By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
To hear U-God, one of the eight surviving original members of the legendary New York-based Wu-Tang Clan, tell it, the hip-hop collective's current 26-date tour of the United States is no big deal.
"It's what it is," the rough-around-the-edges, oft-outspoken emcee says in a rather matter-of-fact manner. "We've been doing it for 17 years. There's no emotion to it. We just do it. There's nothing to it."
From a fan perspective, though, let's face it: This tour, dubbed the Rebirth tour as part of the ramp-up to a planned (and highly anticipated) 2011 release from the entire group, indeed appears worth getting worked up about; it's not every year, after all, that the entire Wu-Tang Clan—RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa (beloved mercurial ninth member Ol' Dirty Bastard died of a drug overdose in 2004)—shares a stage together these days.
But, lest anyone fear that U-God or any of his peers plan to seize this tour as a chance to get nostalgic about their careers, no need: "I don't feel no particular way," U-God says without hesitation. "I just get on stage and rock the house."
U-God just isn't the sentimental type.
"It's whatever," he says. "I've been around the world 350 times—so it's whatever."
He pauses. And he sums up his thoughts on the tour thusly: "That's like asking Aerosmith the same question."
It's a fair point. Since the 1993 release of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the Wu-Tang Clan has been as revered an entity as there is in the hip-hop world, renowned for their visceral, street-indebted delivery as much as for their innovative Asian-influenced production sheen. Subsequent group releases further cemented the group's legacy; so, too, did the solo careers from individual members Method Man, Ghostace Killah and the late, great Ol' Dirty Bastard. Sure, if there's an Aerosmith in hip-hop—which is to say a group whose legend transcends the constraints of its genre—it might well be the Wu.
But it's still an interesting reference point, Aerosmith. In recent years, that band's been one filled with turmoil: Seemingly irreplaceable frontman Steven Tyler had been in and out of the band's touring lineups of late—right up until this summer, when he pretty much signed the band's death knell by agreeing to become a judge on American Idol. And maybe it's a telling reference, too, if unintentionally: Though originally slated to take part in this tour, the group's undisputed beat-making mastermind, RZA, dropped off the bill before the six-week run's opening night in San Francisco, and appears unlikely to rejoin the festivities by the time they reach Dallas.
Speaking a few weeks before the launch of the tour, and well before RZA bowed out, U-God placed an emphasis on RZA's important place in the group—not just on records and in the studio, but also in the coordination of the live show. To hear U-God tell it, RZA has always been "the one who's in charge of who comes on when and who plays what and who gets what songs and all that."
But, again, to hear U-God tell it, this is all old hat for a veteran group like the Wu anyway.
"I can't keep record of how many tours we've did, how many dates we've did," he says, once again dismissing any gravitas surrounding this reunion-like tour. "I can't remember all the shows we've did, all the hotels I've slept in, how many titties I've squeezed, how many titties I didn't squeeze, or who I did. I can't remember all that."
And those previous tours all turned out well enough, just as, U-God assures, this one should. In most ways, it will be just like every other Wu-Tang tour—one that, inevitably, he says, will have its share of "friction and ego," or, as he puts it, just another element in what guarantees that the audience will receive a worthwhile display.
"You cannot prepare for the blow," he says of his group's well-oiled live offering. "You're just gonna have to get punched in the face. It's gonna come, and you have to be ready."
But for U-God? All he's looking forward to is checking off another step in his collective's milestone-filled career.
"I mean, I'm happy to be gone for a month and out of my house and away from all that bullshit," he says. "I want to get away from my bills and all that sometimes. But me, personally? I don't get it. I don't have no feelings. You're talking to a dead heart, motherfucker."
He pauses for a second before finally letting loose a cool laugh.
"I mean, c'mon, I just rock it."