a story about chaos, comic books, and Staten Island.
first of all, disclaimer, i have a HUGE crush on the Wu-Tang Clan—as should everyone.
second of all, web3 has so much to learn from the 90’s it might actually be ridiculous.
and Wu-Tang is eeeeeasily my favorite example of this, but we’re gonna keep it light today.
in fact, i’m just gonna broad-stroke their whole origin story and try to point out fun, cheeky comparisons to DAOs along the way. and i won’t make you keep track of all the characters (just RZA) if you won’t make me keep track of all the facts.
then let’s do this thing.
... when RZA and [REDACTED] were both dropped by their labels in ‘92.
their first drop was a flop.
“When they dropped me, I was thinking, 'Damn, they chose a bunch of whiteboy shit over me.’”
—RZA, in The Wu-Tang Manual
now, i wanna make it clear that the Wu-Tang Clan are a bunch of frickin’ dorks at this point, okay?
and have you seeeeeen How High, bro?
‘cause, spoiler alert: [REDACTED] Man hasn’t changed in 30 years.
anyway, after getting signed and then dropped, RZA’s pissed (which makes sense ‘cause he’s a nerd with an unreasonably high opinion of himself).
so he gets a few of his closest friends together, and he goes, “yo, these fuckin’
VCs labels don’t know what’s up. WE know what’s up. yeah! and we’re Wu-Tang! and we like kung fu movies, and superhero comics, and mysterious eastern philosophy, and smoking weed!
and they all go, “yeah!”
and then he goes, “and Wu-Tang is anybody that likes those things, too!”
and they all go, “yeah!!!”
and then RZA shouts, “and we’re all gonna get record deals!!”
and they all go “YEAH!!!” one more time and then go celebrate with another ninja movie or something (seriously, they were dooooorks).
and they’re going haaaard.
they’re doing open mics, and basement shows, and talking to A&Rs and agents, and really showin’ off how “different” they are, and how much “community-product fit” they have, but nobody’s willing to talk
funding record contracts. OR they’re requiring these obnoxious non-compete agreements so that none of the artists can go get signed solo.
and RZA might be a nerd, but he’s no dummy—don’t forget he just got burnt by these labels himself—so he’s gonna be suuuuper protective when it comes to dragging his whole crew into this
crypto music stuff, right? he feels responsible for their safety in a way, y’know?
so finally, after months of getting stiffed by suits, RZA has had it.
he’s sick of promoting, sick of volunteering for free, sick of these fake-ass record executives—and he turns to his boys one day and he goes, “fuck it…”
they stare at him blankly (because anything else would give these characters personality, and then i’d have to give them names, and i agreed not to do that to you).
but he stands up dramatically and goes…
RZA gets right to it and says, “we’re not being loud enough, guys. we gotta be louder.”
and they all go, “yeah!”
and then he goes, “the labels may have the stations, but y’know what we have?”
and everyone shrugs at him.
and he shakes his fist and shouts, “the streets!”
but everyone just kinda stares at him vaguely.
RZA narrows his eyes, staring back at them, and then shouts, “gimme a hundred bucks!”
the whole room jumps!
“everyone!” he shouts again.
“right now! i’m serious! i’m sick of all of this
web2 record label bullshit and i just wanna DO something! so i’m making a single, and if you want a spot on it then gimme a hundred bucks!”
seven nameless nerds shuffle out the cash (which was a lot back then! a hundred dollars could even buy you a meal!).
RZA books a studio session with it, and he tells everybody, “come with your best rhymes mfers, no slouches allowed.”
now, most of them have never signed anything official in their LIFE, so everyone’s suuuper responsible that day, and they all show up to the
multisig studio on-time to lay down their vocals for the first single (which was actually two songs back then—the A and B sides of a vinyl record).
okay timeout, ‘cause i feel like i have a moral obligation to just reiterate the nerdiness of these mfers.
so their single, right? their introduction to the world?
well [REDACTED]’s verse on the B-side is about how bein’ a badass is a sure path to catching HIV.
like, Wu-Tang seems cool today, but it’s actually not thaaat surprising they couldn’t find
angel investors anyone to put them on the radio.
and you might say, “but Caden, it sounds like Wu-Tang was just ahead of their time!” and i’m gonna say “no, i literally JUST said this: they seem cool today, but in the 90’s? they were dorks.”
anyway, RZA’s still bein’ hush-hush about the plan, but he keeps saying stuff like “fast paced environment” and “you gotta build the plane while you’re flying it” so everybody just kinda hopes he hasn’t spent all the money yet and they can maybe get some of it back.
but it’s too late for that now ‘cause he’s already ordered, like, a shit ton of this new single with it and all their cash is most definitely gone.
but, much to everyone’s surprise, he stumbles into Wu-Tang HQ one day with a box full of fresh vinyl and some Priority Express envelopes, tosses a wax platter in each of them, scribbles out a bunch of addresses, licks the stamps, and turns to grin at his crew.
“grab a box, geeks. we got shit to ship.”
and he walks out the door with an armful of packages.
the gang leaps into action, and they snatch as many packages as they can, chasing him out the door and down the stairs.
they’re clamoring for answers, reading the addresses, searching for clues trying to figure out what’s going on, but RZA doesn’t say a word—he just keeps walking tight-lipped down the sidewalk with the whole crew right behind. after a few blocks, he stops suddenly, turns to a street mailbox, pulls open the chute, and dumps in everything he’s got.
he turns back to his friends, still smiling.
he nods to the mailbox, holding the chute open for them.
they start shoveling their own packages into it, and RZA finally opens his mouth to speak.
“you see, gang, the thing about radio stations…” and he pauses to wink, as the last of the parcels slides into the box.
“… is that they can be sybil-ed.”
”Aaah yeah! Again and again!”
— an exchange between the DJ and a listener of the student station (seriously: so nerdy) at the City College of New York, as heard on the album version of Protect Ya Neck
okay, radio station request lines are the original protocol bribes.
there, i said it.
and RZA knows this (because, again, i cannot say it enough,
y’all Wu Tang are such fuckin’ nerds), and he calls up everyone that’s ever said “yo, i fuck with Wu-Tang,” and he tells ‘em, “yo, I’ve got an extra copy of the single if you call your local station a bunch and DEMAND that they play Protect Ya Neck.”
which is… pretty damn effective, actually.
now, let’s talk about Protect Ya Neck—because this is no ordinary rap song.
in fact, it’s been carefully engineered with a few things in mind:
the song features 8 different rappers and no chorus, so that they could introduce as many people at once as possible.
every artist makes sure to say their own name in the song (including [REDACTED] who only gets four bars on the entire track and he uses them to stutter-spell out his
twitter handle nickname, [REDACTED] which is so goddamn dorky i sometimes wonder how anybody ever took these guys seriously).
all of the expletives were scratched out to make it ready for radio from day one, and it remains censored on the album version to this day.
they need spins on the radio. they can’t do this without a little bit of distribution.
they need shows, and the whole clan has to be at every performance. booking shows for individual artists is gonna dilute the brand and fragment the fanbase.
they need name recognition. they can’t go around dropping a million different monikers, they need to stick to just one (or maybe two, BUT NO MORE THAN TWO).
so he figures these are his KPIs for the year of ‘93, and his OKR is to secure
funding a record deal.
now, the shows and spins are eeeeaaaassyyy.
New York is ready for nerdy New York hip-hop at this point, and venues and radio stations are getting absolutely HOUNDED by Wu-Tang fans.
the artists on the other hand… are not so united.
that’s right: these mf’ing nerds can’t stick to a name.
and it is REALLY not making RZA’s job any easier.
the members of the Wu-Tang are such goofballs and LARPers that their biggest problem at this point is that they’re not sure if they should introduce [REDACTED] as [REDACTED] or if something like [REDACTED] would be more appropriate.
seriously. this is a real example.
can you even imagine?
[REDACTED] (which just so, so dumb)
[REDACTED] (which is somehow even dumber, but in a completely different way?)
honestly, this mfer had no, freaking, CLUE who he was.
it’s ironic, though, that the problem that’s plaguing the clan now is the entire reason they became so popular in the first place! their creativity and wackiness!
but now RZA is saying “no, your name is [REDACTED] because your name is [REDACTED], okay?”
and, well… that seems to be rubbing everybody the wrong way.
see, they all want to be part of Wu-Tang…
… and they all want to get played on the radio and book sold-out shows…
… but they don’t want anybody to tell them what to do—and certainly not one of their own.
but RZA sits ‘em down.
he gets ‘em all in a room and he says, “guysss, fellazzzzz, c’mon, what are we doing here, huh? we gotta come together right now, y’know what I’m sayin’? we gotta be LOUD, my dudes. we gotta be flexin’ every day and really make a name for the Wu-Tang first, yeah??? ‘cause this is only stage one, frens! this isn’t even our final form! not even close! we’re gonna show the world what we can do, and then we’re gonna get signed, and we’re gonna record an album, and THEN!!!”
he stops to catch his breath.
“… and THEN, we can—”
let’s fast forward a bit.
RZA has successfully wrangled the herd.
and thanks to the power of collective bargaining, he’s secured a record deal for the Wu-Tang that allows every one of the members to sign their own independent deals, too.
that means all they’ve gotta do now is make an album and release it, and then they can all do whatever they want!
this is it!
this is what they’ve been working for!
but with the deal comes another problem…
there’s only so much room on the album.
everyone seems to understand that what happens on this album is going to change the course of their lives.
if it’s good, they could all become superstars! but if it’s garbage… they could end up in their mom’s basements for the rest of their lives.
so RZA says, “only the hottest bars make the cut, nerds.”
and, needless to say: everyone brings their hottest bars.
I got sound, B — you’re better off a quitter!
I’m on the mound, G — and it’s a no-hitter!
and my DJ, the catcher, he’s my man
in a way, he’s the one who devised the plan!
he throws the signs, I hook up the beats with clout
I throw the rhymes to the mic and I strike ‘em out!
so it really doesn’t matter on how you intrigue:
you can’t fuck with those in the major league!
— [REDACTED], on Clan In Da Front
he’s thinking “okay SOMEONE’s gonna get signed first. who’s that gonna be?”
and he takes a good hard look at the Wu-Tang. he’s impressed! they’ve got real talent! …but whose talent is gonna lead the decentralization charge and get signed first?
so he leans back in his chair at the studio one day and goes, “yo.”
again, everyone leans in real close.
“we’ve only got room for TWO solos, aight?”
“now, [REDACTED] has already earned his spot,” and he winks at his (literal) cousin.
everyone goes reeeeaal silent at this point, ready to Leeroy Jenkins this mfer if the other spot goes to [REDACTED] (who is also RZA’s literal cousin).
but RZA keeps his cool, and says,
“…the REST of y’all gotta battle.”
now if you don’t like spoilers you should probably stop here because spoiler alert it’s
another nerd note: [REDACTED] Man is such an insufferable goofball that in the first verse of his solo track—which bears his fucking name, by the way—he goes, “pattycake, pattycake… hey! the [REDACTED] Man!” and then tells, i dunno? anyone that’ll listen? that he doesn’t like peanut butter.
this is all completely fucking true.
now, the competition was absolutely fierce that day (it’s the Wu, after all), and the RZA doesn’t want to appear “partial” to anyone (even though he JUST put one of his actual blood relatives on the
so he goes, “aight, it’s a
joke contest rap battle, and y’all gotta decide the winner.”
which is such a 🔥 move, if i’m being honest.
see, when they were first starting out, any one of the Wu-Tang Clan might’ve thrown down at a rap battle and still claimed “nah, I’m the best,” even if they (clearly) lost.
but now, they’ve gotta agree who’s the best.
RZA makes everyone rivals and then says, “but you still gotta be friends.”
it’s some 4D chess shit and it fuckin’ works, ‘cause from that moment on everybody knows how this is gonna go: they’ve gotta put [REDACTED and [REDACTED] Man (who is the clear rap battle champ and it’s not even close) in the spotlight so the rest of the clan can eat.
it’s powerful, and it instantly changes the team’s dynamic.
before, they were all pros.
they’re a team.
… just like those fuckin’ superheroes they all seem to worship.
‘cause they ALL end up with their own
DAOs record deals after that.
36 Chambers: Enter the Wu-Tang, drops in December ‘93, and then:
Method Man gets signed in ‘94 and drops Tical in November.
in ‘95, we get albums from the Ol’ Dirty Bastard (March), Raekwon (August), and GZA (November).
Ghostface Killah goes full Ironman in ‘96.
they reunite for a double album in ‘97.
Cappadonna drops in ‘98.
Inspectah Deck and U-God get their solo albums in ‘99.
and finally, in 2006, even Masta Killa gets his due.
RZA’s plan worked: they all got signed and they’re fucking legends now.
i guess nerds can do things right, too.
which brings us to…
“… converge, diverge... converge, diverge...”
— some kind of web3 Mr. Miyagi, idk i’m not a nerd
Wu-Tang isn’t worried about what’s next.
they ain’t gotta tell nobody what’s coming.
Wu-Tang does it for the art now.
when they wanna make art together, they do it together! when they wanna make art alone, they do it alone! and they’ve got all the time in the world to explore their various split personalities.
Wu-Tang ain’t need no roadmap.
Wu-Tang is a DAO, mfer.
and everybody knows those things are fucking ungovernable.