A PERFECT COMPANION READ TO THE SHOWTIME DOCUMENTARY, WU-TANG CLAN: OF MICS AND MEN
Selected as a Best Book of the Year by Esquire
"Couldn't put it down." – Charlamagne Tha God
"Mesmerizing." – Raekwon da Chef
"Insightful, moving, necessary." – Shea Serrano
"Cathartic." –The New Yorker
"A classic." –The Washington Post
The explosive, never-before-told story behind the historicrise of the Wu-Tang Clan, as told by one of its founding members, Lamont "U-God" Hawkins.
“It’s time to write down not only my legacy, but the story of nine dirt-bomb street thugs who took our everyday life—scrappin’ and hustlin’and tryin’ to survive in the urban jungle of New York City—and turned that into something bigger than we could possibly imagine, something that took us out of the projects for good, which was the only thing we all wanted in the first place.” —Lamont "U-God" Hawkins
The Wu-Tang Clan are considered hip-hop royalty. Remarkably, none of the founding members have told their story—until now. Here, for the first time, the quiet one speaks.
Lamont “U-God” Hawkins was born in Brownsville, New York, in 1970. Raised by a single mother and forced to reckon with the hostile conditions of project life, U-God learned from an early age how to survive. And surviving in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s was no easy task—especially as a young black boy living in some of the city’s most ignored and destitute districts. But, along the way, he met and befriended those who would eventually form the Clan’s core: RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, and Masta Killa. Brought up by the streets, and bonding over their love of hip-hop, they sought to pursue the impossible: music as their ticket out of the ghetto.
U-God’s unforgettable first-person account of his journey,from the streets of Brooklyn to some of the biggest stages around the world, is not only thoroughly affecting, unfiltered, and explosive but also captures, invivid detail, the making of one of the greatest acts in American music history.
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STARTED OFF ON THE ISLAND
Growing up as hard, as rough, as wild, as crazy as we in Wu-Tang did, death was always a part of my life.
I remember the first time I saw somebody die. I was only about four or five years old. It was just me and my mother in the apartment. "Lovin' You" by Minnie Riperton was playing on a radio in the street. It seemed like whenever shit was going down, there was always music playing along with it.
Something was always happening in the Park Hill projects. I remember a commotion outside my window — I could barely reach the windowsill to look out to the street. A crowd was forming, making the uproar that drew my mother and me outside to see what was going on. By the time we arrived, the gathering had gotten bigger, so she put me up on her shoulders. I looked around the courtyard and up the street. All my neighbors, as well as half of 260 Park Hill Terrace, were outside.
Soon, the cops, firemen, and an ambulance showed up. A woman was standing on the roof of the project next door — 280 Park Hill — threatening to jump. She was pretty young, talking to herself and yelling down at everyone as the cops tried to talk her down off the ledge.
I remember staring up at her till my neck was stiff. I didn't understand what was going on or what was about to happen. At first, it seemed like she was going to be okay. She looked like she didn't really want to kill herself, but something still kept her from coming down off the ledge. I can still see her face — tormented, twisted in despair, her wide eyes staring down at the crowd seven stories below.
Then, without a word or warning that she'd had enough of making a spectacle, she jumped — or slipped and fell, I never knew which.
She flailed her arms for a second, then fell so fast I almost couldn't see her. She hit the fence first, then landed on the steps at the side entrance. Blood flew, people screamed, and the cops and paramedics ran up to the bleeding soon-tobe corpse. Everybody there, my mother and me included, just stood and stared at the body in shock and disbelief while they got her ready to be carted off.
I was a toddler, and already I'd seen death up close. The sound of her hitting the concrete steps would resonate with me forever. At the time, I couldn't understand what could make someone end their own life. As a five-year-old, you don't always recognize what you see, but I always felt like that was the moment that made me self-aware. It made me think of life and death for the first time. I was young as hell, but it made an impact on me.
* * *
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. If you really believe you can become a doctor, and you study to become a doctor, that's pure of heart.
Now, I became a songwriter, even though I had drugs and all that stuff in my world, and people was dyin', and I might have sold poison and all that, but underneath all that drama, I was still pure of heart. I never sold to a pregnant woman. I helped old ladies down the stairs. I still managed to keep my personal morals in an unrighteous setting. Even though I was doing wrong to get by, there were still lines I would not cross.
I know people that went through some hard shit, they were thieves or murderers, and then they changed their life around, got a job, had a family, and they got their shit together. Now, just because you killed someone, you might think you're done, man, you're gonna be fucked for the rest of your life. Not necessarily. Even if a person accidentally hurts somebody or they did a wrong deed, they can always correct their deeds by choosing to act on their pureness of heart. In other words, you choose a right path. You choose righteousness over negativity.
That's what I did.
* * *
My mother's from Brownsville, Brooklyn. She was raised in the same project building as Raekwon's mother, at 1543 East New York Avenue, in Howard Houses.
The Brownsville projects were the wildest, period. Ask anybody from New York City what part of Brooklyn is the roughest, they're gonna say Brownsville.
Some projects you could walk through. Some you couldn't. At its worst, you couldn't walk through Brownsville. You couldn't walk through Fort Greene or Pink Houses either. The tension and violence was always in the air in those places. Guaranteed there was gonna be fights topped off with a few people getting cut or stabbed, and even back then there might have been a shooting or two. Someone would probably end up dead by the end of the ruckus. That's why I don't like going back to my old projects nowadays; I feel like the spirits of my old comrades are calling to me. They're still haunting the projects they hustled at and got killed in.
When I was a kid, there was always someone looking to rob your sneakers, your coat, anything they could get their hands on. They would steal your fucking sneakers right off your feet. Back then, if you wore gold chains and shit, you better know how to shoot or how to fight. And the cops wouldn't really do shit to prevent a crime or deal with it after the fact. They just didn't care.
And when they actually did get involved, a lotta time it turned out worse for us. During the early seventies, law enforcement had no regard for life. My grandmother told me on more than one occasion that the cops in the Seventy-third Precinct in Brownsville were killing people in the neighborhood. She and a lot of her friends and family claimed that people would get escorted in, handcuffed and bleeding, and they would never be seen again. Guess the cops put them under the jail — literally. That's how treacherous it was in Brownsville.
Just getting in and out of the neighborhood was an adventure. My mother got her pocketbook snatched four or five times right in front of me. She had to call the police to escort us from the train station to my grandmother's building on several occasions because a group of kids were waiting on the corner to snatch the few dollars she had.
Each project or street had at least one gang or crew. You couldn't walk from one block to the next if you didn't know the right people. Thugs would come right off the stoop and get in your face. "Who you coming here to see? Why you think it's okay for you to walk through my block if I don't know you?" The local gang, dressed in Kangols, Pumas, and Adidas tracksuits, hung around the bus stop near the Chinese restaurant on Pitkin Avenue. At the time, Pitkin Avenue was the shopping area in Brownsville. It was full of clothing stores, had OTB (Off-Track Betting), and dudes would be retailing stuff on the corner. There was also a slaughterhouse where they used to slaughter chickens. My grandmother would take me over there, and there would be chickens in a cage, and she'd get fresh chicken cut from the butcher.
We were always leery of these dudes, just like we were any time we went anywhere in the projects. I remember seeing them chillin' one time as some guy came riding toward them on a ten-speed. One of the gangsters came out of nowhere and whacked him over the head with a pipe, then took the bike and went and sat down on the bench. We just kept walking like we didn't see anything. No one else did anything or reacted, even though the dude who got hit was lying there twitching and bleeding.
My craziest Brownsville memory, though, involves Mike Tyson, who came from Brownsville. This was back in the seventies, before he was the world champion or had even started boxing. I was about eight years old, holding my mother's hand, walking down Pitkin Avenue by the OTB, when this dude came by and snatched my mother's earrings right off her earlobes. Left her with bloody ears and everything and just took off.
I was too young to remember exactly what he looked like at the time, but years later, when Tyson started getting famous, my mother saw him on TV and swore, "That's the guy who snatched my earrings!" It sounds crazy, and of course I don't have any proof, but that didn't stop me from fantasizing as a kid that a slew of Brooklynites and even some Manhattanites could say the same thing about the World Champ.
* * *
I don't know who my father is or where he comes from; I wish I could find out more about him. A big part of why I don't know much about him is because of how I was conceived.
My mother probably wouldn't want me to bring this up, because she hates me talking about it, but I was a product of rape. I was a rape baby. She told me my father had tricked her into believing he was a photographer and wanted her to model for him. He told her she was a natural beauty and all this other fly shit. He lured her to a spot and took advantage of her. She never pressed charges and never even reported it.
The only person who could have told me more about him was my mother's friend Carol. Carol used to be pretty good-looking back in her Brooklyn days. She liked to party and used to hang around with my father and the dudes he ran with. She was on drugs and eventually contracted HIV. She had a brain aneurysm and is currently in a mental ward in Brooklyn. She doesn't remember a goddamn thing now. Needless to say, she's not much help to me as far as learning about my dad.
When I was around ten years old, I remember asking about my father a lot, but Moms wouldn't tell me anything. She didn't tell me about him until I was a grown man. I'd been asking off and on for years, though. My dad was the missing piece of my whole life.
"Who's my dad though, Ma? Who is my dad?"
"God is your father!" she would always reply.
Finally, when I was twenty-one, she got into some of the details. She also explained why she kept me. She told me that one night, God came to her in a dream and told her not to abort this child, that I was gonna be a great man someday, so she kept me. That dream solidified her spirituality, her connection with God. My moms is real spiritual, I mean like super spiritual, so she always points out how it's funny that my name turned out to be U-God. "And now look at you," she told me once, as if confirming that the dream had been right.
She always emphasized that she never regretted having me, even during the tough times we went through. The way I see it, you've got to be a compassionate individual to love a child conceived the way I was.
When she told me, I was shocked. The average person, even if born accidentally, is still often born out of love, and to know I'd been brought into the world like that really rocked me. The whole situation seemed like a fluke accident — after all, my mother wasn't looking to get pregnant at the time, and certainly not by no fly-by-night photographer/rapist. But I had to accept that that was how I'd been born and that it wasn't going to stop me from being great.
Yet make no mistake, I'm the product of both my parents. I have the side that comes from my mother, like her good heart, but I also got my father's hustle. My father's side — I know my mother doesn't have it — must be where I get my internal drive from. Nobody else in my family has it, so it had to come from my father.
To this day, I have no idea where my pops is at. Even if I wanted to find him, I have no idea where to start looking. Those little bits Moms told me when I was older are all I really know about him. I want to know who he is, what else we have in common. Even though he tricked my mother, I was still his son. What features did I get from him? What habits? What disorders? Just a whole lot of questions I'll never know the answers to.
* * *
For the first twelve years of my life, it was just me and my mom. We were always close. She raised me from a boy into the respectable man I am now, and did it on her own during the Ed Koch era, some of the wildest times New York City has ever seen.
The 1970s, '80s, and '90s were probably the city's most violent times. Even before crack hit, NYC was teetering on bankruptcy. A lot of social programs got slashed, if not cut from the city's budget altogether.
All five boroughs had violent neighborhoods. Muggings, robberies, rape, assaults, and murders were all too common. You couldn't ride the train too late. Before crack, heroin was flowing, coke was flowing. Pimps, prostitutes, corrupt cops; all the New York City clichés were present and thriving.
Growing up, you always had to be aware of your surroundings. In the ghetto, in the projects, in those types of high-risk, high-violence parts of town, you always have to be aware, 'cause things could jump off at any moment. Like when I'm in the hood, I'm around these crazy motherfuckers. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm down with these motherfuckers, but it means I have to be aware what they're doin', 'cause if they're fuckin' around and I'm standing nearby, next thing you know my motherfucking head might get blown off by some motherfucker trying to get someone he got beef with.
So you grew up watching shit. You always had to be aware. You had the bullies to watch out for. You always had to be on point. And to this day it's like that for a black man living in a poverty-stricken area. It ain't the fact that you're involved in shit —'cause often you ain't doin' anything — it's that you're so confined and so closed off in an urban box, that you have to be aware of everyone and everything around you at all times.
What a lot of people really don't understand is how growing up like that changes a person for the rest of their life. I'm changed right now. It fucked me up, and I'm never going to be the same. I don't have any close friends. I can't have friends from Park Hill no more. I can't deal with those dudes. I can't deal with certain shit on the streets. I can't be around certain people. Why? Because now I'm slashed. I'm always mentally aware of certain situations that I wasn't aware of before. So I had to cut a lot of that stuff out of my life.
* * *
Eventually we left Brooklyn for Staten Island, and ended up in Park Hill.
In the late 1970s, welfare housing on the Island was going for a good rate. It was a chance for my mother and Raekwon's mother to move out of Brownsville, and at first Park Hill was nice. When we got there, it was a working-class neighborhood and still a community. There were buzzers on the lobby doors. There was grass behind the buildings. The school was right down the block.
I mean, I still grew up in the notorious Park Hill projects. But back when we first arrived, Park Hill and most of Clifton and even nearby Stapleton had all just undergone urban renewal. It was a predominantly black population, and the neighborhood still looked newish, so things didn't seem so rough.
Park Hill is privately owned, but federally subsidized. That's a bad combination, because the federal government guarantees the owners that the residents' rent will be paid. That sounds good, but not if the rent still gets paid whether repairs are made and upkeep maintained or not.
Still, at first, it wasn't too bad. It was still a housing complex and rugged, but you had a fifty-fifty chance of walking through or near it and not getting fucked with by the locals. But then things started getting broken, and they wouldn't get fixed for months, and sometimes not at all. As a result of the owners' neglect, Park Hill began getting worse and worse.
* * *
But I didn't see all that at the time. In a lot of ways, I had experiences like a lot of regular American kids. And there was a lot that was different, too.
I was a latchkey kid from the age of six or seven, which meant I was home alone, with no parental supervision, every day. Mom gave me the apartment key so I could let myself in after school, and "YOU DON'T ANSWER THE DOOR OR THE PHONE FOR ANYBODY!"
I'd have a babysitter when my mother could afford it. But there were slim pickings for good babysitters, and I went through a lot of them.
I remember one of my babysitters. She was a good person who kept a clean house and cared for me. She would give me my lunch and make sure I did my homework. She had two daughters, and all three of them would babysit me at her apartment. But she was also a straight-up heroin addict.
One day I walked into the living room at their place, and saw her shooting heroin right on the couch. Her hands were all swollen with needle holes, but at the time I didn't know what they were from. I can still see them now. Her boyfriend and a couple other folks I'd never seen before were there, too, all shooting that shit up.
Excerpted from "RAW"
Copyright © 2018 Lamont "U-God" Hawkins.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Started Off on the Island 5
2. Growing Up on the Crime Side 20
3. RUUUUMBLEEE!! 28
4. The 5 Percenters 35
5. Hip-Hop Was Our Way of Life 42
6. Crack Hits the Hill 66
7. It’s Yourz 94
8. Cash Rules Everything Around Me 108
9. Enter the Wu-Tang 131
10. Turbulence 139
11. On the Inside 148
12. Headed Up North 160
13. When You Come Home 172
14. Saber-tooth Tiger in the Booth 187
15. The Night the Earth Cried 198
16. Redemption 204
17. Tour Life 227
18. Cracks in the Foundation 264
19. The Legacy 286
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great read with insight on early New York and the hip hop scene !