The Beatles were the biggest act of all time. They influenced everyone, made a tonne of money, and their music is adored to this day. But there are a lot of people crying that we have no Beatles for this generation. Wrong. Ever heard of the Wu-Tang Clan? This New York hip hop powerhouse have left their own indelible impact and have more in common with the Fab Four than you may think.
Both the Beatles and the Wu-Tang Clan were borne from adverse and unlikely circumstances. What are the odds of four working-class teenagers from Liverpool being so very talented and ending up in the same band for a decade? Similarly, nine young guys from New York forming the greatest hip-hop supergroup of all time is something that probably won’t happen again. The WU, straight out of housing commission, and The Beatles’ humble working class backgrounds showed that they had the talent and potential to take the world by force.
The success of the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is considered the starting point of the mid-late 60s British Invasion. The band’s first American number one single immediately drew the world’s pop focus to England.
In the early 90s, mainstream rap was dominated by G-Funk with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and company kept American hip-hop West Coast oriented. Biggie had his hand in it, but it was the Wu-Tang explosion that re-established East Coast/New York hip-hop as a force. The Beatles’ American baptism on the Ed Sullivan Show brought an onslaught of global attention. The Wu-Tang Clan also spread their message worldwide very quickly, delivering to the mainstream an underground storytelling style.
Both groups were heavily influenced by Eastern culture and philosophy. With Wu-Tang name, it’s obviously right there on the tin. Even so, between low budget kung fu movie samples, to adopting many ideological and lifestyle values from Chinese culture - the WU have been all about it from beginning to end. The Beatles embraced Indian spiritually and culture heavily under the tutelage of Ravi Shankar. It became so embedded in their style, music and public behaviour, that it became hard to remember them as bowl-cut kids from England.
Each act’s debut efforts on record reflected where they were at the time and were produced with minimal resources. Please Please Me took a day to record and cost 400 pounds, just as Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) cost 300 dollars. 36 Chambers had a DIY, grimy sound that reflected the WU’s lives at the time. Where Wu-Tang moved away from the popular jazz and soul sample-based beats, the Beatles, experimented with different instruments and sonic landscapes.
Wu-Tang had their sonic identity fleshed out from the outset, but it took The Beatles a little while to transcend pop norms and ascend to making records with a cohesive, yet differing sound. Rubber Soul, Sgt Pepper’s, and Revolver all have their own groundbreaking place in musical history, sonically and culturally, to the point that if heard out of context one might think they were different bands.
You can feel the poverty and desperation in every verse and kick on Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers. The White Album is the Beatles at their pinnacle, but with Wu-Tang‘s final effort with Ol Dirty Bastard, there was an air of finality or impending demise.
Paul McCartney has worked with bloody everyone, including filling in for Kurt Cobain at a Nirvana show and trolling the internet to work with Yeezy. The other non-Ringo members did their fair share, including collaborations with visionaries like Phil Spector and Eric Clapton. RZA is the shining example of the WU, working closely with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez on scoring and acting projects.
John Lennon’s assassination occurred post-Beatles, but it was while Lennon was producing some of his finest musical contributions and cultural critiques. Whilst George Harrison’s untimely death to cancer removed the band’s spiritual element leaving only Starr and McCartney to carry the torch in their own way. Wings was shithouse, especially considering McCartney’s talent.
Ol Dirty Bastard’s death surprised few, given his lifestyle and obvious substance abuse issues - but his passing left a rift in the clan, one that ultimately broke them up. The WU still make records, but they are one-of-a-kind, secretly recorded album that aren't commercially available.
Both groups have left a masssive mark on music. Harrison and Lennon’s, and to a lesser degree McCartney’s solo projects were significant. Ghostface and Raekwon still produce some of the finest hip hop in the world, and RZA does some amazing film and acting work. Both band’s discography remain masterpieces and are considered influential and groundbreaking contributions to music. Wings was also a thing, but much like U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killah’s solo efforts, the less said the better.