After Triumph

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Publication: The Stranger
Author: Mudede, Charles
Date published: January 25, 2012

After Triumph

Wu-Tang Clan

w/Black Knights, Reverend Burke, Champagne Champagne

Wed Jan 25, Showbox Sodo, 8 pm, $35 adv/$40 DOS, all ages

The Hiphop World That Created Wu-Tang Clan Is Not What It Once Was

This theory has been in my head for some time. It goes like this: Wu-Tang Clan's "Triumph" celebrates the point at which hiphop fully arrived in the mainstream. (There's now no doubt about its success and infl uence-the world has to live with hiphop and all of its ramifi cations: sartorial, linguistic, sexual.) It's also the point at which the kind of hiphop that Wu-Tang Clan represented-democratic hiphop, hiphop as the swarming multitudes, dialogic hiphop-meets its demise in the mainstream. "Triumph" is both a declaration of the cultural success of democratic hiphop and the announcement of its banishment from the market. As the fl ute of the Pied Piper led the boys and girls of Hamelin to the dark cave, "Triumph" led the rappers and DJs to the underground.

"Triumph," from Wu-Tang's second and last important album, Wu-Tang Forever, stands as the clan's seventh-best single (the best being, of course, "Bring Da Ruckus"-one of the highest achievements of 20th-century music), and it includes performances by the brightest stars of the show (Method Man, RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and Ol' Dirty Bastard) and lesser lights (U-God, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, Cappadonna). Each of the brightest stars had a classic album attached to his name, and each of the lesser lights had a classic track or two. This huge and dazzling body of work was accumulated in the space of four years-1993 to 1997. After 1997, the brightest and not-so-bright lights would end up making a living in (Ghostface Killah) or being honored by (GZA) the underground.

The spoils of the hiphop victory that "Triumph" celebrated so gloriously (its noble strings, its MC heroism, its lion-proud beats and bass) turned out to be shared among a very small number of rappers and record executives. The mainstream essentially dissolved the democracy that made hiphop great, offered lucrative contracts to a few rappers who were notoriously monologic (bitches this, bitches that, clubs, walking with a limp, hos in area codes, and so on), and structured a system that rewarded aggressive individualism (shock) rather than innovation (art). The Wu- Tang Clan will certainly never be forgotten, but the world of hiphop they emerged from is far richer than the one that exists today.

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