BEVERLY HILLS — RZA could have created a Wu-Tang Clan biopic like the NWA-based “Straight Outta Compton” film, but felt the nine-member rap group needed more room to tell their story. That meant heading to television and finding the right actors to reenact the influential group’s rise and rap as them.
The series delves into how the New York-based collective straddled between the music and crime life during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1990s.
“The Wu-Tang story is vast and you really couldn’t contain it in a two or three hour movie,” said RZA, who created the series with screenwriter Alex Tse. “Now, in a serial form, we can take our time and tell our story. The high and low nuances of it. Hopefully, it’ll inform, entertain and inspire.”
Wu-Tang went from being a group of local rappers in Staten Island, New York, to become one of the most prominent hip-hop troupes after releasing their critically-acclaimed 1993 debut album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” The group included RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard and longtime collaborator Cappadonna.
Wu-Tang Built a Global Brand That’s Still Relevant
Some of the members branched out into solo careers through Wu-Tang’s success. Raekwon, GZA, O.D.B., Ghostface Killah and Method Man released successful solo studio albums while RZA continued to make a name for himself as a producer, actor and director.
The series stars Shameik Moore as Raekwon, Ashton Sanders as RZA and rappers Dave East and TJ Atoms as Method Man and O.D.B, respectively. It also stars newcomers Siddiq Saunderson as Ghostface Killah and Johnell Young as GZA.
RZA said the template for the 10-episode series was inspired by the books he co-wrote, “The Wu-Tang Manual” and “Tao of Wu.” A four-part Showtime docuseries called “Wu-Tang: Of Mics and Men” aired a few months ago, but he says the new Hulu series will highlight certain members’ backstories before their collective rise to fame.
Tse said Wu-Tang built a global brand that’s still relevant.
“It’s one of the most unusual and unlikely American success stories, ever,” said Tse, who co-wrote the superhero film “Watchmen” and 2018’s “Superfly.” ”It couldn’t really happen anywhere else. I don’t think nine dudes from the U.K. could come together and call themselves Wu-Tang. That’s the only stuff that happens in America.”
RZA said he enjoyed watching the actors portray himself and his friends. He said the filming process took him down memory lane.
“You really get to see the dynamics that really exists between us,” RZA said. “It feels authentic. The best thing I could get out of this experience really is a chance to live it and do it again.”
Tse Believes the Series Will Do Wu-Tang Justice
Moore said he didn’t know much about the group growing up except for their popular “W” logo. He had other opportunities on the table, but his role was something he felt compelled to take on.
“I’m like a sponge,” Moore said. “I try to watch, learn and take everything in and then execute. … I want to strategically choose iconic roles or projects to be involved in. I want everything to top the last. Just when you think you’re not going to see anything new or better, we do it again. I don’t think there was a better project than Wu-Tang to do that for me.”
Meanwhile, East thought he knew everything about Wu-Tang as a longtime fan until he began preparations to play Method Man. The rapper said there’s an episode that will unveil some surprising news about Method Man’s interests.
“He played lacrosse,” East said, causing RZA to burst out laughing and add: “Spoiler alert.”
“My bad,” East said. “That was one of the things where I was like ‘What?’ That threw me off. Even if it was information I just found out about him, it kind of fit the Meth I grew up on.”
Like RZA, Method Man has branched out into acting, starring in several films including “How High.” He’s one half of the rap duo Method Man & Redman.
Tse believes the series will do Wu-Tang justice and they’ll get to tell more of the group’s story.
“God willing, we’ll have more than one season,” he said.