The year was 1993 and the world was about to be changed by nine kids from Staten Island. They created The Wu-Tang Clan and on November 9th, 1993 they dropped the now classic album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). This album was the beginning of what grew to be a cultural dynasty that included music, movies, television, comic books, video games, a clothing line, and many other projects.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s latest project is a video display/art exhibition, a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of that first album. The project has gathered some of the hottest artists working today to create pieces paying homage to the mighty Wu-Tang Clan. These works display the influence the Wu has had on American culture and on the artists themselves. This exhibit is on display at the Wallplay gallery, an interactive art/video gallery located at 118 Orchard Street in New York City, and will be traveling to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California later this year.
I grew up on the Wu-Tang Clan, enjoying their music and their influence, so it was my pleasure and honor to have a conversation with Oliver “Power” Grant, founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan and curator of the WUHA (Wu-Tang Hybrid Arts) 20/20 Exhibit.
Pantone: The first question is pretty easy, but at the same time, it’s pretty tough. What is your favorite color and why?
Grant: My favorite color? Damn. That is a tough one. What is my favorite color? I would say red is one of my favorite colors because red, no matter what, always pops. You can do a lot of things with red. It’s flaming. It’s fire. It’s hot. It’s bright.
Pantone: In reference to the Wu-Tang, black and gold has always been the main color scheme correct?
Grant: No, I would say the initial colors were black and like a burnt orange, if you remember.
Pantone: Why those colors?
Grant: I think that’s just the way it worked out. If you remember and you go back to the Enter The 36 Chambers cover, you see the black mausoleum, monastery look with the guys with the hoods and the ski masks on. But then, if you look to the sides, you could actually see the burnt orange flames coming off of the candles. So from that point, it was really Halloweeny. It was more or less like a burnt orange with the black.
Pantone: Would you say now that black and yellow are the colors of the Wu?
Grant: Now I would say it evolved to more or less the black and yellow, the black and gold. The reason behind it was the black and yellow was for the killer bees (a popular alias used by the Wu-Tang Clan to describe all of the members and fans). And then the black and gold was used to sexy it up because the gold is the honey. The black and gold gave it a more exclusive look, while the black and yellow was more for the masks of the killer bees.
Pantone: What made you want to celebrate the twentieth anniversary with an art exhibition? Most hip hop artists and labels usually celebrate with typical tactics such as album rereleases, re-mastered versions of the albums, parties, and rereleased videos. I have never heard of a brand creating an art exhibition to celebrate an anniversary.
Grant: The art exhibition came in two ways for me. First of all, I did my first art show, which the theme of it was black and yellow and the title of it was Through The Womb. I did that show about three years ago at Gallery 151. That was the first art show that I did and that show was actually my first foray into the art world. I made that show kind of like Protect Your Neck (the first song ever released by the Wu-Tang Clan, where each of the nine members introduced themselves to the world), so each artist got to come in, do their thing and show their representation of the Wu-Tang Clan, regardless of who they were. There was no nepotism, no friends or family, just talent. They got to show and prove their talent. Every piece had to in some way reflect Wu, it could not just be whatever the artist wanted to do. They had to incorporate Wu into their piece somehow and that was what qualified the art to be in the show. I did that show about three years ago and subsequently, for the last year and a half, I had been anticipating the 20 year anniversary of Wu-Tang. Obviously, like you just said, the natural thing would have been to re-release, repackage the Enter The 36 Chambers album, actually have the guys record a new album, do the tour, all the basic typical stuff. But, with so many guys, the evolution of the game, and age coming into play that plan didn’t work out for November 9th. So me, being on my job and making the contributions that I make in my seat as Wu-Tang, I had already started developing a series of things that I would be able to do, regardless of if the guys actually made that album or not. Because, I felt like the twentieth anniversary was an important milestone, not only for the marks that we made in the game and the contributions that we’ve given the game , but at the same token, a matter of paying respect and homage to the fans that supported us over these last twenty years. You can’t have a twenty-year anniversary and not rightfully give back to the people who have given you so much. My thing, as executive producer of the Wu-Tang Clan and founder of the Wu-Tang Clan, along with my brother the RZA and the Wu, this was a necessary duty. It was second nature and something that had to be done. I needed to do it for the anniversary and homage, but I also had to exercise my capabilities and things that I have added on over the years. I felt that leaving the date as a blank spot, regardless of the album or not, would have been neglectful on my part. So, I chose to make sure that certain things that I was embarking on still showed up and had the light of day to give us another day.
Pantone: Did you select the artists personally?
Grant: Yes, I selected pretty much all of the artists in one way or another. I curated the show with my partner Laura O’Reily, who is actually the same young woman I worked with doing the Gallery 151 show. We had a relationship from that show that basically extended into an idea that we had been talking about over the years and this was the perfect opportunity and the perfect time to shed that light and have people pay attention to it.
Pantone: How do you feel the reaction has been?
Grant: I love it. I love it. For one, it’s a testament to the Wu-Tang Clan and the Wu’s family’s reach and influence on the people for people to even be willing to do stuff like that. So, it’s a testament to both the greatness of the Clan and a testament to the greatness of the fans, the people that believe in the Wu.
My conversation with Oliver “Power” Grant continued for over an hour and ranged from favorite albums to the future plans for the Wu-Tang Clan and their dynasty. He allowed me to pick his brain about the influence of color and how it has related to the Wu Tang Clan and their dynasty. He also explained the thought process behind celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Wu with an art exhibit and what went into the selection of the artists and the pieces that are included in the gallery.
I would like to thank Power for taking time out of a hectic day to speak with me (as we concluded, CNN was arriving to conduct another interview with him). I would also like to thank Cynamin Jones, brand manager for the Wu-Tang Clan for arranging the interview. Lastly thank you to Eddie Pena for editing the video of the interview and Christian Cabello for photographing the event. By adding visual art to the already extensive list of Wu-Tang affiliated projects, “Power” is guaranteeing that the Wu Tang will indeed be here forever. Peace.