When the best rap groups are debated everyone has a favorite. Run-DMC kicked down doors for everyone and were pioneers in the genre we call Hip-Hop. Public Enemy pushed the boundaries of what could be said on rap records and what Hip-Hop could sound like. N.W.A. took it to another level and brought gangsta rap into our living rooms. A Tribe Called Quest made more than a couple classic albums and Outkast followed right behind them doing the same. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five pretty much started it all.
For my money, there has never been a better “rapping” rap group than the Wu-Tang Clan. When it comes down to lyrics, Wu-Tang wins hands down. A group that contains lyricists the caliber of Method Man, Ghostface, and GZA just isn’t fair. From top to bottom Wu is stacked with superior emcees.
One of those emcees is U-God, also known as Golden Arms. While he’s not as well-known as Raekwon or RZA his contribution to the Clan is undeniable. U-God’s baritone voice set off the Clan’s classic “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” and various other Wu-Tang anthems.
In the summer of 2013 I got the chance to talk with U-God while he was promoting his fourth solo album, The Keynote Speaker, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s upcoming performances at the Rock the Bells festival. He also gave fans a sneak peek into his upcoming autobiography, R.A.W.
TRHH: What’s it mean for you to be back on the road doing festivals with the crew?
U-God: I love this shit. We been doing this for years. It beats staying home laying on the couch mad at the world [laughs]. I love it being around my brothers. These are my big brothers and my little brothers, I been around these niggas forever so it’s a beautiful thing, man.
TRHH: Keynote Speaker dropped in July. Are you pleased with the reception that it’s received?
U-God: Yeah, of course. Hell yeah, I’m pleased. Any artist would be pleased. I got good reviews. I gotta get on the road. I’m just getting back in the States, so I really couldn’t do as much as I really wanted to do but now I’m back and I’m still grinding. It’s a slow grind.
TRHH: You dropped a video for “Fame” with Styles P. Talk about how that joint came together.
U-God: P was going to do a deal with the label but it didn’t go through right. I was in the studio one day and I threw on some shit and his shit fit right there where it needed to be [laughs]. I just kind of put it together and made a nice classic joint. I hope he liked what he heard because he didn’t get a chance to hear the finished product before I got it done. We just put it together and it came out fire.
TRHH: What was it like to get back in the studio with RZA on Keynote Speaker?
U-God: Well, I really went to him. I went to his house and picked from his tree. Some joints didn’t make the record because it didn’t fit. I have some more in the stash from his production. RZA is futuristic with his joint. I’m just trying to get it juicy again with him again and introduce his new sound to the market. He got some new fire. It’s different but if it’s rhymed to it can definitely come alive with the right wordplay and cadence on it. I love rhyming to his shit anyway, ‘cause that’s where I came from.
TRHH: On the 8 Diagrams album there was a lot of dissension in the group because some guys didn’t like the music. You said you were cool with it. How do you avoid that situation for the next album?
U-God: That’s a part of being in Wu. We all have nine minds and everybody feels they want to rhyme to certain things. Right now, I’m more or less taking it one step at a time. When I’m with my group I gotta do 16 bars. When I’m by myself I gotta do five sixteen’s and three sixteen’s. It’s a little easier for me to spread my wings when I’m doing my solo stuff but when I’m with my brothers I have to take into consideration that they have their own tastes, too. Sometimes you gotta rhyme to certain things and make brothers say, “Wow, that shit came out way more fiery than I thought it was gonna come out.” It’s a process working together. That’s the Wu-Tang secret. The last record dudes probably didn’t feel certain tracks but certain tracks was kinda hot to me. You can’t please everybody, bro. You just do the best you can possibly do.
TRHH: I’ve heard a couple new songs. Have you guys been working on the new album while you were out in Europe?
U-God: Yeah, we been in the studio. We were in the studio a lot, but like I said, it’s a process. The process of making a record is you gotta keep doing joints. You gotta keep doing songs and songs, and pick from the best that you got in the stash. Right now, we’re still in the song process. We’re generating and making music until we feel like we got a body of work that we can release that’s sufficient enough for the public to like.
TRHH: When Dopium came out there was a video online of you where you were getting a haircut and you got a parking ticket outside the barbershop. You spoke about how you were tired of being a slave to your bills and how cats in the rap game live beyond their means. Why do you think so many rappers, and really black people in general, floss just to be seen by others?
U-God: That’s about living. Coming from where we all came from in poverty, people just wanna live that life when they get that chance. They can say that they lived that life. That’s not just with rappers, that’s with everybody, whether you’re a business owner or a worker, everybody wanna live that good life. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, but you gotta live within your means. You can’t just go out and buy a ten-million-dollar house when you can’t afford a ten-million-dollar house. You gotta keep it within your own character. That’s what my people really don’t understand right now. A lot of people live above their means and don’t live below their means. That’s how rich people live, they live below their means.
If a nigga got ten-million dollars a real smart rich motherfucker ain’t gonna spend it on a five-million-dollar house. He’s gonna get a $300,000 house and pay for it in cash. He’s going to get his little car, but he’s going to have enough money to move around the way he wants to move around. A person that lives above their means will spend their whole fuckin’ grip [laughs]. The next thing you know you’re struggling again. It’s about prioritizing your expenditures. If you get money in the rap game you gotta save bread, man. You can’t be out here acting like you’re gonna spend all your money tricking on broads in the clubs and all that crazy shit. That’s what motherfuckers do too when they first get their money. “I’m going to club and I’m gonna make it rain!” Jesus Christ, that’s the mentality of my people? Nah, nigga you’re supposed to buy them lil’ buildings or buy things you’re going to own. If you ain’t gonna do that, at least take care of your family and just save your money until you know what you wanna do with your bread.
TRHH: It’s the 20th anniversary of 36 Chambers. In 1993 did you foresee that you guys would have this kind of impact on Hip-Hop?
U-God: I knew we was gonna be great, but I didn’t know we was gonna be on this level that we on. We worked hard, man. Don’t let nobody ever say Wu-Tang got a free ride or some shit. We really fuckin’ worked our asses off for this and it paid off. Them days we was in vans, going around the world doing promotional tours, shaking hands, and kissing babies, the shit worked. I’m just grateful for people like yourself still interviewing me and giving me that attention after all these years. It’s a blessing to put in all that work and still get love. I didn’t know we was gonna be this big. You can never tell how far you’re going to go. You can wish upon a star that you’re going to be at a certain level but I don’t think anybody can foresee how big they’re gonna be.
TRHH: I met you in ’97 when y’all were on the Rage Against the Machine tour. Something crazy happened that night and then y’all jumped off the tour. I remember RZA saying that it was a missed opportunity for the group. Do you remember feeling like it was a blown opportunity?
U-God: Yeah, I did feel that way. I did feel that way, man. We was young and was still trying to find our way in the world. One thing I realized about us too is sometimes you be scared of success. A lot of my people out there be scared of success. They say they want it but when it hits you in the lap you get scared and don’t know how to take it. At the time we did a young man’s move, not a grown man’s move. We fumbled the ball. Sometimes it’s gonna happen. Even on the greatest football teams some niggas fumble the ball and it cost them a championship ring. It is what it is. We can’t get back the past, but we can move on to the future.
TRHH: Speaking of the future, at Rock the Bells you guys will be performing with a hologram of ODB. What are your thoughts on the virtual performance you have coming up?
U-God: I gotta see it. I can’t comment on nothing I ain’t see. I ain’t see the practice, the hologram, none of that. I’m going to be just as mystified and stumptified as y’all.
TRHH: I was thinking about some of my favorite verses that you spit. “The Jump Off“ from The W album…
U-God: You like that verse right there?
TRHH: Yeah, that’s one of my favorites.
U-God: Let me tell you some funny shit about that rap — that was a microwave dart. When I say microwave, I mean I wrote that in like 15 minutes. The shit kills me because sometimes I bust my head and it take me two or three days to write a dart [laughs]. Then the one I write in fifteen minutes everybody love! This is amazing [laughs]. It’s funny you said that because we talk about that shit all the time. How sometimes you think so fuckin’ hard and the shit that come natural they love that shit.
TRHH: I got so many verses from you that I love. Bells of War, Pinky Ring, Black Jesus, Winter Warz, Wolves, and Triumph–there are so many good ones. Do you have a favorite U-God verse?
U-God: Man, it’s hard. I got 150 songs or more, you know that? I’m on 150 and it’s kind of hard. People ask me that and I’m like, Jesus, that’s a hard thing to say.
TRHH: What’s next up for U-God?
U-God: I’m trying to get this Wu record in the can. I got a book I’m trying to write now about my life story before Wu-Tang. My story is like the forgotten story. I’m like the last dude ‘cause I came out of jail. I did some stupid shit in the streets which cost me my freedom. I was incarcerated and I’ve been trying to fight back for my position ever since then. Before that I was in pocket. I took a loss. It’s crazy, man. It’s the story of how some of us grew up in the hood as kids before Wu-Tang hit.
TRHH: How deep are you into the book?
U-God: I just gotta lay it down. I already got it structured. Just got a sit down, type it, and get it over with.
TRHH: So. it might be a couple years before that comes out?
U-God: Hell no! Shit might be out early next year.
TRHH: Word? You got a title?
U-God: Yep. I ain’t gonna say nothing though. Can’t give it to you yet.
Purchase U-God’s Solo Discography: