The Wu-Tang Clan‘s various MCs have come a long way since they announced themselves in 1992 with the rugged and anti-industry underground single “Protect Ya Neck.” But where once they rallied against the mainstream, now faces like RZA, Ghostface and Method Man are happy to hob-nob with film stars and bask in the global spotlight; in Ghost’s case, he even dropped by 30 Rock to perform a comedy rap cameo on a song called “Muffin Tops.”
The latest instance of the Clan’s establishment status finds the group’s self-styled lyrical genius GZA being invited to deliver a lecture at the Harvard Black Men’s Forum on December 1st. With GZA’s speech being billed only as a pretty vague “lecture about his Clan, his craft and his creativity,” here are five more specific suggestions for his academic debut.
1. Occupy Cash Rules
Technically, GZA doesn’t rap a verse on the cash-obsessed anthem “C.R.E.A.M.” but the acronym did become the Clan’s early calling card. Breaking down as “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” it’s the ideal introduction for GZA to jump into an in-depth analysis of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the ethics of global monetarists. Possibly while speaking in front of a tent.
2. Of “Animal Planet” And Zoology
For his debut album, Liquid Swords, the GZA recorded the track “Labels,” wherein he punned on the names of record labels to create a new narrative. It’s a trick he repeated with “Publicity” and then “Animal Planet,” with the latter revealing himself to be somewhat of the Clan’s amateur zoologist. Harvard could be a apt forum for the GZA to air out his claim that “porcupines had a rep for sticking everything that moved” and finally provide hard evidence that bluebirds really do “arrest parrots that love to talk.”
3. The Clan’s Contract Law
RZA is fond of recalling how the Clan signed a revolutionary contract with Steve Rifkind’s Loud Records. According to the small print, the Clan were signed to Loud as a group entity, but the nine individual members were permitted to sign solo deals with other labels. The theory was that the various labels would compete with each other in a bid to promote each artist’s solo releases and, ultimately, the Clansmen would benefit from greater promotion and sales. With the erosion of the traditional major label structure, the time is apt for GZA to deliver a state of the union address on the nuances of record industry contract law.
4. Race, Identity and Mafia Movies
For Raekwon’s 1995 solo project, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, the Clan took on mafia-inspired aliases: Rae became Lou Diamonds, Ghost flipped into Tony Starks and Inspectah Deck plumped for Rollie Fingers. It was a smart ruse at first — until a whole batch of mid-’90s rappers started to buy into the trend. At Harvard’s Black Men’s Forum GZA can delve deep into issues of racial identity and just which rapper rolled with the most ridiculous mafia moniker.
5. Liquid Science
GZA’s crowning glory is still his first solo effort, Liquid Swords. A brilliant crime noir in rhyme form, the album was a cornerstone of the Clan’s first wave of solo releases. However, the title begs questions of science and form: Can a sword really be considered a sword if it is made of liquid? How will it work? Does it need to be frozen first (thereby changing its molecular make-up) to be any use? For this one, GZA will need to drop some real science — and perhaps use a couple of fantastical props.