Exclusive: U-God opens up about his life, including hardships, great times and says he has an "untold story" that will appear on "Keynote Speaker" and a new book he's writing.
With a group of nine members, it’s hard for any one to stand out. If anyone’s listened to Wu-Tang Clan for any period of time, they know the guy with the low-sounding voice is U-God, and his rhymes are always short and straight to the point. One could make the same conclusions about his beliefs. The Shaolin (Staten Island) native has always been one to give his honest opinion about any topic, controversial or not.
Talking with HipHopDX recently, the Universal God opened up about his hardships and how those will all be revealed soon. He also states that his upcoming fourth studio album, Keynote Speaker is the culmination of his whole musical body and could be his most complete solo album to date.
“I feel like Keynote Speaker is the master booth heart of work that I’ve put out right now,” he said. “If you liked [Golden Arms Redemption], you definitely going to like Keynote Speaker.”
When asked about what the current vibe is like in Wu-Tang Clan, U-God said that a few members are “disgruntled” and that he doesn’t like to get “emotional” about things that happen between men.
“I’m gonna tell you the truth man. I can’t be worried about all that man,” U-God said. “I come from an era—if you can’t get up and do it, somebody else is going to do it for you bruh. So I’m not going to kick and scream about nothing.
From the days of Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers to now, U-God has changed a lot.
“I feel like I knew everything back then,” U-God proclaims as one of Shaolin’s nine swordsmen recalls his journey from being a young kid getting “bullied” to a Staten Island legend.
U-God Explains His Growth Since “Dopium”
HipHopDX: What’s been up with U-God recently maybe not even musically?
U-God: Well, I’m just kind of putting my credit together…family issues. My son graduated from college and things like that. I’m just trying to get a grasp of where I’m at in life, what I’m going to be doing in the next some odd years and trying to figure out what direction I’m headed to.
DX: Keynote Speaker is next up for you later this month. This is your first album since Dopium. What can fans expect from you on this one?
U-God: Oh, this is fire! I tried to step it up a notch every time I put out a new record, and this one is like a brand new baby, man. It has legs, and it’s going to stand up on its own. It’s really deep, and it’s really good, man—more or less, I’m just happy with it. If you want good, Hood Rap rhymes, it’s on there…banging beats and Wu-sounding shit is on there. I’ve got Method Man, Deck, GZA and my man Jackpot on there. I’ve got RZA production on there; he executive produced it. I’ve got mashed potatoes and gravy, Styles P on there. It’s all in there…good money.
DX: Yeah Styles P is always one of those guys who’s affiliated with Wu-Tang, and also obviously the other members. You’ve always been one of those guys that have put out solid solo music, even Dopium was great. What is the difference between something that we’re used to like a Dopium or even 8 Diagrams and what’s coming with Keynote Speaker?
U-God: Well, with Dopium, I’m going to let them do the publicity on that record. I just threw it out there. I kind of—I was going through a time where I didn’t know where to go—and I was trying to feel it out. I have so much music in my corner or in my circle, and at that time I didn’t know where to go. What I did was, when I put out Dopium, it kind of gave me a foundation of where to go, and that’s what I put on Keynote Speaker. It’s like, “OK, I finally know what my fans want from me.”
I can’t do what somebody else is doing. I can only do what the fans want from me, which is hard-body rhymes and raw shit. I didn’t put any club bangers on this one. As a matter fact, I think I might have one, but I didn’t make it like, “This is a club banger.” I didn’t make it like that. I just do what I do. Now I know exactly what they want from me, and I gave it to ‘em with this Keynote Speaker. That’s why I called it Keynote Speaker, because I’m stepping to the podium, and I’m giving you a speech. You know how President Obama goes to the podium? Keynote Speaker, that’s what I’m doing. That’s basically what it’s about.
DX: You recently released the song for “Heads Up,” which features GZA and Jackpot. Is this the kind of tone and feel we’re going to be getting from the album, and how did this one specifically come together?
U-God: Well, I can’t say that “Heads Up” is the tone, because that tone is for Wu-Tang fans; that’s what they wanted. They want that raw, hardcore, and I know what they want. My last record confirms about what they wanted, and all I’m doing is giving them what they want. That track came together because I heard the beat, and I was like, “Wow that’s an awesome fucking beat.” Jackpot Scott Rock is a godfather of Park Hill where I came from. So I had to go get him, because he’s a certified street legend when it comes to rhyming. I get him, and I already know when Genius rhyming—he and Genius used to rhyme together back in the day—so I’m kind of like the Oreo cookie. I’m in between the middle of the greats.
It’s the monument of it, because Jackpot made up rhymes when we was kids. We was nine or 10 years old, and we was looking up to Jackpot. He was one of the other prophets on Staten Island at the time, and he disappeared and came back years later. I ain’t seen him in years, and when I ran into him, I wanted to see if he still had it. And sure enough, this motherfucker still got it; he didn’t lose one motherfucking step. As a matter of fact, he got 10 times better, so it’s like his wordplay is phenomenal. Sometimes I be blown the fuck away like, “How the fuck do you think of that?” You’ll see—we’re working on some stuff. He got this record where he’s basically saying that time doesn’t matter to him. He can comment whenever he wants to comment, and he’s just so dope like that. And you already know what Genius going to do with it, so it’s all good man; it’s a good combination.
U-God On His Dealings With RZA & Fellow Wu Members
DX: Speaking of the Wu element of the album—RZA is the executive producer—and I think a lot of people are excited about it. What does it mean to have him as a guide behind the boards and overseeing this project?
U-God: You know, I love that nigga, so we do what we do. It’s hard for me to even answer that, because it just seems so normal. It’s like taking a footstep, you know your legs are moving but it’s unconscious [laughs].
DX: Meth, Deck, and GZA, are all on the album. What’s the vibe like in the Clan right now?
U-God: Me personally, B, I’m gonna tell you the truth, man. I can’t be worried about all that man. I come from an era—if you can’t get up and do it, somebody else is going to do it for you, bruh. So I’m not going to kick and scream about nothing.
The music game is not like the streets. If somebody got some beef with you or somebody owe you some money, you can’t just go and punch that nigga in the face and get you some money. You’ve gotta take that nigga to court in front of a judge, and the judge has to mediate the situation, and he’s got to accept the damage and the laws of the county that you in to govern. That’s what’s going to happen with the outcome. So I can’t get caught up in the hooplah of how people feel and emotional shit, ‘cause I’m trying to be less emotional as I get older. A lot of black men out here are fucking emotional girls, and I just can’t say black men cause a lot of men are emotional period and emotional for no god damn reason. So I’m trying to stop being so emotional, just do what I got to do and just be like, “Alright, what’s the solution? Alright here’s the problem, what’s the solution?” And that will just counteract all the emotion.
Because now, the emotional motherfucker can’t even talk ‘cause he’s still stuck on business, so when we say, “What’s the solution?” The emotional human being gets shut down and then goes back to doing the same emotional shit again. He says about five sentences and then goes back to being emotional again. And when they do that, you say, “What’s the solution?” These people walk away from the situation and move over here ‘cause they going to them as an emotional wreck. That’s it, man. I keep it moving.
DX: I mean, anyone who is in a group that large for that amount of time, there’s naturally going to be some disagreements at times…
U-God: Of course!
DX: Next year marks the 15-year mark for Golden Arms Redemption. You were one of the last members of Wu to drop a solo album too. Does it seem like it’s been that long since you dropped that project, and what were some of your best memories from putting that one out?
U-God: That album was hell [laughs], ‘cause you know, that’s a gold record by the way. That went gold, and what I would say is that was kind of my learning experience with being in the studio. To tell you the truth, I kind of put that record together myself. I mean, nobody really helped me put that record together, and I was kind of bitter at that too. At the time I was kind of mad at that, but at the same time, later on I realized that, “Wow, I’ve learned. I’ve become an apprentice to music.”
I learned so much from being in the studio about being in the studio, and I use that to this day. I use my learnings, my teachings and everything that I’ve made and created. I use that today, and that’s my reference point like, “Wow, I’m glad I went through that.” Now, it’s all about once you get something, it’s about mastering your shit. It’s about mastering your craft whether you’re a carpenter, rhymer, journalist, photographer, actor, basketball player, whatever, etcetera, etcetera. Whatever you do in life, it’s about mastering that craft, and that’s what I’m about right now. I feel like Keynote Speaker is the master booth heart of work that I’ve put out right now. It’s like one of my top-notch masterings. If you like [Golden Arms Redemption], you definitely going to like Keynote Speaker. Dopium was kind of my comeback. Dopium was kind of like, “OK he still got it.” This one right here is going to fuck you up, and be like, “OK he’s back.” And like I said, I’m constantly trying to master my craft, and it drives you crazy when you a master. It’s like Michelangelo and Picasso. One of them niggas cut they ear off, so like shit drives you crazy when you’re trying to be a master or when you’re trying get perfection at what you do. And I hope I can survive this shit, because I am going crazy as we speak [laughs].
Why U-God Thinks Hip Hop Has Gotten “Pillowcase Soft”
DX: One thing that is always great with Wu-Tang is that you are all so different musically, but have so much to offer. I always love the gritty and deep voice that you lay down over those boom bap beats. That seems to be what most expect from you when you do a track. What do you think is the best attribute you offer to Rap not just in Wu-Tang but overall?
U-God: Right now, I’m the hardest motherfucker. I am hard. You want hardcore shit, I’m that motherfucker, and there’s no soft shit on here. This is for hard motherfuckers, and if you want that bang ya head Punk Rock shit, I’m ya man. If you want rebel music, I’m ya man. You want to go against the machine, I’m ya dude. I’m that hardcore motherfucker, and that’s what I bring to Hip Hop. Ain’t nobody hardcorer than me. I ain’t on no soft shit here.
DX: Well, do you think that Hip Hop in general has taken a step to the softer side or the less street element side?
U-God: It got soft; it got pillowcase, yeah. It’s like a pillow right now, and right now, you need that dose of hardness. It needs Yin and Yang, and it can’t just be one way. You can’t just be one way all the time. It has to be soft and hard. You’ve got to have a mixture of soft niggas, and you’ve got to have a mixture of hard niggas. That’s the way the universe go, you need Yin and Yang, you need opposites—positive and negative electrons. You need both of those shits to make electricity energy in the world and turn the lights on. So you need that balance, and I feel like we keep getting that soft shit, and that’s why sales are diminishing. The hardcore niggas—they ain’t getting fed, and on some real shit, there’s more hard motherfuckers on the low.
There’s more people out here struggling and going through hardships than there are people living that luxury and fluff life. I’m trying to cater to the hardcore, struggling motherfuckers that’s going through it and might feel the same way that I’m feeling at this time right now. And if you into that hardcore shit, you’re into breaking ya neck, bussing niggas upside they head or having a good ol’ fucking time and living that hard life shit, Keynote Speaker is the album for you, bruh.
DX: It’s the 20th anniversary of Enter The Wu: 36 Chambers and looking back to that album to now, how much have you grown as a person? How much has your life changed since then?
U-God: Man, I feel like I knew everything back then. Turned out, I ain’t know shit, and it went behind the ears. I knew about certain things, but I didn’t really know the full content of the world. Right now, I’m seeing everything, and it’s scaring me [laughs]. I’m like, “Whoa…oh, wow! I didn’t know, wow now I know. OK fine, fine. I’m over here, fellas. Everything’s cool.” My eyes is open, and I can be everything now. You can’t sneak up on me no more; it ain’t happening.
U-God Details His Plans For An Autobiography
DX: Sure, and what’s coming up for you in the immediate future—not even just with the album but even other things?
U-God: I’m gonna write my book, and it is incredible. My life story is going to blow your fucking mind. That’s number one. Number two is, I’m probably going to do a couple of flicks with RZA…do some movies and shit, whatever whatever. Number three, I’m going to put out more music. I’m going to keep putting out more music, ‘cause that’s just what I do. I like being in-studio.
I have so much shit to talk about and issues and concepts that’ll keep pouring out. And after this day, I hope to sit back like Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger and them niggas and leave behind a legacy and be like, “Wow, they really did it man.” It’s going to be a beautiful day. People can go to my grave. I’m going to leave it in my will that when they bury me, put a smile on my face.
DX: You mention the book, what exactly does that all entail?
U-God: Well, there’s an untold story that needs to be told, ‘cause if there was a real story Rae and Ghost would have told it already. They don’t have a story to tell, but I got the story to tell. It’s about my journey, what went on before Wu-Tang, what it was like growing up on Staten Island, what I was into, how deep I was into it and how things transpired.
I’m a legend. If you poll Staten Island right now, they know. I was the prince of Staten Island. You go through the history and don’t mention U-God, you can’t talk about Staten Island. I don’t glorify none of the shit I did back then, I don’t glorify violence, none of that. But I lived a life of hardships, trials, tribulations, struggle and overcoming adversity to get here to talk to you. I have to put it in a book to let the kids know what I went through. When you hear my story—from my birth to where I’m at right now—you gonna be crying; you gonna be laughing. It’s all that.
It’s going to be all the drama. One thing people talk about in Hip Hop, it always goes from here to drug-selling, but there’s a missing part in there. I have that part that people don’t really talk about that needs to be talked about. [I talk] about how we grew up in the streets and how it’s different for these kids now. They don’t experience nothing because the games, the Xbox, Playstation or the computer took the experiences away from the streets.
They talk about bullying like bullying is brand new; bullying has been out forever. You supposed to get bullied growing the fuck up. I’m saying like, “What the fuck is this?” I’m on the computer like “Ah bullying…bullying!” Are you fucking kidding me? If it wasn’t for bullying, I wouldn’t know how to punch a nigga in the face. I wouldn’t even know how to defend myself, so that was a part of growing up. And it’s like, y’all taking that away from everybody. This society is not going to be perfect, man. Even the people that run the world know it’s not going to be perfect, but we try.
The key is that we try; we try to keep it perfect ,but the system is always going to have flaws. But it’s there, and it provides necessities like food, clothes and shelter if you’re willing to put in the work to get the job and fit into the system. So it’s a different time. So I’ve got to tell them about a time when there was no cell phones, and you had to operate without a cell phone. You had to call them at the house, leave them a message and they get right back to you. And we were communicating perfectly fine without them.
So at this time, there’s no experiences for them to go through to talk about, and that’s going to have an effect on the music also. That’s why when I write my rhymes, it’s a little more graphic. I have an experience that I went though, and I can tell you how it feels to be in a gunfight. I can really tell you how it feels to describe that shit. I’ve seen death, and I’ve seen people jump of roofs to they demise. I’ve seen all types of shit growing up man, so it’s… Man you have no idea. My book is going to be crazy, and it’s going to blow your mind, bruh. It’s going to be my therapy, ‘cause I have to pour it out. I have to. It’s not going to be fiction, it’s going to be fact. It’s going to be true story and it’s going to be what it’s going to be.