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Interview: U-God (Part one)

During the London stop of the Wu-Tang Clan’s 20th anniversary tour, we caught up with the iconic rap collective’s often most misconceived member, U-God.

We kick off part one of this frank and charismatic two part interview, discussing the new solo album ‘The Keynote Speaker’, reaching out to Gucci Mane during troublesome times, hip hop cops – and why T.I. is solely responsible for this new type of law division – and being ‘a hardcore motherfucker’.

PN: ‘The Keynote Speaker’ is the new album. You’ve been quoted as saying that this is your ‘Illmatic’ with ‘no chicks’ and ‘94/98 type bars’. Why this very specific direction?
G:  I feel that’s the gauge. That’s the level I’m trying to come on. I love Nas. That’s like family, so I feel, if I’m going to put something out, it has to be on that level of rhyming. That’s the level of rhyming I’m trying to achieve.

PN: The album features a few fellow Clan members; RZA was the executive producer, Method Man features on it, Inspectah Deck… Were these carefully calculated choices, or a more a case of just ringing up the family?
UG: Oh I’m always calculated. I’m a very calculated person. They call me Sergeant Hawkins. (U-God displays a tattoo on his right arm, of some sergeant stripes with a ‘W’ in the middle). I think like a general.

PN: As you take such a calculated approach, how long did the album take from conception to completion?
UG: It took about a year and a half. Close to two years, almost.

PN: How do you think you have evolved since your last album ‘Dopium’?
UG: I evolve all the time. The more music I put out… It’s like… at first, dudes [producers] were like, ‘I don’t want to give him no music’. I wasn’t getting music from producers. Then I had to go out and get music from dudes. I had to strong arm my shit. Now it’s on some, ‘yo I got that’. My phones went from like 20 beats a day, to 300. So when I get home, I have to go through 500-600 beats, put all the ones I like to the side. Then I start my process of working, which means I probably put them on CD; I drive around with them, I fuck with them, I grab titties to them, I make love to them… I go around the world with it. Then stuff comes out, concepts come out, rhymes start flowing, topics start spewing. I might watch the news and somebody pissed me off and I write about that, things just start coming, it’s continuous.

PN: The album is out on Soul Temple Records, which is RZA’s label. If the opportunity arose, would you ever sign to a major?
UG: It depends… I gotta take my family with me. I can’t fit in certain genres. My Wu fans won’t respect me if I got down with Drake and them… [Young Money]. I would have to be able to bring my ‘W’ wherever I go. I’ve got to always be under my ‘W’ and they have to be able to enhance what I already bring to the table. If they can do that, then I’m with it. I can’t get down with a Bad Boy; Puffy would have to make a totally different genre for me… Or Jermaine Dupri, I can’t be no So So Def; it would have to be So Wu Tang.

PN: Although it has been done, it must be difficult coming from such a unique and steadfast collective, to branch off commercially or otherwise?
UG: And our fans are biased. They don’t play that shit. Our fans are like, ‘oh you rhyme with that nigga? I ain’t respecting that, G’. They won’t respect me being on any track and it isn’t hard. I got to be on that hard shit. I understand my fans now. They want me to be a hardcore motherfucker.  They want me to be superhero/hardcore/bullet proof/grrrrrr.

PN: What about what you want?
UG: I love it. I’m cool with that. (Sings Superman theme tune) I’ll put my cape on for that shit. [Laughs]

PN: It’s also the 20th anniversary of Wu-Tang’s first album ’36 Chambers’ and you are currently touring together on the 20th Anniversary Tour…
UG: First of all, let me tell you some real shit. I’m always arguing that it’s not 20yrs. I feel like ’93-’94 is when we started popping. ’94 is when we went platinum. So we have one more year until we celebrate – to me anyway. Everyone is like ‘oh no man, its 20yrs’ and I’m like, ‘are you talking about when we got signed, or when we went platinum, because it took us a year to go platinum?’

PN: You are always welcome to come back on an anniversary tour next year.
UG: That’s what I’m talking about. These are arguments we have internally all the time. Not real arguments. Just discrepancies…[Laughs].

PN: Being an elder in the hip hop world, you must see other rappers doing things where you think…
UG: What the fuck were you thinking?

PN: Has it ever been so bad where you wanted to reach out to someone?
UG: I wanted to reach out to Gucci Mane, because he was going through the most problems. He didn’t seem to understand that once he became famous… they’re watching you. You got to chill, Dog. You’ve got. To. Chill.  That shit is over. All that wilding out and carrying guns… you can carry a gun where it’s legal, but with certain things… you got to fall back my G. I can’t do shit no more. As soon as I come out of the house, they’re on me ’whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop’. The fucking hip hop cops are on me everywhere I go! I can’t even get weed.

PN: Hip hop cops?
UG: New York City fucking Police Department are hired to follow rappers around. Giuliani or one of them niggas made it up. That’s when dudes were getting caught with burners and doing all kinds of stuff in the streets… and T.I…. T.I. is responsible for all that stupid ass shit. He got caught with all those machine guns. That’s what started all this shit. He got caught with all those machine guns and he fucked the game up [T.I.]. He is the reason why all this fucking heat is on rappers.

PN: Do all American states have this?
UG: Yes they do. They watch us everywhere we go. If it’s not them it’s the CIA, but that shit has been going on for years though. That ain’t brand new.

Visit PlanetNotion tomorrow for part two of U-God’s interview.

- Trina John-Charles

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