Method Man: Still Smokin'
METHOD MAN – STILL SMOKIN'
By Addi Stewart
The first King of New York of the 90's, Method Man has returned in 2006 to clear the air. Contrary to popular (new jack) belief, Clifford Smith is not outta here, and neither is the Wu-Tang Clan. Their swords are still sharper than the average savage rapping today, and their music still maintains that true school East Coast Wu-banger aesthetic, in times where the producers (and regions represented) on your album determine your success as much as your lyrics, if not more.
Wu-Tang Clan has been the most revolutionary group of hip hop heads to ever swarm our culture and take no prisoners in their bid for rap world supremacy, with the mysteriously marvelous debut "Enter the 36 Chambers", and the unparalleled sonic juggernaut "Wu-Tang Forever", amongst many other classic solo albums. Even though the 'Shiny Suit era' of the mid/late 90's somewhat distracted the masses from the music of the rap crew that proclaimed they were "the dirtiest thing in sight", the Wu-Tang Clan still was nothing to fuck with. Reunited on "The W" and "Iron Flag", Wu-Tang continued to make that kung fu rap magic, as the solo members sought to get in where they fit in, in the post-millenial madness that became modern rap culture. "Tical 0: The Prequel" existed as proof that the Johnny Blaze (and by extention, the rest of the Staten Island supermen) was not gone, he just was fighting different battles, internally and externally. Even when Method Man's star status was at its least luminescent, (arguably during Fox's corporate-tampered "Method and Red" show) he was still witty and unpredictably talented with natural game, and still representing hip hop as best he could, considering the demands of his fame and his contractual circumstances. Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter became the President of Def Jam between Method Man's third and fourth solo album, bringing a bit of both turmoil and triumph to the "new" Def Jam. Hip hop culture itself has changed a whole lot since Method Man was collaborating with Redman on every hot beat and with every hot artist of the day. Most educated people think it has gotten worse, including Method Man. So, after the stratospheric status he had in the days of 'How High' staying in heavy rotation on MTV somehow turning into the shameful state of affairs that sees Method Man's new album be released without a video, Method Man uses his liner notes to address his current struggle for respect like a true master would: "I would like to thank the industry for inspiration. Because the day you stopped believing in me was the day I started believing in myself!"
On tour promoting his fourth Def Jam solo LP "4:21: The Day After", one of the strongest albums of the year, I catch him on the phone while in Arizona, as we speak about why rap is so outta control. Method Man has had some notoriously confrontational interviews recently, and for good reason. Modern media's influence on the opinion and thoughts (and purchasing habits) of the masses' love and/or hate for any particular artist is overwhelming, and Meth has something important to "Say" about it all. You may have entered the 36 Chambers in 1993, but its 2006 and a lot has changed in hip hop, and with the Ticallion Stallion. You still don't know him and you don't know his style, so do the Knowledge, God.
Method Man is at a crossroads he never should have been traveling towards. Connecting to an unprecedented new generation of hip hop heads, who all claim to be down with the culture, yet seem to be strangely disconnected and uninterested in the past, and all the music that got us here. Wu-Tang Clan, the collective, is not currently signed to any major label, and hasn't been since Loud Records dissolved. They do have the newly established Wu-Tang Corp. to continue doing business independently, with as much organized force as could be learned from being a part of the mainstream marketplace for over a decade. The Iron Flag of the Wu-Tang Clan has not yet touched the ground, and at least one more family album will thankfully be created for hip hoppers worldwide. It's absolutely vital to the culture. Yet, as Method Man says "we're by ourselves. After the tour, I'm going into the studio with [RZA]." And when I ask how the album is going to be released, Method Man said bluntly: "However RZA want to do it." It's unfortunate to think that so many classic characters in the legacy of hip hop music would have such difficulty continuing to release their music on a worldwide scale: only Raekwon, Ghostface and Method Man are signed to major label deals (Aftermath, Def Jam, and Def Jam, respectively). GZA is to come out on Babygrande, Masta Killa is on Nature Sounds, Inspectah Deck released 'Resident Patient' on Urban Icon Records, U-God is releasing his own music, RZA is mostly scoring movies these days (yet still making 2006 Wu-bangers). Ol' Dirty Bastard is overseeing us all now. Can it be that it was all so simple in 1993? Method Man actually humbles himself to objectively question all hip hop's problems on his new album by stating:
"Is it me, or is it these niggaz in it for cheese
Is it me, all my enemies hating on Killa Beez
Is it me, or is it me that ain't feeling M.C.'s
With the top down, wheeling the v, feeling the breeze
Is it me, or is it these niggaz spitting the same
Is it me, all my enemies throwing shit in the game
Is it me, or the industry that really got to change
Once again, it's Wu-Tang, in case y'all forgot the name…"
A valid inquiry, and as comprehensive as it can be said on record. Taking responsibility for the 2004 LP "Tical 0: The Prequel" , Shakwon knows that all the collaboration might have diluted the grimy shine that elevated him to platinum status in the days of the first "Tical" album, and we needed to be reminded of the witty unpredictable gutter slang that Meth used to express ubiquitously, while making it sound so effortless. The days of the tag team guest appearances of Method Man and Redman are sadly not with us, yet hip hop could use more of that unique back-and-forth rap, as most artists opt for solo careers, that ultimately seem not to last very long. Hip hop is out of control: the pioneers don't get chances to be heard, some new jacks love to be hateful and ignorant, and the next generation draft of MCs doesn't seem to have the superstar potential of past years, like the Class of '93, for instance. Method Man has no idea what more he can do, remarking how his sales "are in the toilet". But does he feel like sales is the bottom line to determine an album's value, when the streets overwhelmingly proclaim "4:21 – The Day After" as one of the strongest hip hop albums of the year? He doesn't feel like it's enough, and it makes sense, when thinking of the impact his past work has had on the world. Unfortunately, a strange situation exists, in which Method Man and Def Jam don't have perfect communication in regards to the work needing to be done on "4:21". No video exists for "Say", the album's confessional first single dedicated to the worldwide Meth haters, that succeeds in killing them softly. Nobody (except Jay-Z) knows if there will even be a second video for this rugged jem of a full length LP. Similar to Ghostface's 'Fishscale' LP, another critically-acclaimed yet commercially-underachieving chunk of hardcore East Coast street hop, Def Jam seemed to not exactly be firing on all cylinders, but Method Man hopes they can align their visions again, as he says "I love my label. I hope they keep me around and don't drop me. I'd like to think that I kept the lights on up at Def Jam for a few years…" Let's hope they didn't misplace the platinum plaques that are the proof.
Another collaboration album with Redman would happen too, if Def Jam was interested. Hip hop is in a weird place in 2006, where the past and the present do not co-exist for the sake of its future, and everybody is worse off for it. Both the new schoolers who are missing the knowledge of the magic of the classics, and the predecessors and legends who can't get opportunities to perform. Method Man wishes everyone got behind this album, including mainstream radio stations and the national magazines that could have done more to spread the word. Furhtermore adding: "some people think hip hop started when Biggie and Tupac died", an interesting, paradoxical statement in itself, revealing the problem of revisionists manipulating hip hop history… that they don't even know about! Does rock and roll have these problems?
Outside of hip hop, Clifford Smith plans to pick a few select parts besides 'The Wire', and a live-action/animation hybrid show called "Hood of Horrors" with Snoop Doggy Dogg, but in Meth's words: "I wanted to focus more on music and show these motherfuckers that it's not a game. I thought I could shut them up with this album but obviously I didn't. They felt threatened enough to the point to say "we're going to shut this nigga down"." So he's hard at work already, cooking up the next installment in the ever-continuing saga that represents the Clan and Method Man. Writing "to some Erick Sermon beats right now", plus "mostly Wu Tang shit on there, mostly RZA beats", the MZA is cooking up the highly-intriguing 5th solo album, brilliantly called "Crystal Meth", and hoping for a summer 2007 Def Jam release date. Hip hop is going to need a new drug, and that one sounds very attractive right now. Coke hustler rap is in a serious drought right now.
In the good ol' days (of 1995), Method Man tore up an ODB track called Rawhide (featuring Raekwon, and Suzie Wong of Mississauga, Ontario, by way of Jamaica, on the intro) you said "I fear for the 85%ers who don't got a clue/ how could they know what the fuck they never knew/ God cipher divine come to show and come to prove/ a mystery God that's the work of Yacub/ the holy ghost got you scared to death kid, boo!" Does he feel like he needs to clarify his messages even more, or does he think people catch the consciousness and 5% Nation knowledge that he spits? "Nowadays, I don't think they do. Nobody like to think anymore, you know? That's why everybody's dumbing down their lyrics. EVERYBODY'S dumbing down their lyrics. I mean, there was a time where if you repeated the same word or the same rhyme in a sentence, that was blasphemy. Now they do it all the time." And as Methical said on 'Nah'mean', "Might break a promise/ but never breaking the code" of the streets, and that mentality needs to spread far and wide, before it's too late. All hip hop needs is events and examples of leadership, to remind the new listeners how to grow up properly through this culture, and not to take everything but the burden. Before our call was finished, I asked Meth if he thought The RZA was the best producer on the mic. Surprisingly, he said "no. Dr. Dre is, and RZA is a close second." A fair argument, which is more than most people are willing to have about any differing opinion or perspective in this sonic chaos called hip hop. Mef made seriously strong hip hop in 2006, yet so far, it went relatively unheard and unacknowledged, especially considering the plateau it was released on. We have to be thankful it was even released, but will Shawn Carter or L.A. Reid and staff put in the work to return Method Man (and Redman) to the peak of success they should be at? The industry must change its values back to quality lyrics and solid production to create careers with longevity like in other genres of music, not milking the lowest common denominators by any overnight sensation who blows up exploiting sex, money, guns and drugs. 4:21 is the day after. When the smoke is clear and the mirror is shattered, reality remains. And Method Man's uncompromising real talk, katana sharp wit, entertaining wordplay and phenomenal flow is going to be a voice that so many will miss, if it's taken for granted, then gone outta here. Fuck a Nancy Reagan. If you still wanna get high of hip hop, just say 'yes to Meth'. Roll that shit. Light that shit. Smoke it.
Addi "Mindbender" Stewart of SWAGG NEWS: I heard a beautiful rumor that the Clan might get signed to Interscope. Are you close to being signed to a major to come back out for the next crew album?
Method Man: I don't think so. We're by ourselves.
SN: With Wu-Tang Corp?
Method Man: Yeah, I guess. However RZA want to do it.
SN: Did you start recording it yet? I heard you're going in ready to work.
Method Man: After the tour, I'm going in the studio with him.
SN: I feel you on the shit you are saying about the media, journalism and the industry... shit's fucked up these days. The pioneers don't get chances, new generation kids ain't listening right, the artists from today aren't up to par to rappers of back in the day, and Nas even says hip hop is dead.What do you think is the first and foremost thing that people need to do?
Method Man: Psssh... I'm trying to figure it out myself right now. My sales is in the toilet.
SN: But the album's fuckin bangin. People want to hate because you're being so real about the media, but you're not really judging yourself by the album sales, are you?
Method Man: I'm more or less like, even thought even everyone in the streets think it's big, I still got these fucked up reviews in our hip hop magazines.
SN: I'm glad the album even actually came out, cause I know it got pushed back a bit, but how can they even release you with no video? Are you doing another video?
Method Man: You have to ask Def Jam. I have no idea right now. And I'm not at liberty to say anything about the label, because I'll get in trouble.
SN: I respect that. And I just want to see the best happen for you in the world, cause you deserve it.
Method Man: Yeah, I worked very hard on this LP, I just wish it got supported a lot better, you know. And I'm not just talking about the label, I'm talking about radio and magazines as well.
SN: No doubt. Well, let's talk about some history. You're one of the few cats that actually got to record with Tupac and Biggie. Do you want to share some of those experiences?
Method Man: Actually, Tupac got out of jail and heard the record that I was on and wanted to get on it. But when I met Tupac, he was a down to earth brother. He was cool.
SN: Word. Was it Puff that approached you to get on "The What"?
Method Man: Nah, Big approached me himself. And Tracy Waples made that happen. She brought me through to the studio... we both wrote our verses there. That was it.
SN: Yo, you said "I fear for the 85%ers who don't got a clue/ how could they know what the fuck they never knew/ God cipher divine come to show and come to prove/ a mystery God that's the work of yacub/ the holy ghost got you scared to death kid, boo!" I love that. do you feel like you need to clarify messages like that more, or do you thinkt people catch the consciousness and 5% knowledge that you spit?
Method Man: Nowadays, I don't think they do. Nobody like to think anymore, you know? That's why everybody's dumbing down their lyrics. EVERYbody's dumbing down their lyrics. I mean, there was a time where if you repeated the same word or the same rhyme in a sentence, that was blasphemy. Now they do it all the time.
SN: You going to get back into acting in a bit? I loved you on 'Oz' to be honest.
Method Man: Um, I'm doing little bit parts here and there, but that's by choice. I wanted to focus more on music and show these motherfuckers that it's not a game. I thought I could shut them up with this album but obviously I didn't. They felt threatened enough to the point to say "we're going to shut this nigga down".
SN: Well, have you thought about the next album yet?
Method Man: What? "Crystal Meth"...?
SN: Oh shit! Amen, yo. Thanks. So you're working on it?
Method Man: Yup. I'm writing to some Erick Sermon beats now.
SN: You going to get some Wu-Elements on it? Wu-bangers?
Method Man: It's going to be mostly Wu Tang shit on there. Mostly RZA beats.
SN: You going to drop it by summer 2007?
Method Man: I want to. But hopefully I'm still on Def Jam. I love my label. I hope they keep me around and don't drop me.
SN: I hope so too. You're part of the legacy.
Method Man: I'd like to think that I kept the lights on up at Def Jam for a few years. I'd like to think that.
SN: Well, I hope they didn't remove the platinum plaques that are the proof! Well, how about another Redman collabo album?
Method Man: If Def Jam gets it crackin, it's a done deal.
SN: Yo, do you think RZA's the best producer on the mic in hip hop?
Method Man: No.
SN: Word? Who do you think is?
Method Man: The best producer on the mic?
Method Man: Dre!
Method Man: Yeah. RZA's a close second, I'll give him that.
SN: So did Wu-Tang took off after 'Protect Ya Neck'?
Method Man: Nah, it didn't. I was eating ketchup and rice, watching the 'Method Man' video on TV. I mean, after 'Method Man' dropped, we needed a single that got us recognized outside of New York, and it was 'C.R.E.A.M.'.
SN: So what relationships in the Wu Tang Clan need to be most healed to bring everyone back together like it was in 1993?
Method Man: ……
And then the telephone connection was broken. Hopefully at one point, we will continue our conversation and let the unrevealed truth be known. Regardless: fuck what you heard, the Wu-Tang saga continues.