The Green Room with U-God
Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
Legendary Wu-Tang Clan swordsman U-God has seen it all during his crew’s twenty year run in the rap game. They’ve been around the world and back, shackling the masses with drastic rap tactics. And he’s played an integral role in their success, spitting vicious darts on countless classics while throwing up the W and representing Shaolin from country to country.
As he preps the release of his new solo LP The Keynote Speaker (due out July 23rd on Soul Temple Records), and also readies himself for a summer filled with festival performances and tour dates alongside his Wu brethren celebrating the 20th anniversary of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), we caught up with Golden Arms to talk about life on the road with rap’s sharpest crew, past and present. From backstage to the telly to the tour bus, this is The Green Room with Wu-Tang’s witty wordsmith, U-God.
First Wu-Tang Clan Tour
U-God: “The first [Wu-Tang Clan] show, probably about ten people [were] in there. And the microphone was hooked up to a stereo. [Laughs.] This was down South, in North Carolina, when we started doing a promo tour [for the first album.] We had to perform in front of ten people like they were 10,000 people.
“We didn’t want to do it at first. When you’re first starting out, you feel like, ‘Nah, we should be in front of [more people].’ But we did what he had to do, and then we went to the next spot. We did ‘Method Man,’ ‘Protect Ya Neck,’ and ‘Chessboxin’.’
“The first traveling days [were] crazy. All I had was a duffle bag, and one pair of drawers. [Laughs.] And that was that. You had two pairs of socks, and you [were] out there. I used to have to wash one pair of drawers, then I after I washed them, I’d dry them on the blower, then I’d put the other ones on. One come off, one come on.
“There [were] eight of us in the back of a van, sharing hotel rooms, going all up and down the East Coast. We had eight people in three hotel rooms. Now we all got our own room. [Laughs.] But in the beginning, it wasn’t like that. We had to work our way there.
“We’d get our little per diems, and we were just promoting. We must’ve went to every college on the East Coast. At first, it was [fun]. The first time out is an adventure. I’m on my hundred and twentieth time, and it’s not fun [anymore].
“Back then, we were young. We still drinky-drink, but we ain’t as wild as we once was. We ain’t running out trying to chase girls like we used to. Dudes is laid-back. Some dudes is married. Some dudes got girlfriends, and they’re loyal to their girls and shit. But back then, we [were] wild. Trying to get everything moving. When you’re young, you don’t care. But as you get older, you’re like, ‘You know what? I’m wasting a lot of energy on some bullshit.’
“At one point, Meth was real shy. Then he came into his own. I was always outgoing. I traveled before I was with Wu-Tang, to Sacramento, and Jacksonville, so I already knew how to live off the land. But probably me, Rae, Meth, and Dirty, we were probably the wildest, most outgoing niggas in the group. We were trying to bag what we could bag. Stickin’ and movin’. There were no rules. Like, if you leave your bitch with Dirty, you were not coming back to nothing. He was not letting go. [Laughs.] Those were the good times.”
Japan Tour Filmed During The Show
“Russell Simmons came at us, and got all the rap groups that were successful at the time, and put them in one [movie]. And that shit was hot. That was my first time in Japan. It was another world. We’d come to the shows, and we had silk Samurai robes on. We’re rocking the shows, and we had all types of Japanese broads. These bitches [were] bad. We had an awesome fucking time out there. We shut that shit down. We went all over Japan, and tore down Tokyo. The experience was crazy.
“We were just coming out of the hood, and just becoming successful. Meth was about to drop his album on Def Jam, and he was hogging up all the press, and not letting anyone else get any shine. That’s the only reason I [confronted him in the scene from the movie]. They made it seem like [it was beef, but it wasn’t like that]. He was on his A-game. I can’t get mad at the nigga now, because I’m on my A-game now, and I’m the man.”
Traveling the World
“Anytime you go somewhere for the first time, it’s awesome. Like when I went to Italy for the first time, it blew my fucking mind. That’s my favorite spot. I’m getting ready to go back. Italy, L.A., Arizona, Canada, Amsterdam, and Australia. Those are the nicest spots in the world.
“We were in Ireland, and [there were] a bunch of Lucky Charms motherfuckers, talking like Lucky Charms niggas. You know how the Lucky Charms commercial pop off, right? And they’re black! These niggas [were] black talking like Lucky Charms dudes. And I’m talking to them like, ‘Wow, this shit is crazy.’ We [were] all the way up in Ireland, and these motherfuckers [were] singing our record. It was weird to me.
“You know where I like to go, though? Sweden. Sweden is poppin’. They got some beautiful women, and they’re friendly. I like to go to spots where the women are beautiful, and friendly. You never forget that. Not just the women, the people [in general] are friendly. Giving you cheeba, giving you drinks, and you’re just doing your thug thizill. It ain’t like New York, where a bitch got an attitude. Everybody over there is riding bikes, they’re all chipper. They say hello, and start conversations with you. It’s a different mentality.”
A Day in the Life On Tour in Hawaii (1997)
“When we did the ‘It’s Yourz’ video, that was the wildest fucking time. We had so much fun [on tour] in Hawaii. It was insanity. I would get up. Chop a coconut, get the coconut juice. Boom. Have breakfast, like a fruit salad or some crazy shit, with egg whites, whatever whatever whatever. Then I’d go out, hit the jet ski for about two hours. Come back in. Take a shower. Get on the moped. Ride around the whole fuckin’ island. Errrrrrrrrrrr. Go crazy on that. Come back. Get some more drinky-drinks in the system. Go out and do the show. Rock the motherfuckin’ show. Grab up a nice little thing-thing. Bring her back to the spot. Di-da-di-da-di-da-di-da. Hop back on the moped. Errrrrrrrrrr. You got the hotel suite, with the motherfuckin’ jacuzzi in it. Laid up with candles, and little fly shit going, with incense in the air. Blowin’ green. The wine, the women. Everything was flowing like water.”
Memories of Touring with Ol’ Dirty Bastard
“One night, [Dirty] got this girl, and he comes knockin’ on my door. He’s like, ‘Yo U-God, I need a condom.’ I said, ‘Nigga, I ain’t got no motherfuckin’ condom. But what I got for you is some motherfuckin’ plastic wrap. How about you use that fly shit?’ He takes the plastic, and comes back, like, ‘Yo, that’s some new shit. I put that shit on my dick, and still fucked the bitch.’ [Laughs.] He’s kind of the inventor of plastic wrap on your cock when you can’t find a condom and shit.”
“The American Music Awards [back in the day] was awesome. We [were] backstage, and I got to shake a lot of people’s hands. Garth Brooks, Celine Dion, Britney Spears. I saw Left Eye. [Our big hit was] ‘Triumph’ at the time, and that’s when we were around Aaliyah. And she was with Quincy Jones, and his daughter Rashida, and the whole family. It was good times. I like to meet new people, and get to know them, and stuff like that. It’s always love.
“I’ve met so many people. I can’t remember the particular time, but I met Isaac Hayes, Barry White, all these motherfuckers. I even met Little Richard. We’ve been in the game for twenty years. We’ve been to ceremonies, been nominated for Grammys. We’ve won Grammys. There’s been too many good times.”
“My team, we’re on the bus at six in the morning. Niggas be out, twenty-four hours on the bus. Niggas be on the bus, gambling, drinking, rhyming, talking, playing all the oldies and the classics. I be in my little cube or whatever you wanna call it, watching movies, or on the satellite dish trying to call somebody on the motherfuckin’ jack. You know, Skyping with your girlfriend, she naked on the other line. She naked, Skyping and shit.
“The kung fu flicks, that ain’t my thing. Whoever got the hotness, I’ll watch. But the kung fu flicks are kind of played out. I watch everything. Anything that got flyness to it, I’ll watch it. But I’m a wordsmith. I like to listen to people talk. When you talk, I listen. We talk about issues, worldly events. We talk about taxes, money, babies. We used to talk about a lot of Illuminati shit, but now, that shit has already happened. It’s taken place already. You gotta get in where you fit in.”
Writing On The Road
“I get in my zone, and write on the road sometimes. But I write my best rhymes when I’m at home. I don’t really like writing on the road, because so much shit happens. But I get my little notes here and there. When I’m home, I do my [writing]. But when I’m out in the world, I’m in sponge mode, soaking up everything. I’m basically in a soaking mode.”
“We are grown ass men. I [never ask] anyone to get food for me. I go see what’s on the menu [myself]. If they got croissants, I’m eating motherfuckin’ croissants. If they got lobster and shrimp raviolis, and that fly, exotic shit, lambs and whatever they’re making, I’m eating that. Sometimes I eat the most expensive meals, and sometimes I eat the most rinky dinky shit. It depends how I’m feeling. My mood changes like my gear and my clothes.
“Sometimes when I’m on the road, I don’t even eat. I might just eat a lot of fruit, and try to slim down. You want to come home slim, you don’t want to come home fat. You want to be nice and trim, with your stomach gone, and your muscles a little tighter because you went to the gym every night in the hotel. Your skin is moist, because you went and got a facial. Or you got your feet done. Your feet are like your pride and joy though. If you don’t take care of your feet on the road, you’re gonna be fucked up. Standing on them shits, working on them.
“Me and Ghost, we like to eat exotic fly dishes, on some new shit. But a lot of people in my crew are vegans, so they can’t really eat the stuff that I eat. Like RZA, Masta Killa, and GZA, them niggas is hardcore vegan. I gotta tell them, ‘Go out to the backyard and eat some leaves from the goddamn backyard, nigga.’ [Laughs.]
“But nah, we know how to rock on the road. If we know we’re gonna be on the road hardcore, we get the pots out for the stove, and start throwing down. My spaghetti and fried chicken is world renowned. I gets it in, right on the damn bus. Hot pots, hot pans. I’ll pop a tent up in the middle of your crib, nigga! [Laughs.] The tent gonna go up. We gonna eat. If I gotta go out in the water to kill fish, we gonna eat. Trust me.”
Rehearsal/Set List/Pre-Show Rituals
“We’ve been doing this for so long that we’ve got [our live performance] down to a science. It’s like waking up in the morning. Once you know how to tie your shoes, it comes naturally. We already know the songs, so all we might do is change the order, or how they drop.
“[Before I go on stage], I smoke some weed, drink a little Henny, or a little liquor, get my jaw loose. Sit back, relax. That’s about it. I ain’t into crystal balls or voodoo dolls or none of that shit. [Laughs.] It’s all natural. Some nights you got it, some nights you don’t. Some nights you’re a hundred percent on, some nights you might be seventy percent. Some nights you might be fifty percent. Trying to keep the same energy every night is kind of hard. But we try our best.”
Hot 97 Summer Jam 2013
“Summer Jam is always awesome. It’s more awesome now, because we had some bad times with Hot 97. But it’s come to a complete circle, and they’re showing us love again. You know, we were the epitome of New York, then we were like the bottom of the fuckin’ barrel. So [this year’s Summer Jam] was like the relieving of a bad nightmare. I got to meet Ebro, the dude that runs the spot. And I got to see my peoples [Peter] Rosenberg. Lil’ Kim was there, Fab, Pusha T, Chris Brown, and all them.
“Certain dudes showed love. Little man Kendrick Lamar, that’s a cool little nigga. I love that little nigga. He’s a good dude. I just hope his character doesn’t change with time. Right now, his character is awesome. His rhymes are dope, and he’s a humble kid. Not everyone is like that. Some dudes are super-gassed. They got helium in their head.”
“Tennessee was fuckin’ poppin’. We [were] out where the real redneck niggas [were] at, but they [were] partying like a motherfucker. I got open. I felt so much love from the crowd, I went down into the crowd after and was chillin’. It’s funny how music brings people together. We had good food, drinkity-drinking, laughing. I did mad interviews out there for the new record. I got a chance to see Paul McCartney. He was lighting off big fireworks. I was like, ‘Damn!’”
“I was kind of mad, because I didn’t get to bring anybody with me [to Coachella]. We stayed at the fly hotel. On some real shit, half the time when I’m on the road right now, I be bored out my ass. I be with my brothers, but it just is so quiet. I’ll be in a nice luxury suite, by myself. Like, we’ll go to Berlin or something, and I’ll be laid up in a fly hotel, and nothing really is poppin’. As you get older, you get tired of that shit. It’s a different era. It’s a different time right now.”
Current Tour Vibe
“We talk. Sometimes I don’t wanna talk to niggas. Sometimes niggas don’t wanna talk to me. Sometimes we don’t even wanna talk, period. Sometimes we’re smoking, and we ain’t even talking. We’re just listening to music. We just started getting back together, so [rhyming with each other on tour] is about to start happening again. Gotta replenish the blood. We had a little cypher the other day, we were spitting rhymes.”
“I like to sleep in my bed. When I first get up, I like to have a spliff at the counter. Second, I gotta clean up my motherfuckin’ house, because I usually leave my house in shambles. Gotta look for clothes and shit like that. Then I catch up on my bills, see my babies, and that’s about it. Then I’m back on my grind again.
“Right now, I’m single, so got no worries when I come home. I’m not worrying about my girl, and what she’s been doing. I don’t want anyone messing up my head right now. I’m really focused on what I do. She don’t have to worry about if I was out there fornicating with other broads. I don’t have those problems. I’m good. That’s why my rhymes are sharp as hell right now. I don’t have no stresses.”
Advice to Young Rappers Going Out On Tour for the First Time
“Don’t let it get to your head. Don’t be having a whole bunch of women, because it spreads you thin. You won’t be as sharp as you need to be. Just get you one girl, and just master your craft. Focus on your music. None of that other shit even even matters. Girls come and go. They fuck other niggas that come from the next town. They fuck the next nigga and the next nigga.
“Just master your craft. This shit can go. You can be hot, and then two years later, they won’t even know you. But I ain’t gonna say that about us. We’ve been around since Biggie, Tupac, and all them, and seen the game flip over. We’ve seen dudes come, and seen dudes go. And we’re still here. So get your wordplay up, keep dropping music, stay humble, and stay grounded, and you’ll be around for a long time.”