When Wu-Tang first brought the motherfucking ruckus in the early 90s, they infused the East Coast rap movement with a new sound, bringing with them flashy characters, lyrical grime and rhyme schemes laced with skits, slangs and samples inspired by old school kung fu movies. Over the years, hip hop heads coast to coast have tried to decipher the aliases of Wu-Tang members in an attempt to pinpoint the kung fu flicks that inspired each of their monikers. Some were obvious, but figuring out a few of them necessitated a level of mental dexterity that would be required to solve a Rubik’s Cube. The good news is, out of the nine original members (Sorry Cappadonna.) I am
100% 95% certain about seven of them, and I am pretty sure confident about the other two. I’ll start with the obvious ones first.
So without further ado…
From the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again
The RZA, the GZA, Ol Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef
U-God, Ghostface Killah and the…
The kung fu flick that originated of the name stems from a revenge flick titled Avenging Boxer (小子命大, 1979), also known as Method Man / The Fearless Young Boxer starring Peter Chang (張繼龍) as the main protagonist, and a South Korean TKD dynamo named Casanova Wong (卡薩伐) as the bad guy who killed his father. According to urban legend, the rapper known as Method Man became the youngest member of the Wu after Cappadonna lost his spot due to serving time in prison. The RZA supposedly gave Meth the moniker because method is a slang for weed and as y’all know Iron Lung smoked a lot of it.
“I got, fat bags of skunk
I got, White Owl dub
And I’m about to go get lifted
Yes I’m about to go get lifted “
Method Man, Method Man
This is an obvious one! Gordon Liu’s (劉家輝) Monk San-Te character in the classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (少林三十六房, 1978), aka Master Killer, started off as a layman but later becomes a kung fu expert upon mastering the skills of the 35 existing chambers of Shaolin. The story goes that Masta Killa was the only member of the Wu who did not have any rapping skills prior to the group’s formation. Once again, urban legend has it that Masta Killa was competing against Killah Priest for the final spot on Da Mystery of Chessboxin, and Killah Priest fell asleep in the studio while Masta Killa stayed up all night to write his verse. The RZA bestowed the name upon him as a metaphor on his journey into the art of emceeing — from layman to eventual master.
“We have an APB on an MC Killer
Looks like the work of a Master
Evidence indicates that his stature
Merciless like a terrorist hard to capture”
Da Mystery of Chessboxin, Masta Killa
Ol’ Dirty Bastard aka ODB (RIP)
There may have been no father to his style, but the craziest and arguably the most beloved member of Wu-Tang got his name from An Old Kung Fu Master (一老一少一根釘, released in 1981), aka Ol’ Dirty and the Bastard, which starred Simon Yuen (袁小田) in one of his most iconic roles as Ol’ Dirty. Simon Yuen was known for his comedic portrayals of dirty characters, the most famous of which is Beggar So (aka Sam The Seed), Jacky Chan’s sifu in Drunken Master (醉拳, 1978). Sadly in an instance of life imitating art (or vice versa), much like ODB himself, Simon Yuen left this world with an unfinished legacy in 1979. Supposedly, he was set to reprise his role as Beggar So in an upcoming movie titled The Magnificent Butcher (林世榮, released 1980) alongside Sammo Hung. Following his untimely death however, the role went to a lesser-known actor named Fan Mei Sheng (樊梅生). (Foreshadowing, note #1: this piece of information is crucial for the origin of the last Wu-Tang member on this list.)
“The Ol’ Dirty Bastard is dirty and stinking
Ason Unique rolling with the night of the creeps
Niggas be rolling with a stash, ain’t saying cash
Bite my style I’ll bite your motherfucking ass!”
Protect Ya Neck, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Over the years, Ghostface has proven to be one of the most consistent members of the Wu. He took his moniker from the main villain Ghost Faced Killer (Mark Lung, 龍冠武) from The Mystery of Chess Boxing (雙馬連環, 1979), aka Ninja Checkmate. The movie is about Ah Pao (Lee Yi Min, 李藝民) who seeks to learn the art of kung fu in order to exact revenge against the Ghost Faced Killer for murdering his father. As a sidenote, Ah Pao’s first teacher in the movie is a cook portrayed by Simon Yuen (Ol’ Dirty). (Even more foreshadowing, note#2: this piece of information is crucial for the origin of the last Wu-Tang member on this list.)
“Speaking of the devil psych, no it’s the God, get the shit right
Mega trife, and yo I killed you in a past life
On the mic while you was kicking that fast shit
You reneged tried again, and got blasted”
Da Mystery of Chessboxin, Ghostface Killah
RZA aka The Abbot
In an old interview, when asked about the meaning of the letters RZA, the Abbot of Wu-Tang replied “RULER ZIG-ZAG-ZIG ALLAH”. This is based upon the terminology of the Supreme Alphabet. Wu-Tang fanatics have known for a long time that RZA is short for RAZOR, which was his old graffiti name. Further proof of this association can be found in the name of his record label Razor Sharp Records. In 1979, Shaw Brothers released a movie titled The Abbot of Shaolin (少林英雄榜) starring David Chiang (姜大衛) as the Monk Chi San. In the United States, this same movie was released under a variant title A Slice of Death. Thus, RZA/Razor is a reference to the US title of the movie, A Slice of Death, while The Abbot is simply taken from its original title.
“I be tossing and flossing my style is awesome
I’m causing more Family Feuds than Richard Dawson
And the survey said, you’re dead
Fatal Flying Guillotine chops off your fucking head”
Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit, RZA
U-God aka Golden Arms
Before he took on the mantle of U-God, he was known as Golden Arms, a direct reference to The Kid with the Golden Arm (金臂童, 1979). In the film, the Golden Arm Kid is a ruthless but honorable chief of the Chi Sah Gang who attempt to steal a cargo of government gold dedicated to relieving famine. The title role is portrayed by Lo Meng (羅莽), aka Toad of the famous Venom Mob. While there is no disputing that U-God also stands for Universal God according to the terminology of Supreme Alphabet/Mathematics, there is an interpretation that links both aliases together.
First, the difference between GOLD and GO_D is the removal of the letter L. This is interesting because the letter L represents “LOVE, HELL and RIGHT” according to the Supreme Alphabet. Thus the removal of the letter could signify the casting away of HELL, or evil. In a sense, this could be a metaphor because the pursuit of riches (represented by GOLD) leads to evil, but once that evil is recognized and repugnated, one finds truth and virtue (represented by GO_D).
How is this related to the movie? In more ways than you can imagine. At the end of The Kid with the Golden Arm, the Golden Arm Kid vows to retire from his evil ways after he obtains the gold upon defeating his enemies, but he is immediately killed instead. The conversion from Golden Arms to U-God is a response to the warning depicted in the final outcome of this character. It is for this same reason that U-God named his first solo album Golden Arms Redemption (1999).
As for the letter U, one only needs to picture two arms raised to the sky in victory. (Oh, damn!)
Therefore, U-God = Golden Arms redeemed from Hell/Evil
“Weak MC’s approach with slang that’s dead
You might as well run into the wall and bang your head
I’m pushing force, my force you’re doubting
I’m making devils cower to the Caucus Mountains”
Da Mystery of Chessboxin, U-God
When I mentioned in the intro that I am
100% 95% certain about seven of nine members while only being pretty confident about the other two, the GZA falls into this latter category. First off, based upon Supreme Alphabet terminology, GZA stands for “GOD ZIG-ZAG-ZIG ALLAH”. The Genius launched his debut album Words from the Genius in 1991, before he ever stylized himself as the GZA. Though I cannot be certain that his alias is based on any specific kung fu flick, there just so happens to be a film conveniently titled Kung Fu Genius (天才功夫, 1979) with Cliff Lok (古龍) in the starring role.
Until proven otherwise, I believe this is a pretty good guess.
“That’s what you get when you misuse what I invent
Your empire falls and you lose every cent
For trying to blow up a scrub
Now that thought was just as bright as a 20-watt light bulb”
Protect Ya Neck, GZA/The Genius
Inspectah Deck aka Fifth Brother
I know you have been waiting for this one. Quite simply, Inspectah Deck is one of the unsung heroes of the Wu and probably the name that has caused the most head scratches over the past two decades. Widely considered one of the Clan’s premiere lyricists, he is known for keeping a low profile while leaving the shine to some of the more flamboyant crew members, like Ghost and Meth. But don’t get it twisted: despite his calm demeanor, Rebel INS is a lyrical assassin on the cipher. The RZA once said this about him: “Inspectah Deck, he’s like that dude that’ll sit back and watch you play yourself and all that right? And see you sit there and know you lyin; and he’ll take you to court after that, cuz he the Inspectah.” OK, that explains the first part of the name, but what about Deck?
One of the INS’ nicknames is Fifth Brother.
In 1983, Shaw Brothers released one of their last kung fu movies entitled The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (五郎八卦棍, 1983), a story about seven brothers from the legendary Yeung/Yang (杨) military family of the Song Dynasty who were betrayed by a corrupt general and ambushed by their Khitan enemies. Five of the seven brothers were killed in the attack. Of the two brothers who survived, Yeung Chieu, the sixth brother (Alexander Fu Sheng, 傅聲) made it home, while the fifth brother (Gordon Liu, 劉家輝) evaded capture and became a Shaolin monk. The name of this brother was Yeung Dak. This is where the Inspectah got the Deck part of his name.
“I smoke on the mic like smokin’ Joe Frazier
The hell-raiser, raising hell with the flavor
Terrorize the jam like troops in Pakistan
Swinging through your town like your neighborhood Spiderman”
Protect Ya Neck, Inspectah Deck
Raekwon, the Chef
Some have suggested that Raekwon’s name comes from the Five-Percent Nation, which may very well be true. Yet, nobody has ever come forward to firmly explain its meaning. That won’t stop me from taking a stab at it though. Based on the pre-established pattern that I’ve shown in this piece, it’s hard to buy that RAE’s name is exempt from having a kung fu movie origin. Everything about the word RAEKWON smells of kung fu. Seriously. Just say it.
As a warning, I would kindly suggest that you suspend your disbelief for a moment and read everything that follows with a grain of salt. In other words, read this in the same mental state that you would watch an episode of Monday Night RAW. It is only a theory, but until the Chef himself debunks it, I believe it holds at least a bastion of merit.
My theory is that Raekwon stems from the title character of the ultra-violent movie adaptation of the Japanese Manga Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (力王, 1991), starring Louis Fan (樊少皇).
The kanjis representing the title character’s name are 「力王」, which literally translate to Power King. In Japanese, these characters are pronounced as ‘Riki Oh’, but since the movie was filmed in Hong Kong, its original language track was in Cantonese, and thus the main character’s was pronounced ‘Lek Wong’.
Say it. What does it sound like?
So in theory: 「力王」(Power King) = Riki Oh (Japanese) = Lek Wong (Cantonese) = Raekwon.
I know I should just stop right here, but I’ll do you guys one better. As you all know, RAE is commonly referred to as The Chef. The popular explanation for this moniker is that RAE is an expert at cooking that crack, but I also read that he does have legit culinary skills. Once again, I am not disputing any of these claims, but since we are talking about the Wu, everything is layered and laced in a matrix of subliminal references.
The Chef reference could be based on the Cook character portrayed by Simon Yuen (Ol’ Dirty) in The Mystery of Chess Boxing. Interestingly, there is a little known link between this cook character and Riki-Oh:
As I mentioned earlier, ‘Ol’ Dirty’ Simon Yuen, who portrayed the role of the Cook in The Mystery of Chess Boxing was set to reprise his famous role as Beggar So (aka Sam the Seed) in Magnificient Butcher. When Simon Yuen died, that role went to a lesser-known actor named Fan Mei Sheng. As it turns out, this Fan Mei Sheng is the father of Louis Fan, the guy who played Riki-Oh (aka Lek Wong).
MIND = BLOWN!
Remember folks, this is just a theory. I’d respectfully leave this up until the Chef himself tells me otherwise.
“I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side
Staying alive was no jive
Had secondhands, Mom’s bounced on old man
So then we moved to Shaolin land”
– C.R.E.A.M., Raekwon the Chef
Here you have it: the kung fu movie origins of the names of all nine original members of the Wu-Tang Clan served up and explained in one amazing blog. Feel free to share and and debate this article with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.
Also, if anyone out there is able to come up with a valid kung fu movie theory for Cappadonna, I will update this entry and give that person due credit.
Remember folks, WU-TANG is for the children!
(Edited and republished on 2015-06-19)