NEW YORK On the eve of the release of their fourth LP, Iron Flag, the Wu-Tang Clan were bouncing back and forth from being a cohesive unit to a divided mob, and back again. In between taking pictures at Monday's photo shoot for hip-hop magazine Murder Dog, the Clan were scrutinizing a rough cut of their new video, "Pinky Ring."
In the clip, there's a huge party where each member of the clan rhymes in a room of the venue where the shindig is being held.
"Booo, booo," Method Man screamed as the part of the clip that highlights him came on.
"See, it looks like my lips aren't even moving," Inspectah Deck lamented a few minutes later to Meth.
"Nah, your lips are moving," Meth rebutted. "But the way they cut it, your mouth is off beat with the music."
"Well, this is the first draft," U-God said off to the side. Meanwhile, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah were still screening the video. RZA and GZA were changing clothes, and Meth was gearing up to start his mischievous antics that he would continue throughout the night.
"I'm a perfectionist," U-God continued. "It still ain't right. Even 'Triumph' had its flaws in it, and we spent a million dollars on that."
If you ask any member of the Shaolin family of lyrical swordsmen, they're not concerned with Iron Flag selling millions of records, they just want to get the music out to their loyal following.
"The reason why the energy is so great is because we back home again doing this," Masta Killah said about the group recording the album in New York. It's the first time they've done so since their classic debut, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. "[New York] is the foundation, this is where we started at. It's cool to work other places and everything. It's nothing like working outta your house, working out of your backyard. You feeling the full support of the fans from the streets, from our hometown people that love us that wasn't able to see us and embrace us in a while."
The Wu embraced Public Enemy's jester Flavor Flav for "Soul Power (Black Jungle)." On the track, in his usual brash manner, Flav declares, "2002, representing the Wu," on the hook, while the collective drops its abrasive freestyles.
"He's a great person regardless," Masta Killah said of Flav. "He was the closest feel we could get to an [Ol'] Dirty feel because he brings the kind of unpredictable element. Doing a Wu album without Ol' Dirty ... It's really not a Wu album without Ol' Dirty. I miss my brother. I can't wait till he comes here, because his element could never be matched. He brings the element of freedom."
Method Man's wild child actions on Monday were all everyone could handle. During a group shot, Meth stuck out among the otherwise uniformly dressed crew. Although it hung out his back pocket, he refused to put on his Wu-Wear baseball jersey.
"Put on the shirt, you're messing up the shot," RZA's brother and one of Iron Flag's co-executive producers, Divine, shouted at the Ticallion Stallion.
Meth egged him on with a wide smile and continued posing for the camera clad in a Wu-Wear jacket and headphones. Between shots, the frustration was setting in with some of the other group members. Rae and Ghost were visibly exasperated, GZA half-jokingly yelled at the photographer, "Take the shot," but RZA, the Clan's musical leader, was opting not to step in, to just let nature take its course. He's been going through this for almost 10 years.
In addition to a few ice-breaking jokes by Meth, the tension was broken up by Iron Flag, which began playing on a stereo. "Who the f--- knocked our buildings down?" Ghostface asks on the rallying "Rules." "Who's the man behind the World Trade massacre?/ Step up now .../ America together we stand divided we fall/ Mr. Bush sit down I'm in charge of the war."
"Brothers was just up there vibing," Raekwon said later of the song's studio session. "When he said what he said, that's just how he was feeling. We let brothers vibe in their own chamber long as it vibe along with what we dealing with. That was a real issue, we was looking at it one day on TV. I guess he was on some patriotic sh-- at the time."
Maybe Meth was getting antsy because he knew he was missing an episode of the World Wrestling Federation's "Raw" TV show, but during a pause in snapshot-taking, he wanted to play, using the time to grapple with his brothers.
First he put U-God in a front face lock their tussling ended up causing a tear in the white paper background that was used for the photo shoot. Then he stalked around the studio, sneak-attacking RZA and his brother with tackles. Meth would later get his as Divine snuck up behind Meth and flung him to the ground.
"That guy's crazy," GZA said, shaking his head at the end of the night. Meth only supported his claim by tearing up the paper backdrop like a dog playing in a laundry basket.
"Yeah, it's a lot of energy," GZA said of the night's proceedings. "It's also time- consuming, sometimes it becomes a pain, you take a thousand f---ing photos for them to use one or two. But it's worth it in the long run."
"Rrrrr," Meth screamed out like a pit bull standing in shreds of paper. No, past success has not satiated the Wu's hunger.