In case you haven’t heard, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan coming into existence. The rap supergroup from Staten Island recently reunited at Coachella and there’s a special 20th anniversary album — titled A Better Tomorrow — on the way with an anniversary tour in the works.
To mark the occasion, Esquire asked writer and Wu-Tang superfan Chris Faraone to share some of his thoughts on the group, specifically why he thinks they’ve endured and what it’s been like working with Wu-Tang as the writer of the liner notes on some of their albums. The results are sort of hilarious.
First, Faraone details how everyone in the group seems to subscribe to the theory that creating an air of mystery is the best way to spark interest and intrigue. Always leave them wanting more, as they say.
But, as a journalist who has spent a lot of time around the edges of the Clan, and even written liner notes for some of their records, I find that the recent swarm of salutes misses the real reason that they still thrive after all these years. It’s simple: unlike other rap acts of their caliber, which desperately whore themselves out for cheeseburger ads and guest verses, Wu-Tang has remained elusive, tightly controlling information and access, and essentially maintaining an unprecedented scarcity to keep fanatics fiending for more.
Their debut album cover featured the posse creeping in anonymous ninja garb. They’ve rarely given group interviews, and they don’t desperately leak rumors for attention. They arrive at their own shows ridiculously late, if at all, and habitually postpone release dates. They even abuse their own labels. Legend has it that after an uninvited A&R guy visited Miami to check up on Ghostface Killah’s progress during the Supreme Clientele sessions, the rapper flew to New York just to tell executives, “Motherf*ckers, you can taste my cake when I’m done baking it!”
And here’s Faraone detailing how enormously frustrating it is to work with the band...
I was hired to write liner notes for reissues of early Ghostface, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and GZA releases. But while RZA, who produced those projects, has signed off on my participation—all handled through the boutique imprint, Get On Down—none of the artists has made it easy. The process usually goes like this: I’m typically told to text or email their managers, who occasionally pass me the direct digits. From there, I’m guaranteed at least an 80 percent cancellation rate on planned interviews, and then maybe one or two half-hour phoners if I’m lucky. If there’s one perk to my career in hip-hop—other than the 20,000 useless CDs crowding my Timberland boot-sized apartment—it’s that I can connect with any MC du jour in two emails or fewer. Still, my chances of locating Inspectah Deck in less than a week are infinitesimal.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to love these guys any more but I think I do now, if only for Ghostface’s cake baking line. So, so good.