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Emerging in 1993, when Dr. Dre G-funk had overtaken the hip-hop world, the Staten Island, NY-based Wu-Tang Clan proved to be the most revolutionary rap group of the mid- 90s - and only partially because of their music. Turning the standard concept of a hip-hop crew inside out, the Wu-Tang Clan were assembled as a loose congregation of nine MCs, almost as a support group. Instead of releasing one album after another, the Clan was designed to overtake the record industry in as profitable a fashion as possible - the idea was to establish the Wu-Tang as a force with their debut album and then spin off into as many side projects as possible. In the process, the members would all become individual stars as well as receive individual royalty checks.

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The vision of the Wu-Tang Clan is undoubtedly due to the musical skills of RZA. Under his direction, the group - through its own efforts and the solo projects, all of which he produced or co-produced - created a hazy, surreal, and menacing soundscape out of hardcore beats, eerie piano riffs, and minimal samples. Over these surrealistic backing tracks, the MCs rapped hard, updating the old-school attack with vicious violence, martial arts imagery, and a welcome warped humor. By 1995, the sound was one of the most instantly recognizable in hip-hop.

It wasnt always that way. Like most rappers, they began their careers trying to get ahead whatever way they could. For RZA, that meant releasing a silly single, Ooh, I Love You Rakeem, on Tommy Boy Records in 1991. On the advice of his label and producers, he cut the humorous, lover-man single that went absolutely nowhere. Neither did the follow-up single, My Deadly Venoms. The experience strengthened his resolve to subvert and attack record-industry conventions. He found partners in Genius and O Dirty Bastard. Genius had also released a record in 1991, the full-length Words From the Genius on Cold Chillin, which was preceded by the single Come Do Me. Both records were unsuccessful. After the failure of his album, Genius teamed with an old friend, Ol Dirty Bastard, to form the crew that would evolve into the Wu-Tang Clan within a year.

The first Wu-Tang member to become a major solo star was Method Man. In November 1994, he released Tical on Def Jam Recordings, the first official Wu-Tang solo album. Again, RZA produced the album, creating a dense, dirty sonic collage. Tical became a big hit in early 1995, as did Meth duet with Mary J. Blige, I will Be There for You/You are All I Need to Get By. Ol Dirty Bastard followed Method Man breakthrough success with Return to the 36 Chambers, which appeared in March 1995 on Elektra Records. Thanks to the hits "Brooklyn Zoo" and "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," the record became a gold success. Out of all the solo albums, it was the one that sounded the most like Enter the Wu-Tang, although it did have a more pronounced comic bent, due to Ol Dirty maniacal vocals. Tales From the Hood, a movie soundtrack featuring Inspectah Deck first solo track, appeared in May.

1998 was also the year Ol Dirty Bastard began a long and bizarre saga of erratic behavior and run-ins with police that found him making headlines with alarming (and ridiculous) regularity. In February he interrupted Shawn Colvin acceptance speech at the Grammy Awards to protest the Clan loss in the Best Rap Album category shortly thereafter, he announced he was changing his name to Big Baby Jesus. This was only the beginning - over the next year and a half, ODB would be arrested for a litany of offenses that included assault, shoplifting, making terrorist threats, wearing body armor after being convicted of a felony, possessing cocaine, and missing countless court dates. Plus, in early 1999, the whole Clan fell under suspicion of masterminding a gun-running operation between Staten Island and Steubenville, OH, charges that were never proven to have any validity.

Finally in December 2006, the Wu-Tang Clan signed a one-album deal with Steve Rifkind SRC Records, who released the groups four previous albums on Loud Records. The album was titled 8 Diagrams referring to the Kung Fu classic movie The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and has been released on December 11, 2007. 

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