Let the Wu tell it, and it took a gaggle of challenging yesterdays to create A Better Tomorrow. There were conflicting schedules, conflicting visions, conflicting interests—you name it. So much so that Cappadonna says that the Wu-Tang’s sixth group album was birthed out of hardship. Fortunately all of that is behind “The Clan.” Fresh off of a new deal with Warner Music to release A Better Tomorrow, all nine current Wu members were all in as close to agreement as we’ve seen them over the past year and a half. And while all descriptions of this project paint a picture of a Wu we’ve never heard, from a recording standpoint, RZA went analog.
“Some people record in hotel rooms these days—laptops and portable studios,” RZA explains. “Like I was trying to explain to the band and I think it penetrated—it’s like, ‘Yo, we got millions of dollars worth of equipment, kid, with gear that these plug-ins are trying to emulate. You’re buying a digital copy of the real one I got, kid. So let’s go back to the real.’ That means you gotta go to certain locations. You gotta go to a big studio. You gotta go to where music was actually scientifically engineered in an analog way to be captured and multiplied and electrified through voltage. The Rock & Roll guys have went back to this as well. The Foo-Fighters went back to record their stuff on analog tape and I think some bands went back to garages to record their music. But they learned that there’s something different from the sound you get in the analog world. Instead of creating everything digital, you should create it analog and then at the end go to digital—not start digital. And I’m the guy that was Bobby Digital, know what I mean? [Laughs]
“I documented this also and maybe there will be a documentary that’ll come out and you’ll see all these studios,” RZA continues. “All the equipment from the first four-track to the first eight-track to now back into my studio with Ableton Live 9, Native Instruments, Maschine and all these things. I combined all that to make this record—the past and the present.”
That’s the first thing we learned about Wu-Tang Clan’s sixth studio album A Better Tomorrow. Here are 11 more.
(All quotes taken directly from the press conference as well as exclusive interviews with RZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Cappadonna.)
A Better Tomorrow Is Based On RZA’s Vision
RZA: The album is called A Better Tomorrow. The simplest way to explain it is that, if you look at all of us whether we’re having a good day or not, we want to have a better tomorrow. Whether we made a million bucks today, we want to have a better tomorrow. But then in some situations, you’ve got people who are oppressed, stressed, or going through a great struggle trying to find themselves and they need a better tomorrow. So throughout this record you’ll find music that relates to an everyman struggle. You’ll find music that relates to just the aggression of Hip Hop. You’ll find music that relates to the idea that we want to aspire to improve the world. As a producer, I traveled from starting in a basement in [Los Angeles, California] then went down to Memphis, Tennessee, connected with a lot of old musicians there—the same guys who we sampled from the Isaac Hayes Band or the Memphis horns. We traveled through Europe through many studios, dropping our lyrics. Then came back to New York and Philadelphia. This is a record that kind of traveled around the world as well, you know what I mean? And each place that we went, I think Wu-Tang inspired that place. Our mission is to inspire a better tomorrow.
Raekwon: It’s a thousand analogies on how you can perceive this album. RZA got his thoughts. I got my thoughts. To me this was an album of seeing veterans being comfortable at what they do. At the same time, put a little bit more positivity inside the music. That’s what we did with this album. Like I said earlier, to make a gumbo of great music together is the plan. It’s not to just sit here and say, “Yo, we want to sound like 1992 again.” We’re different guys now. There are some things that we’re gonna want to explore. And there are some things that we’re gonna have to keep the signature the way it’s normally been.
Ghostface Killah: This is RZA’s vision. Everything is his vision. He got a theme behind it. He’s The Abbot. I wouldn’t be doing Ghostface things if it wasn’t for him because he’s the one that took us there for me to even be heard. So I have to bow down like, “OK, whatever.” This is his thing. The next one will still be his thing, but we get a chance to go ahead beast mode.
Method Man: Make no mistake; this is RZA’s shit. This is his shit.
A Better Tomorrow Took 18 Months To Create
Raekwon: This album was put together kind of different. This may be the first time that I can say this album was put together far from any other way. Usually we would all disappear somewhere. We’d all be stranded somewhere together for like a month or two. But this one was kind of difficult because of the circumstances of where everybody was at the time. Some guys was out on the road doing what they gotta do. Some guys was home building the foundation of the album. It’s deep when you got nine guys. Real talk.
One thing about us is that we emcees. We’re professionals. We already have our ear set to know if the music makes sense to our world. So a lot of things we done organically. It’s not coming in searching. You don’t want to reach too far. You just want to still hear what’s going on and hear what direction you may want to take it. We always knew that RZA’s a scientist. You not going to run across too many scientists that’s gonna wanna stay on one thing. They want to conquer other metals and see what else is going on, so we always just come in the room and listen. If it makes sense to the ear, we already know it’s coming from the grain. This is the grain so whatever’s coming out of here, a plant is supposed to grow out of here. Some things might not be that big. Some things might grow to be a big plant, a big tree or something. So we just stay at the root and make sure it makes sense.
Ghostface Killah: We had to have timing. I know for me, I’ve been busy on the road and stuff like that. RZA had to email me tracks. While I was going, I’d write to them, lay them down, and send them right back to him. A lot of brothers were out here at first. Remember, this has been going on for a minute. [18 months] Like Rae said, we all got individual things that we be doing. We over here. I’m in Japan. He’s in Taiwan. We in London. We were still trying to get ahead to perform your duties to cover this project. But then again you still had a few brothers chillin. Inspectah Deck, U-God—I heard they been in the studio gettin’ it and you could hear it on the album, too, like that. You just had to get in where you fit in.
Method Man: You can do the math yourself. Pretty much. Actual studio time was never this long. Maybe actual studio time [for Wu-Tang Forever] was two months but we had both studios going at the same time and that was a double LP. Maybe because RZA was a little bit more cautious with this one.
Cappadonna & Mathematics Were First To Work On A Better Tomorrow
Cappadonna: I didn’t really get a chance to speak on my contribution to the A Better Tomorrow album. I feel like I started it off. I set the Wu album off. When we was on tour, we did two months in Europe and it was my first time being in Europe in 12 years. I wasn’t able to go. I had issues with my passport. I was finally able to get out there. I did my two months with the Clan. We had tour buses. We hadn’t been together for a while before that. It was kind of really difficult putting this A Better Tomorrow album together. You know RZA, he had a different state of mind. All of the Clan members, they was in a different state of mind and I was in rhyme time. I was on rhyme time. Mathematics had a lot of beats. RZA wasn’t really presenting any tracks at the time yet. I kept listening to Math’s beats and he kept saying, “They not ready yet. They not ready yet.” I’m like “We gotta make ‘em ready. Let’s rock out. Let me hear something.” [Laughs] He played the beats everyday on the bus and I was in writing mode, spitting. I was going up to everybody like, “How this sound?” I ain’t give ‘em no choice. I put the spirit back in there, so the album really started in Europe.
From there, by the time RZA got the spirit, he opened up the studio because me and Math started creating that energy. He opened up the studio and me and Math would go there everyday. So I had the first seven songs. Then eventually everyone else started coming after a while. Not even everybody. Deck started to come. U-God was there, mostly. Me and U-God was going all the time. He was hungry. Then Meth was coming. RZA started coming. Masta Killa came, too. That was the height of it for the whole European experience.
By the time we got to New Jersey, I didn’t really have to do too much work. I probably laid one verse in Jersey. Rumor has it I’m on one of the illest songs. I got an ill verse in there. Big up to RZA. Big Up to the whole Clan, but big up to RZA for solidifying and letting people know that I’m one of the official members of the Clan. He gave you a date and a time so you don’t gotta wreck your mind trying to figure out who the kid is. It never mattered to me whether I was a member or not. A lot of my brothers came up under my deadly rap influence, too. I inspired brothers and we all got stories of how we took from each other.
A Better Tomorrow Incorporates Live Instrumentation
RZA: On the music side, Wu-Tang has definitely been a band that has toured around the world and we’ve found ourselves touring with the likes of The Black Keys or Jack White—just many festival type of arenas. If you bring our classic catalog of Hip Hop, there’s also a side that’s not reached by us because there’s a stereo mix of our music coming out instead of a live band performance. This album has incorporated that sound. This is a record that actually any band that can actually play, it’s been written out and charted out so that you can pass it to any house band. [If] you’re going on [David Letterman], “Here, pass it to the house band and they can play it.” That’s very different than the old Hip Hop that was too many dissonant chords that couldn’t really be translated because of sampling. So I found a way to translate the Wu-Tang sound in the proper progressions so that a band can play it now.
Songs “Ron O’Neal,” “Never Let Go,” & “Necklace” On A Better Tomorrow
RZA: “Ron O’Neal,” we recorded that song on the East Coast. Method Man was one of the first members to come to the studio. Masta Killa used to come to the studio a lot. The first seven songs, he had a lot of presence there. One of those songs was “Ron O’Neal.” It’s really just an homage. The title goes back to the movie Super Fly and everything that he represented which was that 1970s coolness—the big Cadillac, the fur coats, all of the things that Ron O’Neal represented. This song to me had that vibe about that. It was something that was fly—super fly. Something that was unique, iconic. That’s why I named the song “Ron O’Neal.” It came together lovely. Meth went first with, “Coach put me in the game.” From there, Deck dropped his. We emailed it to Ghost. He checked it out. He threw his “Bobby Brown / crackhead” line in there Ghost only could do.
There’s a record on our album called “Never Let Go.” In this particular song, each rapper takes time to give you inspiration on things you shouldn’t let go. GZA says “Never let go of your mind / It’s easy to lose but it’s difficult to find.” He says, “We must touch hearts and tune souls.” U-God says, “Never let go of your dream / Never let go your hope / When you in jail / Never let go of the soap.” It’s pragmatic. Each rapper will give something that you can take and go home the next day and reflect on it. It’s funny but it’s real.
Of course this is Wu-Tang and this is Hip Hop so we definitely didn’t shy away from giving you that rough, rugged, smack you in the face type music that you’ll find on this album as well. I mixed a song last night called “Necklace.” A lot of rappers wear those chains but your necklace could be causing you more problems than you think. I love how Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna, and the GZA lyrically assault this track and put that threatening Wu-Tang flavor back out there.
How RZA & Raekwon Resolved Creative Differences
RZA: When you’re making something, you’re cooking it. You can smell it but you can’t taste it. I remember early on in the project me and Rae had a lot things to iron out. I could be a very stubborn dude. They point that out to me all the time. “Abbot, you stubborn! You stubborn!” I’ll deny it. [Laughs] But sometimes when I hear somebody chastise me, they might be right. I said, “Aight, I’m gonna come to your studio and come to your place.” And I did. I showed up to his studio. It was about an hour drive from where my studio was at. I bought all the music I had to date and told him my vision. I think it was that moment that he understood that there is a vision to what I’m doing. There’s a reason and a meaning and it’s something that wants to be different. When he heard it he was like, “It is different. It’s different in a good way, too.” It ain’t just like Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers which are very different, very expensive, but at the same time there’s something extra cool when you got a pair of those on, you know what I mean? I think that he felt that this is different and new and also very special. He pointed out where he thought his energy would fit and we built from there.
Raekwon: Definitely I want to say all praises due to the most high for just allowing me to be around my brothers again. It’s been a long time. We’ve been doing this for like 20 years. We don’t see each other everyday. It feels good. Like I said, any family’s gonna go through their ups and downs on certain things and misunderstandings. At the end of the day, it’s all for the better. It’s all for the butter. This is me like this is them, so my thing is that this is a part of you. This is gonna be brothers. But more importantly, we come together to give the world what they want and sometimes we may be in different dimensions on what we want to give y’all. That’s normal. That’s part of the game. Some things I might hear, I might be like. “No, I ain’t feeling that,” but I might not understand what direction we’re going with the record or going with the album. It’s all about just making that perfect gumbo of music that can satisfy everybody because we get them from 4 [years old] to 40 [years old]. It might be somebody that’s 32 [years old]. He might not want a piece of candy. He might want a fruit. OK. Give him a papaya real quick. That’s it.
Now in this sense here with the Wu-Tang Clan, you get a gumbo of great music. You get that good energy music, but then you get some records that’s gonna feel different to you. You’re gonna be like, “Wow, I never heard The Wu go there.” This is what’s making the album A Better Tomorrow, because RZA wanted to put positive messages in there as well to make this album more projected to the audience of the older guys as well as the youngsters. You always have the youngsters that’s gonna pay attention. This album is more considered for an adult trying to escape something and look for a better tomorrow. When he broke it down to me, I thought about the concept and was like, “Yo, hold up! Nah, I wanna keep it hard!” But at the end of the day, how many albums of music do y’all have of us like that? Which I’m not saying I don’t want that because I always want that. I always want the best of the best. But The Abbot is The Abbot. We gotta respect where he wanna go with it. From a collective factor, when I came in the majority of it was already sowed. All I had to do was say, “You know what, I can’t beat it. So I’m gonna have to join it now in the greatest way.”
Cappadonna: I believe that this album came through hardship. Hardship produces excellence because the harder you go the more you get out. If there’s a struggle… you know how long it took me to find the perfect hat, the perfect watch, the perfect car? The struggle that you gotta go through, the blood sweat and tears. We had so many internal affairs with this album. We didn’t think it was gonna come together the way it came together, but what’s the significance of a miracle? What’s the significance of having something beautiful; something bold; something big? What is the process for that? That’s blood, sweat, and tears. You gotta work out to establish cuts and a six pack. How many crunches is that? We had to crunch, crunch. We was on our Tai Bo. We had to alleviate some of the obstacles that was holding us back—the internal affairs, the emotions. We grew up together since we was young. We still got issues from back then. We all got individual wants and needs.
Ghostface Killah Says A Better Tomorrow May Be Better Than Wu-Tang Forever
Ghostface Killah: Right now I feel me listening to most of the album, I think that [Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)] is 36 Chambers. Let’s get that out of the way. Then you got [Wu-Tang Forever] and whatever albums is there. I think this one is right next to Forever, for me—or probably before Forever. For me personally, Iron Flag, and The W, and 8 Diagrams, they was cool. But, it wasn’t like how I see my team. After all these years, The W was dark to me. It was very, very dark. Even the cover was black. I’m a spiritual dude. I deal with a lot of spirituality. I feel shit. Iron Flag, it seemed like it was just put together and there were certain beats, to me, that shouldn’t have been up there for a Wu album. Diagram, I ain’t even hear Diagram. I never heard it. As far as some type of vibe, I think you get some kind of vibe out this right here. I know the next album we do, we going straight bananas on it. This one’s got a few played beats, like how I did the Twelve Reasons To Die shit. But it’s cool. It’s not wack, whatever the case may be. But we going back to all them samples and just going bananas crazy like the first album. That’s what I’m waiting for.
Raekwon Pushed Back His Solo Album To Complete A Better Tomorrow
Raekwon: Wu-Tang’s always gonna give you organic music. We’re not like any other Rap group. People know this, that’s why the expectations for us are always so high: Because we make a body of music that make people be like, “You gotta check this shit out. This is not your ordinary three song per album group.” The bar’s always so high for us and at the end of the day, we always wanna show y’all growth and development however y’all get it. RZA’s feeling more humble with what he wants to create today. For me, working on my album at the same time all of this is going on, we’re all working. For me to sit here and say this right now is important to see the group reunite and make a great album together, I decided to stand for my brothers right now and push my album on the back burner. My album’s coming out next year in the Spring around March. I felt I did it for a great cause because this is the family. I had to do that. I feel good about it and I understand more of the direction of where everybody wants to go. We’re happy. Like I said, you’re just getting great music at it’s finest.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard Possibly On A Better Tomorrow
RZA: When you’re making an album, you get stuck sometimes because you’re listening to the music over and over. There’s a song that I feel really captures the essence of our vibe right now called “Ruckus In B Minor.” Codename is “Still #1.” I played with that song for like a month and couldn’t really find that proper mix. I called up Rick Rubin and I was like, “Yo, you’ve been making classic Hip Hop from the early days as well as Rock and Alternative. Can you take this song and find a great mix for it?” I sent it to him. When he got it he was like “Cool. Sounds great. Do you got any ODB that I can add to it?” I did dig through some crates and we’ll see how that formula comes out.
RZA Says A Better Tomorrow Will Remind People “Hip Hop Is Big”
RZA: I think after A Better Tomorrow, being that Hip Hop to me is very misogynistic—very “Let’s get some pussy, get drunk, and let’s keep the party going.” You can do that for a certain amount of time in your life. But there’s always gonna come that time when you have to sit down as a man or a woman and look at life through the real scope of things. Hip Hop is not inspiring that. Hip Hop is not even taking the chance to talk about the goodness or the badness in this world. Everybody is talking about how much money they want to get, how much pussy they want to get and how much liquor they can drink. This form of art is way bigger than that. I think this album, A Better Tomorrow will infuse that concept again: That Hip Hop is big. It’s a bigger ocean than that.
Raekwon: We never turn our back on y’all and don’t turn your back on us. We normal. We supreme mentally. But we have feelings and emotions and like he said, we just want to make A Better Tomorrow album because we already know what we’ve done. Now all we can do is add on. So with this album, this album is like Lifesavers: Every piece, enjoy it. Enjoy that flavor.
Is A Better Tomorrow Wu-Tang Clan’s Last Group Album?
Method Man: Not to my knowledge, no.
RZA: Last Wu album? We’ll leave that in the hands of Warner Bros.
Justin “The Company Man” Hunte is the Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX. He was the host of The Company Man Show on PNCRadio.fm and has covered music, politics, and culture for numerous publications. He is currently based in Los Angeles, California. Follow him on Twitter@TheCompanyMan.