Monday, March 5, 2018

Raw: A Brief Review Of The New U-God Autobiography

Even though I rarely post about rap, I am a huge fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, and have been for more than 2 decades. I think that collectively, and as solo artists, the members of the Wu have elevated the art-form and redefined what was possible in rap. And while I'd be lying if I didn't admit that Ghostface Killah was my favorite MC in the Wu-Tang Clan, I should also say that I have long thought that U-God was the most underrated member of the group. If U-God has never quite received the attention he's so richly deserved, at least he's due for some real recognition now with the release of his autobiography. Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins is out tomorrow on Picador and I was lucky enough to get a copy a few weeks ago in order for me to offer up this review.

I suppose the most ringing endorsement I could put forth is the fact that I largely read this book in one day. Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins really is a thrilling read, one that should please fans of the Wu, as well as historians of rap and the eras covered in the book. What's here is so much more than just how Lamont became U-God and earned his spot in the Wu-Tang Clan and I really need to highlight that fact here in this brief review. What's here is a whole lot of context to the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, Lamont's story being one that speaks to the era, the marginalization of young black Americans in New York City, and the so-called "War on Drugs" that sees said young black men incarcerated at rates far disproportionate than those of white men. Those facts are important as lots of the "action" here in Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang takes place in the late Reagan/Bush years, an era that was nearly as cruel to some in our society as the Age of Trump is shaping up to be now.

To illustrate my point a bit further, here's an excerpt from the book via the Picador website:

"I come from a long line of project babies. It seems like poor people always start from the bottom. Either you make it out of the projects or you stay there, sometimes for generations. I still know people that have been there for their entire lives. Never advanced, never went nowhere else, never explored the rest of the world outside their neighborhood. I guess they're content with that sort of life, but I knew early on it wasn't for me.

Only the pure of heart make it out of the ghetto. What that means to me is that when you really believe in what or who you are, you stay focused on yourself, and you don't hurt anyone while trying to get out. You don't connive, you don't do any ratchetness to get ahead, and you don't backstab someone else to get out.

You get out with determination, willpower, and persistence in pursuing what you believe in."

And that quote, in a way, cuts to the heart of the appeal of Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang as, clearly, a reader wants not only lots of juicy stuff on the inner workings of the Clan -- all here, believe me -- but also a story of how how Lamont Hawkins got over. And while a critic could knock the amount of back-story here before U-God actually makes his debut on the first Wu-Tang record, I certainly loved it. I can't quite recall any previous story of the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan being this detailed. That the story is being told by one of the actual members of the group makes things even better. U-God seems to have enacted a gentle revenge on his brothers in the Clan here by being the first member of the group to pen a tell-all autobiography.

And, remarkably, Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang serves so many audiences at once. Young heads weaned on subsequent generations of rap musicians will likely find lots of the history of the early years of rap's rise fascinating, a welcomed peek back at an era where social forces allowed the birth of such a vital art-form. And Wu fans will, obviously, dig lots of this -- the making of the first few classic Wu-Tang records, the tours, the squabbles, the tales of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, the grousing about RZA's machinations and power-plays in the group, etc. -- but I think Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang serves a far more important purpose by providing so much context for how a group with a sound as revolutionary as that of the Wu-Tang Clan became a reality, and how rap itself was shaped and changed by the arrival of these talented cats from "the slums of Shaolin", as the song goes.

As much a history of U-God and the Wu-Tang Clan as it is a primer on the incendiary force of Nineties rap itself, Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins is a fantastic read, and one that I literally couldn't put down. The adventures, and trials-and-tribulations of Hawkins make up a story full of lessons, both personal and historical. I can think of no higher praise about Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang than to say that my appreciation of the music of the Wu seems richer now.

Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins is out tomorrow via Picador.

U-God is appearing at Howard University here in D.C. on Friday, March 9, as well as at Black Cat later that same night.

Venom is the most recent album by U-God and it dropped on Babygrande Records.

More details on U-God via his official website.