In 1993, Loud Records released an album that re-defined the rap music genre. A group of nine lyricists from the borough of Staten Island in New York City joined together and created Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album was a smash hit and before long, millions of hip-hop fans knew the names of each member by hard. As a New York City native, I remember when the single Protect Ya Neck was released and the buzz surrounding this new group that was in your face, raw and uncut. To some, the group was just another rap entourage from the streets, that was profane and too rough around the edges for mainstream society. But to fans, they represented a new concept and sound that no one had ever seen before from rap artists. The latter won out and through many albums, tours and even television appearances, the group cemented their legacy as one of rap’s greatest acts. But for all of the glitz and glamour, there also existed a behind-the-scenes story that was playing out in ways that no fan could have ever guessed.
Lamont Hawkins, known as “U-God”, is one of the founding nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan. In this gripping autobiography that is the first book by any member of the group, he opens up about his life as a young kid in New York City who grows into a young man and becomes part of music history. Readers sensitive to profanity should be aware that there is plenty to be found here. Hawkins speaks in a very frank manner but at the same time, gets his points across very clearly and drives them home with the right amount of force. Putting aside the strong language, the story is seductive right from the beginning. The book is so interesting that I finished it in forty-eight hours. The story picks up pace from the beginning and never slows down. It is an unbelievable roller coaster ride and fans of the Wu-Tang Clan will absolutely love this book.
I do believe that even those readers unfamiliar with rap, Hawkins or Wu-Tang will still be able to enjoy the book. His story is much more than just recording songs. This is also the story of personal triumph from a life that could have easily taken a much different path. Younger readers may find some of the anecdotes regarding New York City hard to believe. But anyone who lived in New York during the 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s will easily recall the era when New York City was nearly bankrupt and crime was all over the Five Boroughs. Subway graffiti, burned out and semi-destroyed buildings littered parts of the city. Poverty, drugs and an astronomical murder rate made New York City one of the most dangerous places on earth. I vividly recall those days as a young kid growing up in East New York, Brooklyn during the 1980s. But my life was far different from Hawkins and his story will blow your mind.
Struggle is the best word I can think of to describe his early life. But his trials and tribulations also extended to the other members of the group and Hawkins introduces them into the story as the Wu-Tang Clan is slowly formed. The Park Hill housing complex figures prominently throughout the early part of the story, serving as home for several group members. Murders, shootings and drugs were a part of their daily lives and it was from this system of mayhem, that they sought to escape. Success finally does arrive but even then, personal demons followed the group like a dark cloud. But in time, they each are able to focus on the bigger picture and find their way out of the ghetto. Hawkins is our narrator and his observations about life on the streets as a drug pusher, his fellow band members and being aspiring rapper are food for thought.
It is clear that at his age now, Hawkins is seasoned and sees things through a much clearer lens. But he has never forgotten where he has come from and his rough and rumble background are what have shaped his unfiltered approach that surely is “raw”. As a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, this book showed another side to the group that I did not of before. Twenty-six years have passed since they released their debut album but it still sounds as good as it did then. Each band member has their own style and appeal but without each, Wu-Tang could have never existed. And what many of us who are fans may not have known, is that one of the anchors of the group is the man we have come to know as U-God. Hip-hop fans will find this book to be a true gem.