Hulu’s “Wu-Tang: An American Saga”

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Hulu’s “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” is a new television series spearheaded by Wu-Tang members RZA and Method Man. 

One of the most predominant 90’s hip-hop groups, Wu-Tang Clan defined a generation in terms of style, tone and culture. 

The direction of this project seems to put a gritty taste in the viewer’s mouth. “In recounting the experiences of Wu-Tang, the show tries to force discomfort in the viewer. Because of the viewer’s unique position, decades removed from the actual events of the show, this perturbation is made educational rather than affronting

It seems unlikely that a show would essentially be fueled toward capturing an image of New York at the height of a crack epidemic while only portraying the most salvageable stories possible. However it is also true that this image is precisely the one that allowed the Wu-Tang Clan to elevate themselves out of the Staten Island ghettos during a period where rap was marginalized along with its tastes, production capability and black people themselves. 

This is precisely the importance of “An American Saga.” This is a story of American triumph that originates in the other American dream; The American dream that the generationally impoverished strive toward – survival. 

For a dramatization of the emergence of a music group, this series takes a decidedly non-musical approach to the television show itself. In fact, the show does not begin with now-legendary  RZA and Raekwon crafting a rough version of “Bring Da Ruckus.” Alternatively, it begins with a tragically in too deep Cory Woods aka Raekwon dumping a still hot pistol with Robert Diggs aka RZA. This weapon was just used in a drive-by shooting of RZA’s best friend, Dennis Coles aka Ghostface Killah. 

Quickly, the show grasps viewer in the thrall of drug dealing and gang politics of the 90’s urban culture. This symbolic demonstration of hip-hop itself and the culture which birthed a music so many of us cherish in modern times stands to speak volumes about the Wu-Tang Clan and its underlying reason for existence. 

As the show progresses, viewers learn Wu-Tang was not some friends deciding to make music because it was something fun to do, but there was something to prove. This is exhibited by everything the characters do, whether proving they won’t let the other person get the last laugh or proving they can do something for themselves.

A more depressing storyline in the show is that of RZA’s brother, Divine. Divine is a drug dealer who has brought himself and his family material objects which are of the likes they could never imagine, but only through his operation of selling drugs. When Divine is taken to jail due to his illicit activities, RZA is then forced to prove himself.

RZA leads the show in this way, a character who you can tell is in an environment that he finds fundamentally foreign to him yet still all too familiar. 

This is characteristic of much more than just a character’s arc in a story. I find great depth in the titling of “An American Saga.” The show’s writers, which include RZA himself, were very intentional about basing the events of stories within the show off events which have happened in the not-so-distant past. 

The show actively portrays instances of racism in the past and present which present themselves as all too plausible. It even devotes a good amount of greater attention to the death of Eric Garner in episode six of the series. This is particularly relevant because Eric Garner was a resident of Staten Island, New York, where the show is largely set and where the Wu-Tang members are originally from.

To reinforce the significance of historical events in the past and present, this show centers around the individual experience of each member of the Wu-Tang clan and portrays them as people, not just as rappers, thereby deconstructing the mirage that hip-hop is composed of the artists that make it and not the culture that truly produces it.

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