Magazine article The Spectator

'Raw: My Journey into the Wu-Tang', by Lamont 'U-God' Hawkins - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Raw: My Journey into the Wu-Tang', by Lamont 'U-God' Hawkins - Review

Article excerpt

I've interviewed a lot of rappers over the years and always feel a little grimy when I find myself nudging them to repackage a horrendous experience as a juicy anecdote with which to promote an album. Some natural raconteurs are happy to play that game -- 50 Cent can now tell the story of the day he was shot nine times with the fluency of Peter Ustinov on Parkinson -- but many rappers are understandably coy, at least outside the recording studio, about sharing the gory details of their previous lives. In that respect, this memoir by one of the nine original members of the Wu-Tang Clan lives up to its title, being so brutally frank that it is hard to believe a single story remains untold.

Masterminded by Robert 'RZA' Diggs, the Wu-Tang Clan made hip-hop's standard menu of braggadocio and true crime intoxicatingly strange via a private language comprised of Marvel comics, kung fu movies, obscure 1970s soul and the esoteric Islamic doctrine of Supreme Mathematics. In their arcane psychogeography, Staten Island, the runt of New York's five boroughs, became mystical Shaolin, and the streets became a mysterious labyrinth of allusions, in-jokes and codes. They have never trumped the dread power of their initial appearance on the cover of their debut album, 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), with their black hoods, blank white masks and smoggy aura of cult-like menace. While their contemporaries sought to project street-level authenticity, the Wu-Tang Clan bent reality.

The group's mystique has been sorely depleted over the past 25 years and Lamont 'U-God' Hawkins finishes the job. He is not a mystique guy, nor is he likely to be confused with Proust. 'Time is a motherfucker,' he begins. 'Time reveals shit.' Lightly ghostwritten by John Helfers, Raw reads like a pungent, profane 290-page monologue about a life with nothing but rough edges.

Hawkins grew up in Staten Island's Park Hill housing projects during the 1980s crack epidemic that earned the area the nom de guerre Killa Hill. A child of rape, he was arrested, beaten, threatened at knifepoint by his mother's partner, molested by his babysitter, addicted to crack-loaded joints and almost murdered five times by rival drug dealers, all before he turned 18.

While Kendrick Lamar, a much more sensitive soul, has talked about survivor's guilt and PTSD, Hawkins is chillingly unsentimental about the tribulations that he survived and many of his peers did not. …

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