U-God is the one Wu-Tang Clan member you most definitely don’t want to fuck with.
Not lyrically – he always relied more on his bass-heavy flow and distinctive voice, leaving the multi-syllable rhymes to his buddies – but physically. We’re in a hotel lobby in Shepherd’s Bush, and his body seems to be mushrooming out of his chair, all huge upper arms and a face the colour of granite. He’s not tall, but when he stands you can’t help thinking that, even if you punched him, you’d be the one walking away with a broken fist. And then he’d reach over and turn your head inside out.
On second thought, probably not. He’s too nice, you see. The Wu have a reputation for playing fast and loose with the press; they begrudge photoshoots (Ghostface Killah), turn up to interviews fully baked (Method Man) or simply don’t pick up their phones (GZA). But U-God is friendly, cheerful and more compos mentis than you’d expect most rappers to be. The only time he gets grumpy is when we ask him about his relationship with his crew – he sued the Wu Tang Music Group in 2008 for lost income, and any attempt to talk about it is met with a terse “skip that question”.
As solo careers go, he’s been one of the least successful from his group, but it’s something he’s hoping to remedy with his fourth album, Keynote Speaker. “Right now, I be getting shitted on as a rapper,” he says, with a smile on his face. “I don’t get no respect for certain things. I wanted to crush these motherfuckers. I’ma wake you up. Slap you upside the head.”
Whether Keynote Speaker will do what he wants is debatable – it’s received mixed reviews all around. But you never miss a chance to pick the brain of a Clan member. So we broke bread with the God, and had a chat about the places, things and people that inspire him.
Things That Inspire Me
West Coast vibes
“I’m about to move to the West Coast. I’ve been in New York since I was a baby, and I need new inspiration and new air to breathe. I was going to go to L.A. with [Wu-Tang frontman] RZA, but I don’t want to be around him too much – we been around each other since we were six years old! I was thinking about San Diego, which is a really nice place. If not there, then Vegas or Arizona. I’m an older guy, with kids – New York’s too much. I grew up my whole life in New York. Everyday, I see something new – things I didn’t know were there. It’s so weird, and huge – eight million people in the city.”
“When I heard the track RZA sent over for ‘Get Mine’, it reminded me of Johnny Cash. I’m a big of fan of Cash. I tried to get into that chamber. I’d like to make a blues record – maybe a six or eight-cut joint, just raw.”
Vernon Linwood Howard
“I read a lot. I have an extensive library, especially criminal law! Lately I got this book, Expose Human Sharks in 100 Ways [written by out-there spiritual leader Vernon Linwood Howard]. It talks about people that are sharks – people who try to con you out of your money. How you handle ’em. How you see ’em coming. The things they do, the mind tricks they pull on you. It’s a real good book.”
“I like Kendrick Lamar. We both had [Compton veteran] MC Eiht on our records, too. Not too many new dudes are really lyrical, but I feel like lyrics is coming back. That’s what I’m putting in the market – real rhymes. I want to make people feel like, wait a minute, I’m getting jerked here. I need some raw shit.”
His voice! I was like, yo…!” [He does a pitch-perfect Wolf impression, even making his gravely voice dial up to the falsetto]. Motherfuckers told me not to sing before. I got mad at that. If I put autotune under my shit, I’d fuck y’all up.”