Like most anyone involved with hip-hop music or pop culture in general, I grew up listening to Wu-Tang Clan and vividly remember ODB crooning through the speakers of my Mom’s Ford Explorer when I was a kid hijacking the radio. So, waiting on the elevator with two photographers to meet and interview U-God during North Coast was one of the crazier moments I’ve had in my life. The two of us said hello, settled in and enjoyed the view from the 29th floor of the Hard Rock Hotel, check out the conversation below.
Jake: Tell me a bit about coming to Chicago after being overseas for a minute.
U-God: Well man you know, Chicago’s one of the hometowns that gave us our first little bit of love out here as Wu-Tang and shit so it’s a good market for us you know what I’m saying? We had to do a lot to get in this market and it’s a hard market to crack so back in the days we put our work in out here and it paid off man, people out here, they like us man.
Jake: What’s the ride been like coming up with Wu-Tang?
U-God: Its been a roller coaster man. It’s always been a roller coaster to me because I always feel like someone is trying to be our demise. I always feel like there’s someone out there trying to stop us, some force or a hidden hand that’s always trying to stop us or pull us apart or just some shit like that. But it feels awesome, after all this time we’re still putting out good music-I put out a dope record this year, you know what I’m sayin’? I’m just happy to still be here you know? Still being able to tour, run around and still see people like y’all coming through to check me out.
U-God: Living a hard childhood, a rough life growing up in impoverished conditions. Having to fight out of that and knowing what you left behind and knowing how far you came and respecting that and also respecting the art of rap and just respect and being humbled by everything, just staying grounded. You came up here and say I have a nice hotel room, but you wasn’t here when I had the fucked up hotel room (laughs) you know what I’m saying though? The pillows were flat as pancakes, my bed was made of stone (laughs).
Jake: It seems like Wu-Tang is everywhere these days, playing festivals in the Spanish desert and whatnot.
U-God: See, that’s why we became so successful-the fact that we ain’t afraid to travel to these countries and get on planes, it’s planes trains and automobiles, you know what I’m saying? And let people see us. That’s why we’re not a New York-bound rap group; Wu-Tang is global, Wu-Tang is worldwide. Every fuckin’ country: Brazil and South America, all through Europe and Russia, China, Korea, etc. is because we got on those planes and traveled the 15 hours or 24 hours to meet with those people and rock the shit and rock em and left a mark at the end and kissed and hugged the babies and did what we do and that’s a part of also being an entertainer-you gotta go on those planes. How you gonna be an entertainer and be scared to go on a plane? It doesn’t mix, you’re not going to be global like that, you gotta go out and do certain things. When we first started we wasn’t getting that much money in Europe.
Jake: So from the early days you all knew that was going to be the formula?
U-God: No, we was told that. We followed directions of people who told us where we had to go. It’s like we didn’t want to do the Method Man Dirty South version, but they did it anyway and it worked out for us, you know what I’m saying? It broke him into a market when down south wasn’t listening to East Coast hip-hop at the time, it made him do what he had to do. People that was in position when we first came out were very smart individuals (Steve Rifkin, Rich Eisens, the marketing team at Loud and all that). People forget, we had over $8 million worth of marketing money pumped into our shit too and a deal don’t just release that type of money unless you are efficiently moving-moving around and making sure you show that you’re there on schedule and your in certain places rockin’ the shit outta the place-that’s when the big machine comes and says we gonna back these boys, they out here workin not flushing out money down the toilet. That’s what we need to get back to, the artist respecting the label and the label promoting the artist.
Jake: What would you say is the legacy for Wu-Tang Clan?
U-God: Man, it’s kinda hard right now because I’m going through that, I’ve been having them thoughts too. I’ve been rhyming so much, I’m still going to be dropping albums probably for the next 10 years I’ll probably drop so more records right? My legacy is going to be a lot of money, a lot of fucking albums, lot of catalog and, I don’t know. I don’t really know what that means, legacy.
Jake: Well I guess, how would you like to be remembered having been a part of something like Wu Tang Clan?
U-God: I want to be remembered as one of the illest motherfuckers to do it on the planet in this rap shit, you know what I’m saying? I can’t be the best, there’s a whole bunch of people out there that’s good but if I can be one of the best out of 120 people on a bulletin board, if I can be five or ten and maybe 2 or 3? If I can go down as one of the illest motherfuckers, maybe when I die they might respect my shit you know? But if I can go down like that, I can go to sleep in the casket like this (smiling). You’ll be seeing teeth, there’s teeth in my casket. They’re gonna say “why the fuck does he have a smile on his face?” Because the motherfucker lived an extraordinarily lovely life. I was thinking about it the other day and we’ve grown apart but we was young kids man, just tryin’ to find our way out of the ghetto and it didn’t work for everybody.
Jake: What would you say separated Wu Tang from your peers?
U-God: One thing we had that other people didn’t have was the sense of organization within the group. People is always gonna be what they’re going to be but if they know this is the foundation and you have a solid foundation, you gonna win. People always ask us, “how did Wu Tang stay together for so goddamn long?” Because we always remember where we came from. It’s very hard. I want the same thing everyone else want-I want to be number one, I want to be famous, I want to be the dope nigga on the mic, I wanna be running all over the world and getting all the glory and everybody want to have that life, but you gotta work for that shit and right now it’s my time, it’s Keynote Speaker time. The album is fire, everybody’s on top of it, I’m getting good reviews on all the blogs-I got a couple of haters of course you can’t please everybody but the people who do love me, really, really love me.
Jake: With the new album out, where do you see yourself in the grand scheme of hip-hop today?
U-God: I want to be the motherfucker these motherfuckers follow, I want to be the motherfuckin’ guideline you know what I’m saying? If I can’t blow to significant heights, at least I can inspire the niggas that’s doing the big numbers like that. You look at Eminem, Eminem bit my cover with the Keynote Speaker, he put it on his single and that was a beautiful thing for me. That made me realize I was doing it right. You see, Em is a Wu-baby, he’s a Wu-Tang baby so I don’t take it personal-to me it’s a compliment and I like Em. That gave me that thought to say “I’m gonna show these niggas how to do it, keep em right there though.” People get off and start going all these different directions and sometimes it takes someone coming back and reminding everyone where it’s at.
Jake: Which is kind of what Kendrick just did with that “Control” verse
U-God: Well, Kendrick’s my little man, I love that little nigga you know what I’m saying? Basically, I don’t know what dude’s doing, I’ve always been on square, I know it’s a competitive sport. No disrespect to my peoples and my brothers but when we playing ball nigga I’m ballin’, I’m trying to put points on the board. After the game we shake hands and it’s all good but I scored 35 on y’all, what y’all doin (laughs).
Jake: So what would be your take on hip-hop right now?
U-God: My take on hip hop? It needs to be more lyrical again. I see too much laziness in the music, it ain’t really connecting with people. Even my record, I see things I could have done better, I’m looking for the connection with people nowadays, what is the demographic of the world today? As a person I’m trying to figure that out. As an artist I’m trying to figure out how to connect you, you and you-what’re y’all going through because y’all not going through the same struggles I went through. If I’m talking about my shit, you might not be able to connect with my shit, I might be an old relic, but I’m lyrcially inclined so some of my shit might get you. But I want more of what’s going on now because I feel like these little kids don’t experience nothing, they all on their tablets, their on the phones, not really going through shit I went through growing up so I got to find a way to re-vamp myself in the veins of these little babies, what is they doin’ out here? As an artist you’re looking for that perfect wordplay that will attract you, that will attract the little kids, no matter how old you are you want a song people can sing to.
Jake: Tell me about the new album, Keynote Speaker
U-God: Keynote Speaker was a crazy situation because when I put it together it was done over the course of one and a half, two years. Everything I put out is a project, is a body of work. Because you do work: work, work, work, work, work and keep working and some days is good and some is bad and then you have a whole bunch of good days and you put all that on the record (laughs) but that’s basically what the fuck you do. Each one is a moment in time of certain things I was going through at that time. When I hear certain shit I’m like ‘damn I was writing this when I felt like this’ or I was over here in L.A. or Brooklyn when I wrote this. I feel like lyricism is missing in the game. I don’t care how much you on the radio, how much you rocking, you on a major or whatever-you can’t just put a star on a nigga and make a star sandwich, that little dude has to show his lyricism.
Jake: What’s going on moving forward?
U-God: I’m writing a book, the life story before Wu Tang. And then I’m not even home, I’m halfway home. I got the show tonight with Wu and then my little private shit by myself and then I’m good for a couple of days and then we’re out to Rock The Bells and then I’m at home again, get my life together a little bit.