In the history of music, the story of Wu-Tang Clan is one of one, as the success of their groundbreaking debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), allowed the group’s mastermind RZA to negotiate a deal in which the group’s individual members could release albums on different labels. This meticulous five-year plan also became the unique blueprint RZA and co-creator Alex Tse used for the Hulu series Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
Telling the story of the New York group as a series, RZA tells Consequence, is just another way of showing “what Wu-Tang really represents, which is always moving something forward. This is why you see 30 hours of TV from us, instead of two hours of a movie. We got a great movie from N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton. That was a beautiful movie. They pioneered the hip-hop biopic, and we got to thank them for that, but we pioneered the hip-hop series, a new chapter — the same way, when Wu-Tang came in 1993 into the industry, we pioneered a new wave, a new sound, and a new part of the culture that was unseen.”
Over Zoom, RZA explains that while Wu-Tang was able to chronicle their early years straight “from the horse’s mouth” with the 2019 Showtime documentary Of Mics and Men, he wanted to also approach their history from a different angle: An American Saga was an opportunity to dive deeper, the serialized drama drawing inspiration from the imagery of lyrics on songs like “Method Man” and “Can It Be All So Simple” and going even further in utilizing the cinematic storytelling of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, and GZA’s solo albums.
Season 3 of Wu-Tang: An American Saga highlights how RZA viewed certain albums — ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and GZA’s Liquid Swords — as his way of making “mini-movies.” Three different episodes (“Dirty Dancin’,” “Criminology,” and “Liquid Swords”) provide context for those albums through standalone allegorical movies that still function within the framework of the show.
“We identified the albums that we wanted to focus on as standalone movies, but we also made sure that we never lost the throughline of the story,” he says. “For any smart viewer, you could watch it and then go to the following episode or the previous episode, and know what happened.”
One example is the story of Masta Killa becoming a bigger contributor to the group after only appearing on 36 Chambers once. After being encouraged by his uncle in Episode 5 to play a greater part in the group, Masta Killa’s real-life actions play out in the Cuban Linx allegory “Criminology” as a new member of Raekwon’s crew.