In the late 1980s, three cousins–Robert “RZA” Diggs, Gary “GZA” Grice and Russell “Ol’ Dirty Bastard” Jones–drew up a plan to transcend their Stapleton Projects roots on Staten Island and become famous rappers. As far-fetched as it had seemed, by 1992, the trio had recruited six more like-minded rappers, invented an intricate cosmology based on Eastern philosophy, chess terminology, kung-fu movies and obscure Nation of Islam teaching and, under RZA’s commanding eye, made a five-year plan that emphasized their inevitable world domination. In November 1993, the group’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), dropped, and in 2018, all nine core members will reconvene to celebrate its 25th anniversary–a rare occurrence years in the making. With the attendant video games, documentaries, books, fashion lines, movie roles and an iconic status as the most influential group in hip hop history, here’s a look at Wu-Tang Clan by the numbers.
The number of original members of Wu-Tang Clan: RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa. According to the philosophy of the Five-Percent Nation, a Malcolm X-influenced offshoot of the Nation of Islam members adopted, the number 9 means “to bring into existence.” Famously, when de facto leader RZA negotiated Wu-Tang Clan’s record deal with Loud/RCA, he made sure all nine members could sign their own individual contracts with the label of their choosing.
The number of Wu-Tang Clan members who were incarcerated during the landmark recording sessions for Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Many diehard fans question the status of U-God and Masta Killa, because they were locked up while most of the album was tracked. Still, RZA, who produced the entire record and managed all aspects of Wu-Tang Clan’s existence for years, made sure to include both rappers on deep-cut “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” with Masta Killa delivering the classic final verse.
The number of Wu-Tang Clan members who have died. Famously rambunctious and often erratic, Ol’ Dirty Bastard dropped dead in Wu-Tang’s recording studio in 2004 after an accidental drug overdose. He attracted media (and police) attention far more than any other members. In 1996, he took two of seven kids in a limousine to a New York State welfare office to cash a $375 welfare check and receive food stamps, all of it documented by MTV. In 1998, he and a friend rescued a 4-year-old girl from the wreckage of a car accident; the next night, Ol’ Dirty Bastard rushed the stage at the 1998 Grammy Awards and delivered the infamous line, “Wu-Tang is for the children.” After ODB died, longtime affiliate Cappadonna was officially inducted into the Wu-Tang Clan after 2007 album 8 Diagrams to bring number of members back to nine.
A human heart has four chambers. If you multiply four chambers times nine members, you get 36 Chambers, subtitle of the landmark debut album. The group borrowed that and much of the album’s cinematic interludes and overarching themes from a 1978 kung-fu film, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which stated that though the human body has 108 pressure points (1+ 0 + 8 = 9), experienced martial artists know only 36 are deadly (9 + 36 = 45; 4 + 5 = 9).
The number of copies of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) sold in the first week it dropped in November 1993, a surprising success given the raw production and Wu-Tang Clan’s lack of radio or MTV airplay. Within two years, Enter was certified platinum, selling more than 2,000,000 copies worldwide.
Total number of chart-topping singles released by Wu-Tang Clan in its nearly 30 years. The closest to No. 1 was 1997’s “Triumph,” which hit No. 6 on the U.S. Rap charts, and 1993’s “C.R.E.A.M.,” the first release on Loud/RCA Records, which hit No. 8. The only two of seven studio albums to top any charts were 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever, which reached No. 1 on Billboard 200 chart and the U.S. R&B chart before selling 8.3 million copies; 2000’s The W also topped the U.S. R&B chart.
Total production cost of Wu-Tang Clan’s debut single, “Protect Ya Neck,” in December 1992. That included studio time for all eight members on the giddy, chorus-free posse track, along with a scuzzy music video that looks like your pal shot it on his mom’s handheld video cam.
Total number of studio albums released by 10 core Wu-Tang Clan members, 1991-2017. It includes collaborative and group albums, but not compilation albums, mixtapes or EPs. Leading the charge is honey-voiced rapper Ghostface Killah, who’s released 16 of his own records–including perhaps the farthest-ranging in the Wu-Tang orbit, a collaboration with Canadian jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD–since his 1996 solo debut, Ironman.
Estimate of the number of albums released since 1994 by affiliated artists, endorsed, produced or promoted by core members, from major-label masterpieces like Killah Priest’s 1998 Heavy Mental to Buddha Monk’s ongoing Zu-Chronicles series, up to Volume 7.
Barring a climate-change-induced apocalypse, the likely number of years Wu-Tang Clan and its influence will remain on Earth. After decades of mainstream pop desperately trying to co-opt hip hop, the arrival of Wu-Tang Clan sent a warning shot that still echoes today. “If you keep eating McDonald’s, you gonna get sick,” RZA explained during a 2013 NPR interview celebrating 20 years of Enter the Wu-Tang. “You need a real home-cooked meal. I knew that that would be healthier. And that’s what Wu-Tang was: a home-cooked meal of hip hop.”
Wu-Tang Clan, 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, 209-3746, staugamphitheatre.com, $55-$89