap

It's not easy to get your arms around the truly unique hip-hop phenomenon that is the Wu-Tang Clan.

The Wu-Tang Clan is a hip-hop collective that originally consisted of nine MCs: RZA (pronounced "rizza"), GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa.  They recorded several classic albums as a group, but several of Wu-Tang's members were also very successful solo artists.

The group's record deal provided that its members could sign with different record labels for their solo albums, and several of them did just that -- Raekwon signed with Loud Records, which released the group's first several albums, but Method Man signed a solo deal with Def Jam, Ghostface Killah with Sony, and GZA with Geffen.

It's not easy keeping Wu-Tang's nine members straight, especially when most of them have one or more nicknames.  (For example, GZA is also known as "The Genius," while Raekwon is sometimes called "The Chef."  The late Ol' Dirty Bastard's nicknames included "Dirt Dog," "Dirt McGirt," "Big Baby Jesus," "BZA," "Peanut the Kidnapper," and "Joe Bananas.")  The group is associated with Staten Island, although several of its members came from other New York City boroughs.  

The Wu-Tang Clan's influence on pop culture went well beyond their music.  The group launched "Wu Wear" shortly after their 1993 debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), went platinum.  At one point there were four Wu Wear stores, and Wu Wear clothing was also sold in department stores.

A Wu Wear jacket
A Sony PlayStation video game featuring all nine members of the group was released in 1999, and several subsequent video games feature one or more of them.  And several of the group's members have appeared in TV shows and movies.         

The Wu-Tang Clan took its name from a 1981 Hong Kong martial arts movie, Shaolin and Wu Tang, which is about the rivalry between a Shaolin-style kung fu master and a Wu Tang-style sword fighter.  (If you want to learn more about the group's interest in martial arts and other influences on their music, you should read RZA's 2005 book, The Wu-Tang Manual.)

Here's a fight scene from the movie:

"Protect Ya Neck" was Wu-Tang's first single.  It begins with an excerpt from a  telephone call from a listener to a radio station during an on-air appearance by Wu-Tang.  RZA then introduces Inspectah Deck to rap the first verse, and we're off.  Eight of the nine original group members contribute verses.

"Protect Ya Neck" has an old-school, low-tech sound.  According to the Rap Genius website

The verses display Wu-Tang at its Wu-Tangiest; no [choruses] or hooks, the babbling of brilliant children with autism . . . if 1,000,000 monkeys typed on typewriters for an infinite amount of time, they would type out the complete ouevre of Wu-Tang Clan long before they stumbled on to Shakespeare.

The lines quoted at the beginning of this post are from the final verse, which is rapped by GZA.  

Before helping to form Wu-Tang, GZA had released a solo album that flopped, and his "Protect Ya Neck" verse is a rant against not only his old record company but the recording industry in general.

GZA's (a/k/a "The Genius") first album
In his opinion, record companies often "misuse" what rappers "invent."  Instead of recognizing the "slammin'" talent of genuine rappers like Wu-Tang, they try to "blow up some scrub" -- that is, promote no-talent MCs who aren't the real deal.  

GZA's record company should've "pumped" his record harder, but like many rap labels, it "got short arms and deep pockets" -- in other words, his label had plenty of money,  but its arms were too short to pull that cash out of its deep pockets.

And forget about the major labels.  For one thing, they're "scared to death" of controversial rappers like the Wu-Tang Clan.  And even if they weren't, look at the typical A&R guy.  (A&R stands for "artists and repertoire," and an A&R guy is a talent scout whose job it is to find and sign new recording artists.)  He's a "mountain climber who plays an electric guitar" is looking for "suit-and-tie rap that's cleaner than a bar of soap" instead of authentic, down-and-dirty rap that comes straight from the mean streets, which is what Wu-Tang specializes in.

Here's "Protect Ya Neck":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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