2019, TV

Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men (2019)

I do not know Wu-Tang like many people (especially men) my age do. I have listened to exactly one album by the collective, and maybe three or four of the solo albums, all for my podcast. I am more familiar with the RZA from his soundtrack and occasional acting work. But I still knew very little about them. But, I would say they are one of the more important cultural forces in ’90s hip hop, and ’90s music in general, so I figured I should watch this documentary series.

Almost from the get-go, this got me thinking how much material there is to mine in the careers of bands and artists. I know, not every group is a nine-person collective but I still think there’s a lot more stuff to mine in the lives of famous people than in, say, one single murder case or bank robbery. We have 5-, 7-, or 10-episode series on single crimes and many of us are left wondering why the shows are so long. But this is a show that could have easily been longer. And it made me think of Muhammad Ali or Hemingway, excellent multiple episode programs about single individuals and their times. There’s just a lot of material in the world and so many interesting creative people whose lives could support a miniseries. Case in point, the Wu-Tang Clan who could have easily had a longer miniseries than this four episode show.

So first off, I absolutely found this interesting and, at times, captivating. I knew little about them – I didn’t even know they were from Staten Island – and I learned a lot. I found learning about their origins to be a very good reminder of how easy my life has been, among other things. And I found learning about their story overall to be worthwhile and interesting. They are an idiosyncratic bunch of guys who have very clearly influenced culture, particularly given their humble origins. Some of them are very thoughtful, when they aren’t spouting Five-Percenter slogans, and they all seem grateful. They are likeable despite their fame, which is something you can’t always say for idols.

Before I get to my quibbles, let me also mention that every time it came to the Five-Percenter stuff I started losing interest. I am not a spiritual person and I find all spiritualisms to be woo. But this stuff, no matter how much it helped them, feels like a particular kind of innocuous, flimsy woo that I really don’t find compelling. Sure, all it does is help African Americans feel better about themselves, so it’s probably harmless. But it’s mystical bullshit and every time one of them started talking about it, I just wanted to move on. I would have preferred a film that looked into that more.

As someone who doesn’t know Wu-Tang like their fans, I found the history of the group to be kind of maddening. It’s like we get to Wu-Tang Forever and then there’s no more concern about what came out when. I don’t know anything about these guys. Can you give me just a tiny bit more information about their careers beyond a few album names and the fact that some of them went Platinum and some of them only went Gold?

The other issue I have is the financial stuff. I want to know more about the conflict between the RZA’s brother Divine and the group. I want to know what his commission actually was. If it was 20%, I’m on the guys’ side. If it was far less than that, I’m on Divine’s side. But I don’t know! The miniseries doesn’t help me figure out who was actually in the right, if anyone. It’s all just he-said, he-said but surely there is documentation as to who might actually have been correct. Maybe Divine is right, and he was treating everyone well. Maybe he was ripping off the other members. I have questions. (And I have questions about Power and the other non-performers too.)

This feels authorized, and so I think that’s why I’m not getting my questions answered. And that feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe, in 20 or 30 years, another documentary will actually tell us what happened.

Still worth your time if you want to know about this influential group.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.