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The nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan have each released solo albums, as well as performing under several subprojects with other Wu-Tang members, and others outside the Clan. This was the plan from the group's inception; the group would make them each famous enough to launch multiple side projects, and take over the hip-hop community through saturation of like-minded rappers.
The founders of the Wu-Tang Clan were GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard and RZA (who also formed the by-then-defunct All In Together Now Crew). The GZA is the de facto leader of the group, as well as being widely regarded as the best lyricist among the group. The RZA is the producer of the group's albums, as well as many of their solo projects. The group quickly became known for hardcore violence, thumping, surreal beats and a warped sense of humor, all filtered through allusions to ancient Chinese folklore, mythic legend and martial arts cinema. The two cousins (GZA and RZA) created their rap nom-de-plumes by mimicking the sound that the words Genius and Robert would make when scratched on a turntable.
Though there was some difficulty in finding a record label that would sign the Wu-Tang Clan while still allowing each member to record solo albums with other labels, Loud/RCA finally agreed and the debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers was a popular and critically-acclaimed album, though it took some time to gain momentum.
Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers did indeed establish the group as a creative and influential rap group in the early nineties (it was released in 1993), allowing GZA, RZA, Raekwon, Method Man and Ol' Dirty Bastard to negotiate solo contracts. The name comes from a mythical sword of Chinese folklore, supposedly wielded by a group of legendary warriors.
RZA was the first to follow up on the success of 36 Chambers with a side project. He founded the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul (a producer, most famous for De La Soul), Fruitkwan (of Stetsasonic) and Poetic (of the Brothers Grimm). The Gravediggaz released 6 Feet Deep in August of 1994. Method Man was the first member of Wu-Tang to hit stardom with his November 1994 solo album, Tical, produced by the RZA. Ol' Dirty Bastard found success soon after with Return to the 36 Chambers: the Dirty Version. 1995 saw well-received albums from Raekwon the Chef (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx) and GZA (Liquid Swords). Ghostface Killah released his own debut late, in 1996; it was critically acclaimed and is still widely considered one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums, Ironman.
With solo careers established, the Wu-Tang Clan came back together to release Wu-Tang Forever in June 1997. It was eagerly anticipated and entered the charts at number one. It featured the introduction of Cappadonna.
Cappadonna followed the group project with March, 1998's The Pillage. Killah Priest (an associate of the Clan, though not an official member) released Heavy Mental to great critical aclaim. The same year, 1998, Ol' Dirty Bastard began a long career of erratic behavior, landing him in both the headlines and jail on a regular basis. At the Grammy Awards, he drunkenly protested the Clan's loss (in Best Rap Album) by interrupting Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech. He then announced a name change to Big Baby Jesus, but never followed through. He was also arrested several times for a variety of offenses, including assault, making terrorist threats, shoplifting, wearing body armor after being convicted of a felony and possession of cocaine. He was also in trouble for missing multiple court dates. The whole Wu-Tang Clan also fell under suspicion as alleged leaders of a gun-running scheme between Staten Island and Steubenville, Ohio. The investigation never found significant evidence for the allegations.
In the midst of such problems, the Clan released yet more solo albums. RZA (Bobby Digital In Stereo), Method Man (Tical 2000: Judgement Day), GZA (Beneath the Surface), Ol' Dirty Bastard (Nigga Please), U-God (Golden Arms Redemption), Raekwon the Chef (Immobilarity), Ghostface Killah (Supreme Clientele) and Inspectah Deck (Uncontrolled Substance) released albums.
The market had been satuated with Wu-Tang products, though, and these albums didn't do as well, either popularly or critically. Method Man and ODB were still quite popular, and the critics still fawned over GZA and Ghostface Killah, but their sound was becoming heavily imitated (by others) and were no longer stars of hip hop.
In 2000 the group reconvened to make a new album: missing Ol' Dirty Bastard was in jail in California for violating the terms of his probation. Almost finished with rehab, Ol' Dirty Bastard escaped suddenly and spent one month as a fugitive before showing up onstage at the record release party for The W, the group's new album. Ol' Dirty Bastard managed to escape the club, but was captured by Philadelphia police and sent to New York to face charges of cocaine possession. In April, 2001, he was sentenced to two to four years in prison. 2001 also saw the release of Digital Bullet (the second RZA album released as Bobby Digital), Bulletproof Wallets (Ghostface Killah) and The Yin and the Yang (Cappadonna). The group's latest album (as a group) was 2001 Iron Flag, made without the participation of the still-incarcerated Ol' Dirty Bastard.
2003 and 2004 saw a spate of new releases, including new works by Cappadonna (The Struggle), Method Man (Tical 0: The Prequel), Ghostface Killah (who, in his new contract with Def Jam Records, changed his pseudonym to simply Ghostface, and released The Pretty Toney Album), Masta Killa (No Said Date), Shyheim the rugged child, and an untitled work by the ODB (recently released from prison, and now signed to Jay-Z and Damon Dash's Roc-a-Fella Records Label). It also gave rise to several rumours of a new group tour (which still circulate), and a public falling out of the RZA and U-God (widely regarded as the Clan's weakest rapper) over record sales, public promotional efforts, and other in-Clan issues.