Welcome back! I know it’s been a long time since I last added to this series but things have been slowly returning to normal which has put a lot more on my plate.
First thing I’d like to address; should I remove the ‘quarantine’ from the title? Restaurants, barbershops and even movie theaters have all recently opened up (at least in Orange County, California) and the streets are much busier than when I first started this series. It seems like all sports are back on television now and it feels like less and less people are bored at home with nothing to watch.
Maybe ‘What to Watch When You’re Bored?’ ‘What to Watch When You’ve Run Out of Options?’ I’m flirting with the idea of changing it but I’m still indecisive on the final name. If you guys have any suggestions feel free to leave one in the comments or suggest one on Twitter.
Alright, now back to regular scheduled programming.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have already finished Avatar: the Last Air Bender and Snowfall. Much like the ladder, this next show is filled with the harsh realities of living in a heavily urbanized area, however, with the twist of pursuing a music career. As you may have guessed from the title, this next show I’m highlighting is Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
Wu-Tang: An American Saga, 1 Season, Available on Hulu
Some of you may be thinking, “A documentary on a popular Hip Hop group, really?”
Yes, I know the market may be flooded with hundreds of biopics and documentaries covering musicians and their lives, but the angle Wu-Tang: An American Saga brings is a breath of fresh air. Creators RZA and Alex Tse don’t give you the vanilla ‘here’s how we started, gained success and enjoyed that success’ type storyline in their first season.
Matter of fact, the opening scene of the first episode is of Shameik Moore, who plays Raekwon (before he goes by that name), firing an automatic weapon at Siddiq Saunderson, who plays Ghostface Killah (again, who doesn’t go by that name yet), in a drive-by. All this is going on while Ashton Sanders, who plays RZA, is working on a beat in his downstairs basement. For fans of the group, the beat resembles the one in “7th Chamber,” but it’s not quite all the way there yet giving the viewer a better idea of where the story gets started.
That opening scene sets the tone for how the rest of this series is going to go, detailing the early steps way before the group “Wu-Tang Clan” was even a thought.
The series takes place in the Wu’s home town of Staten Island, New York, a borough much different than the rest of New York City. If you’re a Hip Hop junkie, you know that the genre has its’ earliest roots in the Bronx and very quickly artists from Queens and Brooklyn like Run DMC, Eric B. and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Public Enemy, among others, burst onto the scene.
Staten Island was longing for an MC(s) to make it big in the genre but before Wu-Tang formed, the city didn’t have an artist to put their borough on the map.
Like most urban cities during the 80’s and 90’s, the streets were flooded with crack cocaine and opportunists who were looking to make a big score selling the drug. One of those opportunists in the show is Divine Diggs, Bobby’s (or RZA’s) older brother.
Divine isn’t your average everyday kingpin. An eager hustler from an early age, he always had the mindset to make some extra money to help his mother. While many in Divine’s position may flash their money on expensive jewelry, flashy cars or other materialistic items, the older brother always put the money back towards his family, including the purchase of the house they live in.
While Bobby does his best to focus on making music, Divine’s restlessness for control over the borough’s crack game drags Bobby and some of his friends into dealing. The show depicts his internal conflict between making money his brother’s way or pursuing a life with more integrity.
Despite the obstacles, Bobby finds a way to surround himself with some of the most talented MC’s in Staten Island, but none of the individuals believe making music is an achievable career. Their are plenty of scenes where Dennis (Ghostface Killah), Sha (Raekwon), Shotgun (Method Man), Ason Unique (Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and the Genius (GZA) freestyle for fun when their out with Bobby but when he mentions anything about recording a demo, they shy away from the opportunity.
I know I got a little impatient watching those moments but the show uses plenty of foreshadowing methods to keep those more knowledgeable fans tuned in. Moments where the friend group would make references to the Kung-Fu films they would eventually sample in their music, references to future song titles like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F*** Wit” in their regular conversations and my favorite, Ason first mentioning his likeness for the saying ‘Ol’ Dirty Bastard’ before it was ever his rap name.
The writers also went into detail on a few of the main characters’ childhoods portraying this feeling of innocence amongst this group of street-hardened individuals. Who would have thought Method Man was a standout lacrosse player? Or Divine as a child who always challenged authority? Or what about Dennis’ love interests with his best friend’s sister? Yup, this TV show dives into it all.
Without spoiling anything from the show (because we all know what happened historically), the first season ends on a major cliff-hanger where you think all the soon-to-be Wu-Tang Clan members finally turn a corner. There are moments in the first season where you think Bobby and his homies figure it out, but RZA and Tse do a nice job of teasing the viewer of that moment until the very end.
Even if you know everything there is to know about the infamous rap group, Wu-Tang: An American Saga brings to light plenty of relative philosophies aligned with Taoism, Buddhism, the Five-Percent Nation and more. Much of the series runs parallel with Rza’s book “The Tao of Wu,” both giving the message to viewers/readers to seek self-knowledge and break from the societal barriers that limit their minds.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s impact on the Hip Hop genre will live on forever, undoubtedly. But before they ever became a legendary group, each individual had their own obstacles, philosophies, motives, etc. and it was fascinating to learn about their origin stories.
Sure, if you’re not a Hip Hop fan or history junkie like myself, you may not care for this show too much. However, the writers sprinkle just enough romanticism, drama and action in the series to keep every viewer engaged. Come for the music, stay for the lessons about unity and pursuing your dreams.
As some of you may know, I struggle to find shows that I’m willing to watch multiple seasons of but Wu-Tang: An American Saga had me craving for a season two after watching their season one finale. The good news is, RZA announced that their will be a season two and despite the delays in production due to Covid-19, the plan is for the second season to be ready in 2021.