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From the Streets of Shaolin
The Wu-Tang Saga
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This definitive biography of rap supergroup, Wu-Tang Clan, features decades of unpublished interviews and unparalleled access to members of the group and their associates.
This is the definitive biography of rap supergroup and cultural icons, Wu-Tang Clan (WTC). Heralded as one of the most influential groups in modern music—hip hop or otherwise—WTC created a rap dynasty on the strength of seven gold and platinum albums that launched the careers of such famous rappers as RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and more. During the ‘90s, they ushered in a hip-hop renaissance, rescuing rap from the corporate suites and bringing it back to the gritty streets where it started. In the process they changed the way business was conducted in an industry known for exploiting artists. Creatively, Wu-Tang pushed the boundaries of the artform dedicating themselves to lyrical mastery and sonic innovation, and one would be hard pressed to find a group who's had a bigger impact on the evolution of hip hop.
S.H. Fernando Jr., a veteran music journalist who spent a significant amount of time with The Clan during their heyday of the ‘90s, has written extensively about the group for such publications as Rolling Stone, Vibe, and The Source. Over the years he has built up a formidable Wu-Tang archive that includes pages of unpublished interviews, videos of the group in action in the studio, and several notepads of accumulated memories and observations. Using such exclusive access as well as the wealth of open-source material, Fernando reconstructs the genesis and evolution of the group, delving into their unique ideology and range of influences, and detailing exactly how they changed the game and established a legacy that continues to this day. The book provides a startling portrait of overcoming adversity through self-empowerment and brotherhood, giving us unparalleled insights into what makes these nine young men from the ghetto tick. While celebrating the myriad accomplishments of The Clan, the book doesn't shy away from controversy—we're also privy to stories from their childhoods in the crack-infested hallways of Staten Island housing projects, stints in Rikers for gun possession, and million-dollar contracts that led to recklessness and drug overdoses (including Ol' Dirty Bastard's untimely death). More than simply a history of a single group, this book tells the story of a musical and cultural shift that started on the streets of Shaolin (Staten Island) and quickly spread around the world.
Biographies on such an influential outfit are surprisingly few, mostly focused on a single member of the group's story. This book weaves together interviews from all the Clan members, as well as their friends, family and collaborators to create a compelling narrative and the most three-dimensional portrait of Wu-Tang to date. It also puts The Clan within a social, cultural, and historical perspective to fully appreciate their impact and understand how they have become the cultural icons they are today. Unique in its breadth, scope, and access, From The Streets of Shaolin is a must-have for fans of WTC and music bios in general.
“I smoke on the mic like ‘Smokin’ Joe’ Frasier / The Hellraiser, raising hell with the flavor.” When Inspectah Deck launched into his iconic opening lines from “Protect Ya Neck” during a 2018 Wu-Tang Clan performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, I couldn’t help but crack a smile and feel the goosebumps rising. The nine MCs gliding smoothly and nonchalantly across the stage, now grown men in their late forties and early fifties, were still doing it—maybe not with as much gusto as twenty-five years earlier, but the ecstatic crowd was loving it, and so was I. Flashbacks of the Clan’s record release party at New York’s Webster Hall in November 1993—the world premiere of these grimy, young upstarts from the mysterious shores of Staten Island—replayed in my mind. Like a title bout, the place was packed to the rafters with industry types and media, along with a colorful assortment of playas, hustlers, floozies, and a who’s who of New York’s hip-hop massive, who turned out to fete the crew behind “Protect,” a breakout street hit that had dominated rap’s collective consciousness for most of the year. As Wu-Tang swarmed the stage with what seemed like half their housing projects, no one even knew who was in the group until they started rhyming. No question, they brought one hell of a ruckus that night, putting Staten Island, or Shaolin, as they called it, on the map. Their unveiling also marked the beginning of a new chapter in hip-hop—the Wu era.
Emerging from New York’s forgotten borough, the original nine-man collective hit like a Scud missile with Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (Loud/RCA, 1993), an explosive debut that permanently altered the rap landscape. Hijacking the charts with a raw, underground sound and storming the gates of the music industry like Attila’s hordes, the Clan kept on coming with an unrelenting assault of solo releases that furthered their choke hold on rap between 1993 and 1997. Today, with over forty million records sold worldwide, music attests to only part of their epic saga. At this point, it’s fair to say they have even transcended the rap game, claiming their place in the cultural zeitgeist.
Man for man, the nine unique personalities of Wu-Tang, each oozing with witty, unpredictable talent and natural game, composed an all-star lineup never before seen in hip-hop. But the chemistry they exhibited as a team was what made them truly special. Commercial success almost overshadowed the fact that one of the main reasons they received so much love was that they represented the underdog everywhere, defying insurmountable odds to make it to the top. Even their whole DIY approach, which was grass roots and underground, made their impact on the mainstream all the more impressive. For generations of youth who grew up under the full sway of hip-hop in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, they are our equivalent of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
The Clan first appeared on my radar in October 1992, before “Protect Ya Neck” started tearing up the underground. After a year of barrio living in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem while working on my master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism, I had just made the move to Williamsburg, Brooklyn—at the time, a Shangri-la of artists, eccentrics, and delinquents, all drawn by the immense but affordable industrial spaces. One night, a college buddy, Jon Shecter, came over to check out the new digs. Along with fellow classmate Dave Mays, he had started hip-hop’s premier publication, The Source, which gave me my first byline. Coming straight from the new Source offices on lower Broadway, Shecter brought a cassette that had him pretty hyped. After rolling up the requisite blunt, we popped in the tape, and I heard those iconic karate chops that open “Protect Ya Neck” for the first of what was to be many times.
Over a galloping kick and snare beat, RZA cut up the siren-like saxophone wail that opened “The Grunt” by the J.B.’s—the same iconic sample that powered Public Enemy’s classic “Rebel Without a Pause”—to sinister effect. Random stabs of a guitar riff from LL Cool J’s classic “Rock the Bells” added some unexpected rock ’n’ roll swagger. Above the glorious mayhem, eight MCs with distinctly different styles and flows battled for our attention in a nonstop lyrical assault, uninterrupted by hooks. We had to rewind the tape a few more times to even catch some of their witty, intricate wordplay, which was heavy on the slang.
A couple of months later, in January 1993, Kid Capri played “Protect Ya Neck” for the first time on his mix show on WBLS. No doubt underground faves Stretch and Bobbito on WKCR and Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97 also helped break the single to a wider audience, but New York’s urban commercial powerhouse playing an independent release from a then-unknown, unsigned group proved to be a game changer for this ragtag outfit from Staten Island. Upon hearing “Protect Ya Neck” on the radio for the first time, Raekwon the Chef, who stands about five foot five, reportedly jumped so high, he almost hit his head on the ceiling. He probably had no idea that his life and those of his fellow clansmen and their families would never be the same again. Of course, neither would the world of music.
The opening salvo in the Wu revolution lit up the airwaves across the Rotten Apple. The antithesis of the slick, smooth-sounding G-funk of Dr. Dre and his disciples on the West Coast who dominated commercial radio and the charts, Wu-Tang’s gritty basement sound recalled hip-hop’s halcyon days. With roots reaching back into the Bronx bedrock, they were reclaiming rap for the city that started it all. You always knew what was hot on the streets from the sounds booming out of passing SUVs, and “Protect Ya Neck” ricocheted across the concrete canyons of Gotham like an emergency broadcast from hell. Taking a page from the DIY punk rock manual, as well as their own checkered past, the group pressed the single themselves, pushing it on the streets like a controlled substance. Well acquainted with the drug game, they applied that same kind of hustle to flipping product and moving units. By the time they got rid of that initial run of two thousand records, the major labels came calling.
Of course, Wu mastermind RZA had a plan. He had already been burned once by the music industry after being briefly signed and dropped as a solo artist by Tommy Boy. To do battle again in that cutthroat biz, he needed the support of his whole team. At the same time, he was aware that one record deal wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone. RZA’s genius, then, was signing the group as a single entity while retaining the rights to sign each individual member to solo deals with other labels—a practice unheard of at the time. It took a fairly new, unproven imprint called Loud Records to agree to such terms, but they paid the group only $60,000, a relative pittance by the standards of the day. The autonomy and creative control that RZA secured in return, however, to fully realize his vision proved to be priceless. Few records of that time can compare with 36 Chambers’ raw, dusted aesthetic, which in drug parlance represented that pure, uncut dope.
A few months after first hearing “Protect Ya Neck,” Loud contacted me to write a bio for the group. As a hip-hop journalist about to publish my first book, The New Beats: Exploring the Music, Culture, and Attitudes of Hip-Hop, I had pretty much interviewed all the major players in hip-hop by then. Yet my conversation with the RZA left an impression like a fatcap. Speaking to me by phone from his studio in Staten Island, he launched into an animated discussion about martial arts as a metaphor for the group’s lyrical prowess—that Wu-Tang was a sword style, and the sword represented a sharp tongue. “We flip flows like kung-fu and take niggas’ heads with our lyrics,” he told me in no uncertain terms. RZA was also heavily into numerology and kicked a lot of Five-Percenter jargon—though I was ignorant to it at the time—breaking down words and numbers into alternative meanings. In an art form filled with unique and memorable characters, he came off like some mystic, majestic magus from the slums. Behind thick ghetto slang compounded by a rhotacism, I clearly recognized someone of innate intelligence—the kind you don’t acquire at school—who was incredibly passionate and laser-focused on where he was going. A lot of rappers talk the talk, but I knew this guy was the real deal.
I finally met the RZA a few months later at Firehouse Studio in Manhattan. The group Gravediggaz, of which he was a member, was working on their first album, and their producer, Prince Paul, a friend of mine, had invited me down to voice a skit for the album, playing a crooked lawyer on the intro of a song called “Diary of a Madman.” I remember walking into the studio, proudly holding the January 1994 issue of The Source, hot off the press, featuring my first cover story on Das EFX—an issue that also happened to contain the magazine’s initial coverage of the Clan, whose album had just dropped. Raekwon, who was hanging out with a few guys, spotted the magazine in my hands and approached me holding a pair of garden shears with ten-inch blades. “Yo, kid, that the new joint?” he asked. “Let me peep that right quick.” Though I didn’t really know who Rae was at the time, I wasn’t about to argue with a guy holding those nasty-looking shears. Needless to say, I never got my copy of The Source back. But I did meet RZA, who struck me as incredibly humble and hungry. With an album on the verge of blowing up, he looked like he had just rolled off a park bench before coming to the studio. I mentioned our prior conversation for the press release for “Protect Ya Neck,” and he actually thanked me for writing it. Since graciousness was not a quality I usually associated with rappers, it confirmed what I already thought about him.
So began my long association with RZA and the group. My initial dealings with the “Abbot” of the Clan grew into a great rapport with him over the years as I wrote about Wu-Tang for such publications as The Source, Rolling Stone, Vibe, and many others. In addition to conducting multiple interviews with all the members between 1994 and 2002, I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall as they worked on the first round of solo releases and their follow-up to 36 Chambers. During the making of Genius’s album, I was pulled out of my usual role as observer when RZA drafted me into playing the drug dealer, Mr. Grieco, on the skit that opens “Killah Hills 10304.”
Without much forethought, he simply told me, “Follow my lead,” and in a moment of adrenaline-pumping exhilaration, we acted out a deal gone bad. By the end of it, he was shouting at me, spittle flying, and even grabbing me by the throat for emphasis as GZA, Killah Priest, Dreddy Kruger, and Masta Killa crowded around. Masta Killa, incidentally, had just been in the news for punching friend and fellow journalist Cheo Coker in the face because he didn’t like the artwork that ran with Coker’s article on the Clan in Rap Pages, so I was already a little wary. Even though it felt like I was on the verge of a beatdown, I was somehow able to improvise my lines in a faux foreign accent. Thank God we nailed it in one take. As well as providing one hell of a story, the incident gave me an up close and personal look at the spontaneous and often unconventional methods the Clan used to create. Nothing was out of bounds, and there were no rules to any of it.
Though never compensated for my performance, I have enjoyed amazing access to the group over the years. I’ve been out to Staten Island numerous times and to the Wu Mansion in the woods of rural New Jersey, poking my video camera into the vocal booth while they were recording and taking a beating on the chessboard at the hands of GZA and Masta Killa. I joined the group in Los Angeles when they were working on Wu-Tang Forever, arriving the day after Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down. But, mostly, as a journalist I’ve just been around—to video shoots, live performances, studio sessions, award shows, and other events. I should note that interviewing anyone from the Clan is never a simple affair. Extreme tardiness is, of course, a given. I’ve spent entire days following RZA around town from record label offices to a chess game in the park to Indian restaurants to Sam Ash Music or B&H Photo in Midtown, and finally to the studio, where we might not get to talking until well past the witching hour. While most rappers spend their money on cars or jewelry, he once dropped $50,000 on an Avid video-editing system, paying for it with an American Express black card. I’ve seen him chop it up with a homeless bum one minute and then Richard Branson the next. Basically, it’s never a dull moment when you’re hanging with the Wu. During this time, I built up a formidable Wu archive, including pages of unpublished interviews, videos of the group in action in the studio, and several notepads of on-the-spot observations and accumulated memories.
Drawing on this wealth of exclusive material, as well as the bounty of open-source public information, I recount the Clan’s rise from humble beginnings to cultural icons in From the Streets of Shaolin: The Wu-Tang Saga. Wu-Tang, like hip-hop itself, represents a movement from the bottom that slowly and organically percolated to the top, constantly upping the ante on creativity, innovation, and originality and redefining music in the process. Beyond documenting their incredible rise, the book offers the most detailed and comprehensive look to date inside a true musical phenomenon, providing the social and cultural context to understand why Wu-Tang are as revered today as during their heyday in the nineties and how such a lasting and profound impact made them the greatest hip-hop group the world has ever known.
On a personal note, as a huge Wu fan myself, I have a far deeper relationship with their catalog than your average music journalist, and I approached this project not only with a commitment to truth and accuracy but also with the utmost love and respect. The Clan has seen me through many dark and difficult times. I remember one instance, in particular, when I was working for a media outfit in Iraq at the beginning of the war and living in a private residence outside the Green Zone. Our accommodations were rocked by a massive truck bomb that targeted the Australian Embassy next door. The first free elections since the ouster of Saddam were taking place at the end of the month, and insurgent violence was ratcheting up all over Baghdad. They were even threatening to close the airport, from which we hoped to make our escape. We didn’t know what was happening from one moment to the next, and the only thing that got me through those final hairy days was having Wu-Tang on repeat on my iPod. It was the perfect soundtrack to war because theirs is a music of strength, survival, and transcendence, and you can never defeat the gods.
S. H. Fernando Jr.
RUCKUS IN B MINOR (THE PRELUDE)
You know, the man just upped my rent last night
’Cause Whitey’s on the moon
No hot water, no toilets, no lights
But Whitey’s on the moon
—Gil Scott-Heron, “Whitey on the Moon,” 1970
“You start out in 1954 by saying nigger, nigger, nigger. By 1968 you can’t say nigger, that hurts, there’s a backlash, so you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. And you’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
—Lee Atwater, Republican strategist, 1981
Despite the hard-won gains of the civil rights era, Black America, like the rest of the nation, was in a state of disarray by the end of the sixties. While white youths were protesting the Vietnam War and trashing the constricting social mores of the fifties with psychedelic drugs and free love, the revolution went a little deeper for Black folks. Discrimination in housing, jobs, and education; scarcity of resources and opportunities; and high rates of heroin addiction and incarceration were issues crying out for attention. Yet the incremental pace of change within the System couldn’t keep up with the groundswell for substantive reforms, which were, inevitably, deferred. The struggle had also decimated Black leadership—the assassinations of Medgar Evers in ’63 and Malcolm X in ’65—and when they finally gunned down Nobel Peace Prize recipient the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, pushing people past the breaking point, Blacks burned down their own neighborhoods in one hundred cities across America, from Brooklyn and the Bronx to Cabrini Green and Watts. The nonviolent King had called riots “the language of the unheard,” and since he was the last person who could have kept the peace, his dream of an equal, just, and equitable society was also deferred. Groups like the Black Panthers, who favored an opposite approach, picked up the struggle but, like those before them, were infiltrated and promptly neutralized by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Beneath the full powers of the state, Black liberation and resistance were effectively snuffed out.
Meanwhile, the real America, of military-industrial complex and empire, was too busy focusing on external threats to take stock of its own domestic failings. The so-called red scare had inspired the multibillion-dollar space race, and the US was sinking tremendous resources into a superficial show of force—ostensibly to also test technologies that could be used in Vietnam. On the evening of July 15, 1969, as the Apollo 11 spacecraft sat on its launchpad, poised to deliver the first Americans to the moon, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy led a Poor People’s Campaign of twenty-five African American families in two mule-driven wagons to the west gate of Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He wasn’t protesting the launch as much as the country’s messed-up priorities, saying, “We may go on from this day to Mars and to Jupiter and even to the heavens beyond, but as long as racism, poverty and hunger and war prevail on the Earth, we as a civilized nation have failed.”1
Space travel may have represented a symbolic future to some, Abernathy implied, but what good was technology if it could not be put to the practical purpose of feeding people at home? The real future was the children—like Bobby Diggs (a.k.a. the RZA), a brand-new arrival to planet Brooklyn, along with his cousins, Gary Grice (a.k.a. the GZA) and Russell Jones (a.k.a. ODB), both still in diapers. Products of the post–civil rights era, they suffered the consequences of their country’s misplaced priorities and outright neglect. Growing up in the seventies, they were pretty much left to fend for themselves in an increasingly hostile society that offered them little assistance and fewer opportunities. They also came of age during the scourge of crack cocaine in the eighties, which disproportionately affected the Black community.
Compare the way that the fentanyl epidemic gripping suburban white America has been treated as a public health crisis to the way that crack became an issue of law and order, spawning the destructive war on drugs that led to epidemic rates of incarceration and further disintegration of the Black family. When it was discovered that the CIA was actually responsible for pumping crack into communities of color in order to fund their anti-communist activities in Nicaragua, the costly toll on those communities was regarded as simply collateral damage. But Republican strategist Lee Atwater inadvertently gave up the goods, laying out his party’s racist agenda, which saw the slashing of vital social programs and the establishment of the prison-industrial complex during the Reagan-Bush years. So the war against Blacks is nothing new, and it continues to this day.
This new generation, including the future members of Wu-Tang, emerged with few positive role models and little guidance or mentorship to help structure their lives. With absent fathers and working single mothers, more often than not, TV and pop culture were their teachers. Cassettes and vinyl records were their entertainment—especially old records—and running wild in the streets was their recreation. For this generation there were no marches or slogans, yet their protests were very real. The simple and proud expression of who they were was an act of rebellion against a society stacked against them. Creativity and imagination were their weapons, and like so many who came before, freedom was their ultimate goal. Starting from scratch, the hip-hop generation changed everything.
1. Knowledge—to look, listen, and observe
9. Born—to bring into existence
From “Supreme Mathematics”
The Nation of Gods and Earths
SOMETHIN’ IN THE SLUM WENT RA-PA-PUM-PUM
“Say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud.”
Hip-hop was always for the children—especially the Black and brown children of the Bronx, who had scarcely anything else. Living on the fringes of a bankrupt city, enduring poor schools and worse neighborhoods, ridden with crime, drugs, and gangs—everything you’d expect in the depths of poverty—they were the victims of a savage society that barely acknowledged their existence. But instead of being eaten alive by their environment and circumstances, they transcended them. See, scarcity and limitation also fostered ingenuity and resourcefulness, and using what little they had at their disposal—their parents’ old records, a turntable, a mic, and their own fertile imaginations—they created a musical phenomenon that swept the world.
Defying all odds and expectations, hip-hop stands as one of the ultimate underdog success stories of all time as it rose from nothing to become a pop-culture Galactus, gobbling up millions in profits and leaving a wide swathe of influence in its wake. As far as underdogs go, the same could be said for the Wu-Tang Clan. Nine young Black men from the projects—most high school dropouts and ex-felons from broken homes who were never supposed to amount to anything—joined together for a common cause, not only beating the odds but profoundly changing hip-hop in the process. At a time when the corporate music industry controlled rap, pushing pop sellouts or smooth G-funk for mass consumption, Wu-Tang bum-rushed the boardroom, bringing the art form back to its essence—the streets. In the process, they became veritable superheroes to a generation, eventually attaining the kind of cultural cachet that few artists ever achieve.
“The reason why people took hold of our shit was because they fiendin’ for hip-hop,” explains RZA, architect of the Clan. “See, it’s like when hip-hop was first in the streets, know what I’m sayin’, everybody was into it. But then when it got to the radio and it started getting watered down, started getting into pop music, everyone started getting away from it for a minute. But we came back with a nice revival, you know what I’m sayin’? And I think our revival has been the strongest revival as of date.” After years of corporate dominance, Wu-Tang ushered in a renaissance of real hip-hop, a core reason behind their huge impact and appeal. “Wu is hip-hop—classical, vintage hip-hop,” RZA declares. “We the bridge between old and new. We like the bridge between the old school and the new generation of hip-hop.” In restoring the integrity of the art form and culture, Wu-Tang spearheaded a movement of their own, assuring their place as rap royalty.
Hip-hop’s humble origins can be traced back to the South Bronx of the seventies, a study in urban decay and neglect that provided unlikely fertile ground for this explosion of creativity from the bottom. Poor Black and Hispanic youth, lacking even a basic social safety net or opportunities for improvement, took it upon themselves to create something for their own edification and entertainment. From a deejay cutting and scratching records while an MC dropped rhymes on the mic to B-boys “goin’ off” during the extended percussive sections known as “the breaks,” contorting their bodies like pretzels or spinning on their heads, only a flimsy piece of cardboard separating skull from concrete, this new movement was born in the parties or “jams” held in housing-project recreation rooms or outside in the public parks. It came to encompass street fashion and other facets of urban culture, including the unseen rebels who threw up elaborate, stylized “tags” on the sides of abandoned buildings using cans of aerosol paint, soon to switch to subway cars as their canvases.
For youth mired in poverty and all of its negative effects, the various elements of hip-hop provided a means of expressing themselves and making a mark on their environment. It soon became a source of pride, a path to respect and recognition in the neighborhood, and something they could call their own. For us, by us. At a time when the Bronx was synonymous with bad news—in the form of street gangs, slums, smack, and serial arson, which turned the area into a postapocalyptic wasteland—hip-hop offered nothing short of salvation.
Few genres of music can claim an exact date of origin, but, among the cognoscenti, it is generally agreed that August 11, 1973, provided the jump-off. That night, a young Jamaican immigrant named Clive Campbell, a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc, threw his first party in the rec room of 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the West Bronx, where he lived. What started off as a simple neighborhood bash, attended by mostly teens, to raise money for his younger sister Cindy’s back-to-school wardrobe, triggered a movement that influenced the world.
- One of SLATE's "Must-Reads for Summer" (2021)
- "Wu-Tang Clan led a revolution, and S.H. Fernando Jr. was on the front lines—at the shows, in the studio, and on set for the video shoots where these nine hip-hop warriors changed the world. With vivid reporting and sharp critical analysis, From the Streets of Shao-Lin offers a chronicle of the Wu in real time, and truly allows the reader to enter the 36 Chambers."—Alan Light, former Editor-in-Chief of Vibe and Spin magazines, author of What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography and Let’s Go. Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain
- “Playing chess, not checkers, author S. H. Fernando Jr. has written a blunted history of the Wu-Tang Clan that reads like a textual tapestry weaving together New York history, old school hip-hop, gritty futurism, crack corners, Five-Percent Nation knowledge, kung-fu flicks, Time Square tricks, Blaxploitation aesthetics, vintage soul, Asian philosophy, Black power, and streetwise poetics. Like the Wu crew, Fernando was driven by passion, knowledge and the desire to drop science. Master-mixing journalistic discipline and research with gonzo enthusiasm, From the Streets of Shaolin: The Wu-Tang Saga is a masterful contribution to the culture and beyond.”—Michael A. Gonzales, Senior Writer, Wax Poetics
- “S.H. Fernando Jr. is the original Wu-Tang chronicler. His early work is foundational and his latest tome delivers the titillating travels of these original men with more flavor than Flav.”—Sacha Jenkins, Director, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men
- “To truly tell the story of a group like Wu-Tang, a writer needs to see so much more than just the music, and look deeper into the culture, sociohistorical context and sheer rawness of the streets that these young gods emerged from. It’s rare that a writer so poignantly unravels the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that is the Wu. S.H. Fernando Jr.’s unprecedented early access and immersion into the golden era of hip-hop lends to a deeper story of Wu-Tang’s brotherhood, visual inspirations and the gritty ecosystem that informs Wu-Tang’s come up story. From the Nation of Gods and Earths to The Zulu Nation to Raekwon’s immortal Snow Beach Polo parka, Fernando lyrically illustrates why the life and times of the Wu stands as a great American story. Beautifully nuanced and lushly written, Fernando’s telling of the Wu-Tang story shows (and proves) that it can, indeed, all be so simple.”—Vikki Tobak, author and curator of Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop
- “So much has been written about the Wu-Tang Clan, but finally we have the entire story in one place. S. H. Fernando Jr., one of the first ever journalists to cover the group, walks us through not only the backstories of the founding members, but also the specific conditions that led to Wu-Tang’s formation. Economic/racial inequality, the drug trade, the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earths, kung fu cinema, and the early days of New York hip-hop are explained in full detail, as well as production techniques and the machinations of the music industry, with analyses of the albums (both as a group and solo projects) that took the world by storm and helped define a generation. This is an essential text for any fan of hip-hop culture or American history in general.”—Ben Merlis, author of Goin’ Off: The Story of the Juice Crew & Cold Chillin’ Records
- “An authoritative history of seminal hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan…. Fernando vividly evokes the hardscrabble landscape of the group’s home turf of Staten Island, where RZA first brought them together with an ambitious vision…. The go-to source for anyone interested in one of the most significant hip-hop groups of all time.”—Kirkus Reviews
- “An undisputed labor of love, this is the account diehard fans have been waiting for.”—Publishers Weekly
- "This sweeping history of the Wu-Tang Clan, the nine-man rap crew from Staten Island whose eclectic sound transformed the genre, traces the journey of its members from their childhoods in New York City housing projects to their current role as elder statesmen of American hip-hop. If the Clan’s initial success was surprising, in an early-nineties rap scene dominated by a slick, West Coast style, its longevity has been astonishing; its various artists have produced nearly a hundred albums. Fernando dutifully narrates the group’s origin story, but his real contribution lies in a careful analysis of how its mastermind, RZA, that 'mystic, majestic magus from the slums,' created a dynasty."—New Yorker
- On Sale
- Jul 6, 2021
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Hachette Books