As hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, one group stands out for its monumental influence on the genre: the. This month marks 30 years since the release of their debut album, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," which critics say is one of the hip-hop albums ever.
Founding member Robert Diggs, also known as RZA, was the driving force behind the group's formation and early success. The group's members included iconic names like The GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon the Chef and Masta Killa.
Armed with a unique name inspired by kung fu films of the 1970s,'s style is a blend of gritty lyrics and philosophical themes, which in the 1990s was a stark contrast to the prevailing hip-hop trends.
RZA said the group was influenced by films members saw on New York City's 42nd Street, where instead of going to school, they spent their days in theaters.
"We're talking, like, 13-14-year-old men absorbing three of these movies a day," said RZA.
RZA said the parallels between their music style and love of the martial arts can be found in their lyrics.
"Within those films, it was always philosophy, right? It was brotherhood, right? It was training yourself to be the best you can be…Discipline… Sacrifice… And so all those things, of course it shows up in our music," said RZA.
The group faced challenges typical of young Black men in America, including encounters with law enforcement, even amid their growing success. Their song "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)" became a poignant expression of their struggles and triumphs.
Tragedy struck in 2004 with the untimely death of founding member Ol' Dirty Bastard at the age of 35 due to an accidental drug overdose. His legacy continues through his eldest son, Bar-Sun Jones, known as Young Dirty Bastard, who now performs with the group, keeping his father's spirit alive on stage.
Jones recalled that after a show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, the group sat down and had a "family dinner."
"It's, like, two sides of the family. It's, like, the dirty side [Jones' family] and it's the Diggs [RZA's family]. No matter what, how high we climb the Wu Mountain," Jones said.
"And you know, that just brings us back to who we are, as people deeply rooted into each other. And I don't think nobody can change the dirt," said Jones.
The Wu-Tang Clan remains a dynamic presence in hip-hop, with more than three decades of music and seven studio albums. As hip-hop continues to evolve, RZA sees a bright future:
"I always say that hip-hop is a mountain. And I think 50 years only marks the base of the mountain. So I think we got a long way to go. And it's gonna keep evolving," he said.
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