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Hip-Hop Fridays: Wu-Tang Swings The Hip-Hop Pendulum

After watching the new Wu-Tang video, "I Can't Go To Sleep" I am prepared to prematurely declare Hip-Hop's "ice and thong" era to be unofficially dead. The song and video, which feature Isaac Hayes, represents a return to the marriage of innovation and consciousness in Hip-Hop that have been woefully absent in recent years as Hip-Hop artist after artist has fallen into the commercial pressure to emphasize "sex and violence" (a phenomenon best identified by KRS-One).

The video features heavy imagery, symbolism and hidden messages all aimed at depicting the death and resurrection of the mental state of not only Black America, but also the entire world. The video utilizes the latest technologies, yet has an ancient quality to it that makes you appreciate how special the combination of Isaac Hayes and Wu-Tang really is.

And this project has been in the works for years. In 1996, while I was General Manager for the Clan, RZA and I spoke about his desire to do tracks with some of the biggest Soul-era singers. By that time he had already contacted Isaac Hayes and I had spoken to Bobby Womack about future collaborations; and Ghostface Killah had just recorded a song with the Delfonics, for his first album.

RZA's appreciation for these artists was profound.

So it is no surprise in 2000-2001 to hear and see RZA, Ghostface and Isaac Hayes together on " I Can't Go To Sleep".

And the song reflects the soul of Ghostface who has finally come into his own after years of being appreciated by his peers for his sincerity and genuine personality. I have never met an artist as "real" as Ghost, somebody who puts their heart and soul into their friendships as well as their art…always down for whatever.

It has always amazed me how many Clan fans were disappointed in Ghost's first album, which was one of the most "personal" or "intimate" (as RZA referred to it) albums that I have ever heard.

The most impressive thing about knowing Ghost has been how little he has changed since "blowing up". I really don't think that Ghost would care if he wasn't rocking the mic' and found himself working on a construction site or owning a farm somewhere. He would still be the same person.

It was refreshing to see Ghost and RZA reflect over the condition and history of Black America on the cut, with Isaac Hayes filling in the gaps, and with the video imagery taking you through the turbulent 1960's.

It is one of the much too infrequent moments where the positive power of the 5% Nation of Islam and the knowledge of self that it has given to artists like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, is felt in Hip-Hop, front and center.

Some may not be able to accept Ghost and RZA in this poet and song format but that is only due to initial surprise. After that wears off you can truly appreciate the brilliance of the cut and the implications of it. Kind of think of it like the Last Poets meets Classic Soul (smile).

Wu-Tang putting its full weight behind consciousness in Hip-Hop represents the final stage of a paradigm shift that has been in the works for sometime, where Hip-Hop moves from its fascination with materialism and into a deeper connection with spirituality and political consciousness and action. Artists like Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek and Dead Prez are currently leading this movement. And of course Gangstarr has represented this paradigm for over 10 years -throughout Hip-Hop's travels and travails.

As I have heard RZA say, Wu-Tang has always represented the highest form of negativity and positivity, so "I Can't Go To Sleep" was always in the Wu-Tang character. It was just hard to notice recently with all of the futuristic videos and action-figure persona of the Clan members being emphasized.

When RZA and I spoke earlier last summer we talked about Hip-Hop's 3 and a half-year cycles that usually represent a change in the sound and lyrical content and style. We talked about how the new album (at that time "The W" was unreleased) to come could have that kind of effect on the industry and culture.

Surprisingly, Hip-Hop history may record that it may not be the Wu's album, The W, that some view as a disappointment that accomplished this, but rather one song and video from that album, "I Can't Go To Sleep".

Indeed, the Wu-Tang Sword has weighed in on the Hip-Hop pendulum that swings from negativity and positivity, in several year cycles.

And we are headed in the right direction.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, February 9, 2001

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