The most duplicated, anticipated, validated
Urban legends in the books with the ones who made it
Highly celebrated, everything was work related
Current top 40 got the Wu deep in all their business
20 years Killa Bees, yeah, we hold the pennant
Monumental stance on the cover with my co-defendants
Drop her sentence, in remembrance
Construct these jewels so they can live through my descendants
-U-God (A Ruckus in B Minor)
As some of readers of this blog might know, I have always been quite deeply involved in hiphop. Although I don´t rhyme or deejay as much anymore, I still collect records and try to follow latest music as closely as possible. Recently I was asked to write a story about Wu-Tang Clan for the biggest Finnish music magazine Rumba. If you are Finnish reader, I recommend reading it.
Wu-Tang Clan has been one of the most influential bands for me and they shaped my teenage years profoundly. What is remarkable of Wu-Tang Clan, that they were not only able to do classic albums, they build a successful business imperium as well. Regardless of your personal preference regarding hip-hop, there is quite a lot to learn from Wu-Tang Clan:
Wu-Tang Logo is legendary. The basic version with black & yellow colorway shines like Batman pattern at night. The logo is also flexible and works in different shapes, colors and adaptations.
2. You have to have a strong leader
The musical peak of Wu-Tang Clan is still their debut album. That was also the time, when their leadership was most firmly at the hands of one person: RZA. He produced the album and fierce members of Wu-Tang were freestyling against each other in studio to secure a slot on the album. In later years, the egos of certain members of the group have gotten bigger and there has been more turmoil regarding the artistic direction. Unfortunately the democracy has not necessarily been that successful for them artistically.
3. Do your own thing
Wu-Tang Clan borrowed its subject matter from old Kung-Fu movies and the sounds were lifted from dusty soul albums. That was totally unique at that time. It was not tested in focus groups, did not have market research behind or was not anything really that was ever done before. Quite often you cannot predict what people want, you just do something you believe and hope for the best.
4. Nurture your talent
““We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else’s. We still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen Records, feel me? And all these labels still put “Razor Sharp Records” on the credits. Wu Tang was a financial movement”
Wu-Tang Clan as a band has sold 6.5 million albums in US. Overall they have sold 40 million albums worldwide. That number includes the individual solo albums. What was a strike of genius from RZA, was that every member of the group was able to get their own record deals from another record label. This enabled that almost every major record label had at least one Wu-Tang artist on their roster. Solo albums might have diverted the attention from the group effort, but from individual artists it was great. Especially in the beginning the sales figures were outstanding for the each individual Wu-Tang solo album as well.
Wu-Tang Clan was not only about music. It was about merchandise (Wu-Wear), tours, movies and even video games. The business part was always totally integrated to the music as well. Above song is called Wu-Wear: A Garment Reneissance and it is a legitimate song, but at the same time you can also view it as a blatant advertising. Wu-Tang Clan never sold out, they sold in.
6. But Don´t Expand Too Much
At some point, there was new album coming from random Wu-affiliate almost every month. This was the time before streaming, online mixtapes or even well-developed piracy, so if you wanted the records you had to buy them. Naturally the quality was not always that good and there was definitely certain Wu-fatigue at the end of the century. For example, the video below features “the youngest” member of Wu Shyheim. That song in question was probably as good as it gets, but generally no one really remembers him or any other of those loosely affiliated Wu-wannabes. Already in 1994 there was over 300 Wu-Tang affiliates.
Licensing business is the best business there is, as you it is essentially opportunity to print money. You should not license your brand to anyone, as you want retain some scarcity and appeal of your brand. Stamp of Wu-Tang Clan was commoditized at the turn of the century, but lately they have tried to regain some exclusivity. Maybe it is too late already?
7. Keep Innovating
This December Wu-Tang Clan released their new studio album “A Better Tomorrow” (which was also distributed as a bluetooth speaker). That is no the whole story though, there is also album called “Once Upon Time in Shaolin”, but there is one catch. There is only one of them in existence. Apparently someone has already offered 5 million of it as well. The music business is in ruins, but at least these hiphop-veterans keep on trying.
If you are interested more about hiphop and business, I recommend reading “The Big Payback: The History of The Business of Hip-Hop”, a brilliant book by Dan Charnas. It has great coverage of Wu-Tang Clan as well. Besides that I also recommend listening to Wu-Tang Clan regularly. It is good for you.