Over three years since their last album, get ready to reenter the Shaolin. The legendary Wu-Tang Clan is back and looking to continue their iconic 25 year run with their new album The Saga Continues. This project marks the first release from 36 Chambers Alc, a new lifestyle company from RZA and Mustafa Shaikh. The 17-track compilation is a production project from DJ Mathematics, a longtime Wu-Tang affiliate who was responsible for the iconic Wu-Tang symbol. RZA also serves as an executive producer.
Many Wu-fans have been anticipating a new project from the from the Staton Island rap group since rumors spread about their controversial one-off double album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin back in 2015. Only one copy of the project was made and bought by Martin Shkreli for $2 million. Throughout that period of time, he taunted and trolled the Clan and fans with snippets of the unreleased project despite being ordered not to play the album for 88 years.
Despite the bizarre turnout from OUTIS, Wu-Tang hasn’t let it slow them down. Alongside the release of The Saga Continues, which is out now, the clan is gearing up for the rerelease of this popular clothing line Wu Wear, which RZA showcased for us last year.
To celebrate the release of their new album, we’ve sat down with RZA and DJ Mathematics to discuss what to expect from their latest music project, Donald Trump and the NFL protests, and their thoughts on the outcome of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin.
First off, I want to say thank you for rocking the Highsnobiety hat in the “People Say” music video. We were all excited to see that. Was that an intentional shoutout?
RZA: I had a New York Yankee hat, and I had that hat. I was like “You know what, everybody else is going to rock the Yankee. I’m going to fuck them up with a man’s hat. [Laughs]
We see that Redman is featured on the single. Are there any other guest appearances that made it on The Saga Continues?
Mathematics: It’s basically Wu-Tang family. But if you look at features you have Killah Priest, Family, Street Life Family, Chris River, you know that’s Big Pun’s son. He was on loud. You also have Sean Price. That’s duck down. I think that is pretty much it for the features. Everything else is basically the Wu-family.
R: Hue Hef is a big up and coming young man from Staten Island. We haven’t really broken anybody from Shao-Lin since the Wu, or since that era. We had Tristan Wilds who was able to become an actor and a musician. He did his job.
We got a few other young guys acting on T.V. shows right now. The kid on Power [Michael Rainey Jr.] is from Staten Island too. There hasn’t been a hard M.C. from Staten Island Park Hill projects in a long time. This guy Hue Hef, I’m calling him our Staten Island Biggie because he is on it.
Speaking on up and coming rappers, are there any other rappers out now that you’d want to work with or even mentor?
M: Yeah, I just love working. As far as music wise, producing, if you want to work, lets work. It’s a lot of dope dudes out there. Like you just mentioned, the Fergs. I mean from all over, not just New York. You have cats like Vince Staples and Vic Mensa. I just heard this cat the other night, Luke. I think he was from Florida if I wasn’t mistaken. He was crazy, so there is talent out there. There are definitely gravitating me to it, because they are dealing with the same type of music as far as pure hip hop. You have many different forms of it right now.
R: As far as mentorship, the beautiful thing about being the avid, I was able to put a book out. Fortunately, a lot of young hip hoppers have read my book and have come up to me, and spoken to me, earlier in their career. One of the first people to be in the studio with Chance the Rapper was me. He was probably 18. He had it in him. It wasn’t just about doing music with him, I just saw a beautiful young man on the right course. To see him years later, be as large as he is and as successful as he is, is a blessing.
ASAP [Rocky], when he first came out. We call it the Wu-Mansion. It is out in south Jersey. It’s were we recorded a lot of our earlier music like Wu-Tang Forever. Artists passed through there, ASAP came early, Joey Badass came and spent a couple of weeks with me some months ago. We just built. The goal is, my generations duty is to share the knowledge with the up and coming generation. It’s like Kung-Fu. You have to pass that techniques on. We must get more pupils so that the knowledge can spread.
When creating this album, was there any thought process about reaching a younger audience and the next generation of rap fans?
M: There was not thought of catering with this project. It is was basically a thought of me knowing what I wanted to do and just to manifest it. At the end of the day I have to be happy with the work that I put out. So if I am catering to somebody else I am more worried about you loving it, than myself. If I love it then I have a good feeling that the rest of the world is going to love it. When you start catering to the people, you might start alienating yourself from other people. What might be right for him might not be right for him. When you do something from your heart, and your soul, I think they get to appreciate that more. I think they really get to see a side of you.
R: When he brought this record to me, it was a probably 60-70% done. I heard it, I was like “Wow, I forgot about this energy.” I forgot about the energy, because I was editing a movie. I am over here.
Now I am hearing the music. It reinvigorated me. One thing I am good at is taking things and shaping them as well. Math was like “Give me your ear.” So I sat and rolled out a few notes. The beauty for me though, there’s Mathematics, our DJ, who plays the back scene, doing what he do. Was actually cooking up something that would put him in the front. When we say Wu-Tang The Saga Continues, that’s an actual fact because now he has the ball in his hand and he can take some shots.
On staying true to the sound and soul of Wu-Tang, y’all are known for your unforgettable album skits. Can we expect more on The Saga Continues, and what are y’all favorites?
R: My favorite skit right now is called “Berto and the Fiend.” Anytime Ghostface starts talking that New York, drug, crack experience, it’s going to be funny. That is my favorite skit, but we have some beautiful skits on there.
M: “Berto and the Fiend” is definitely one of my favorites too, and then a couple of others are messages. We have messages within the music. We try convey something with some substance.
Creating these skits must make for hilarious moments in the booth. What are some other favorite studio moments of yours?
R: There are so many to name. If I was to jump in there, one of my favorite moments in the studio in the recent years, this is kind of funny though. I was in the studio with Paul Banks right? Me, Ghostface, and Paul Banks. Then Maggie Gyllenhaal shows up with Michael Fassbender, and a big female rock drummer. Regardless, it was such a cool moment. There were six other people there. I was being a host and serving drinks. While of that was going on, Ghost never left the chair in front of the speaker writing his lyrics while the party and all kind of shit was going on. He was the just focused writing his lyrics. And Paul Banks never walked out of the control room. The energy of that night actually translated into the song, “All is Fair in Love and War.” It was a cool song, but that was a great studio moment. I could give you a thousand of those stories.
M: We were talking about Dirty [Old Dirty Bastard] earlier and “Chessboxin’.” That was at the fire house. I remember when he went into the booth. At the time, I heard some Dirty spit some joints, but when he started going through the names like “Introducing Ghostface Killahhhh!” [Laughs] The way he came out, I would never forget that. He was like “They are going to love this shit.” I was like “Yo, this nigga crazy.” But he was right.
R: He was a one take man too. You know what is kind of funny, I know I just mentioned Maggie Gyllenhaal. But, the day that show The Deuce is on HBO and Method Man is doing big scenes with Maggie. It’s just weird how the Wu-Universe is the most unique experience that we live in. That I got a chance to live in. That Math got a chance to live in. Going through this whole universe, and the different things that it touches. I think that it’s because of the purity. Sometimes one of us may run out of gas, I may go over there, but then I have been over here too long. Yet, Math is still in the mud. He comes back and puts some mud back on my shirt. It keeps the purity going. He keeps the energy going.
Fellow veteran rapper, Eminem recently broke rap Twitter with his “anti-Trump” freestyle on the BET Hip Hop Awards. How did you both react after listening to him address his concerns with President Trump while using that platform?
M: Me personally, I thought it was dope. First, he has a platform where he can say something where millions of people can hear you. Whether they agree with you or not, you have that platform everybody is going to use it. He is in a position where he doesn’t have to say nothin’. He felt in himself that he had something to say. I appreciate that.
R: I echo those words. He’s a dope M.C. He is also a well established M.C. He is also a M.C. that enjoyed the culture of hip-hop. Therefore, like I said, he doesn’t have to say anything anymore. But, to see that somebody at his level is moved, also being a white man, it’s different. If a black man said something, then we are just complaining. So to see that a wealthy white man who has everything in the world, probably, that he wants. Can still feel the pain that the rest of his countryman is feeling, and to get in front of the audience and express that, I put up two thumbs for that. I am proud of Eminem for that. We got a nice song on this album also, that kind of touches into the situation. But, we expect that people expected a black man to say something. But, for a white man to say “Yo.” It puts a different kind of validation on it. Because it is like “Yo, anybody can smell it now.”
M: I see this, that is why it bugs me out when they talk about the flag and the big debate. That is not even the issue. The issue should be, he is doing this because of the injustice that is going on. That is what needs to stop. For people to even get mad over protesting. You have to remember, one of the biggest protests this country had ever seen, started this country. The Boston Tea Party, that was a protest. They actually went in physically, it wasn’t non-violence.
R: People are not recognizing that there is a generation of athletes that actually went to class. That actually are smart, in tune, and conscious. That actually are not able to be fearful of economics. People say, you are making money you should be happy. No, making money ain’t making me happy yo. Making money is feeding me, putting a nice roof over my head. But that doesn’t mean that I am supposed to be like “Everything is cool.” That’s how many blacks and whites were pacified. Because you have money, now you can’t see a problem.
When I see these young NFL guys, they broke the whole studio type mold of a jock being dumb. They broke the whole mold of somebody being rich and not caring. That is beautiful for America. Calling them a son of a bitch, is wrong from the President of the United States. That is not proper to come from the top and downgrade an entire community of people who are doing something that is humble. Using humility, they aren’t ripping the flag down or kicking it down, they are just taking a knee at their moment. The only time for man to get on his knees is to do what, they say? To pray. Okay? Or when a cop has a gun against your head, get on your knees. (Laughs) You pray then too.
These brothers are doing the right thing in forms of sharing their expression. We should not be so hard against them. If I was president, I would be like “You stop getting on one knee, we stop the problem.” That’s a simple deal. That is what a president does, right?
Lastly, I want to discuss the bizarre outcome of Once Upon a Time in Shoalin and your thoughts on how it’s being handled?
R: It has a life of its own. The theory was, should music be valued as art? And it is, because even after the person who owned it, or whoever looked upon it as a villain. He [Martin Shkreli] posted it on Ebay, even on Ebay there was over a million dollars being offered for it. So, it did its job to prove that there is value. Artistic value and art value that we overlook, that now has been researched. We were talking about it, it’s actually one of the highest price items on Ebay in history.
It’s also the highest valued music album of all time.
R: Yeah the highest single album, three times any competition.
It must feel amazing to know that people are willing to pay that much to hear your music.
R: He [Shkreli] did it. He is locked up in bars right now, but he did it. And he proved it. If it would’ve been $5 or $20 or $100 we all would’ve lost. He would’ve been a sad man because nobody would’ve felt how he felt about music. Anybody in all the days who say negative about him, but he was able to let somebody else feel that way. Any multiple people feel that way to get it to that level. So the theory worked y’all.
I think that it is fair. I think the theory is, what is art? And what is music? It is subjective, at the end of the day. At the same time there has to be some tangible about it and I think that album has proved the tangibility of it. It is rather unique, I would love to see what the Scholars are going to write about it, years from now.
For more Wu Tang, watch them perform their new single “My Only One” on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ right here.
- Photography: Sean Carneiro / Highsnobiety