We’re on the top floor of a dilapidated Bushwick warehouse, where a music-video nightclub set has been roughly improvised. Behind us are piles of wood planks and steel ladders; ahead, cheap-looking high tables, exposed brick walls, Champagne flutes, brightly colored bottles of flavored alcohol, and a zebra-print bar counter. The action is focused on a poker game between a few pointedly attractive women in skintight dresses and thick bangs, a generic Euro-trash type in a tuxedo and a goatee, and Raekwon. It’s his music video — for the song “Our Dreams,” the first single off Wu Massacre, a full-length collaboration with his Wu-Tang Clan accomplices Ghostface Killah and Method Man — but we can’t take our eyes away from the stripper pole, situated at present just off the shot. As the camera rolls, a pair of “video girls” in sharp stilettos hang off it, one mindlessly watching the scene, the other smoking a cigarette, and both draped underneath the kind of fleece-lined Columbia jackets favored by Weather Channel reporters, shivering.
The next shot, a PA notifies the women, is the stripper pole. The music pipes in with the voice of a young Michael Jackson, from the track’s “We’re Almost There” sample. The fake strippers gamely remove their outerwear, displaying complicatedly revealing swimwear, and begin gyrating. It’s about as chilly inside the crumbling building as it is outside, and the small ring of onlookers — publicity reps, other reporters, guys in flannel and knit caps slugging camera cords around — are visibly impressed. Director Rik Cordero quickly signals that the shot’s captured, and the PA shouts out, “that’s a wrap for this one!” Everyone on the floor claps, and the fake strippers teeter off to their protective clothing. A guy in a Mets cap and a parka, watching them walk, leans over to us and mutters “callipygous.” What’s that, we ask? “It’s a polite way of saying, ‘You have a very nice ass.’”
Downstairs, while smoking a skinny blunt in a white tent functioning as a dressing room, Method Man talks about making music on the cheap. Wu Massacre was turned around quickly, going from “rumored” in the fall of 2009 to release at the end of this month, and Meth, Ghost, and Rae didn’t get to spend a lot of time in the studio together (some of the album was culled from preexisting unreleased material). “[Def Jam] didn’t give us any recording budget,” Meth says. “I don’t know what the new math is and shit, but hey, it is what it is. I just wish we had more time to really get into it.” He doesn’t come off bitter, though. “We took lemons, made lemonade.”
It’s just about time for Meth’s scene, being shot in an interrogation room setup on the second floor. The video’s a Se7en take-off, with Meth, Rae, and Ghost jointly playing the Kevin Spacey role as twisted serial killers committing heinous crimes (Ghost shot his part, in a jail cell set up on the other end of the floor, earlier in the day). A fake Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are chatting idly while waiting for Meth to show up; at one point fake-Freeman calls out, “Someone smoking that grass that’s why I’m a detective, I smell things.” Another viewing gallery has assembled, congregated around a busted-up couch set up behind the set, next to a drip in the rotted-through ceiling. The official Def Jam videographer shoots B-roll with a hand-held camera while a couple of cute hipster chicks and a guy from whatspoppin.net furiously snaps stills.
Meth ambles in, twirling an unlit Marlboro, and takes his seat at interrogation room desk. The detectives fall into a crude “good cop, bad cop” routine, with fake-Freeman weakly cajoling Meth (“You don’t know nothing?”) followed by fake-Pitt emphatically slamming down crime-scene photos and yelling things like “You’re cutting off noses now?” They run through the scene over and over, with the camera shifting from wide shots to close-ups, ending every time with the detectives walking out of the room in disgust. After about five or six takes, a bemused Method Man ad-libs, “A yo, get me some chicken wings while ya’ll at it?”
Raekwon’s still on set, gladly posing for photos with anyone who asks. He had a good 2009 with the release of his critically acclaimed solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II, and he’s understandably excited to keep the momentum going. When we catch up with him, he brushes off questions about the stresses of recording with no money, saying, “It’s just about the music right then. My thing is, anything to keep the limelight as a team. To show guys that Wu-Tang, seventeen, eighteen years later? We still here.”
Earlier, Meth mentioned he had originally pushed for a full-reunion album rather than the splinter group, but that it wasn’t coming together. (So, is that still in the cards, Meth? “I’m never the one to start those conversations. I leave that on RZA’s shoulders. Usually when he calls, everybody comes.”) Now it’s clear that Rae and Meth feel pride in maintaining relevance for the Wu name, even if it comes with a rush-job album and a music video shot in a hopefully condemned building. As they see it, they’ve stayed persistent and have upheld the Clan’s honorable tradition. “I can recall a couple of years back we had holes in our flags,” Rae says. “We had a dirty flag. Right now Wu Tang’s flag is looking pretty decent. It’s where it needs to be.”