The Story Behind the Band Name: Wu-Tang Clan

These days, rappers release music as a solo project more often than not. There’s Jay Z, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Missy Elliott, Chance the Rapper—the list goes on. But when the genre was starting, it was all about the crews, the groups, the cliques. One such standout group, of course, is the Staten Island-born collective, Wu-Tang Clan.

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With a seemingly never-ending list of members and impeccable songs and memorable personalities, the group has stood the test of time, since its inception in 1992.

Here, we will dive into the origins of the outfit, as well as the meaning and story of its indelible name.


As noted, Wu-Tang Clan formed in Staten Island, New York City in 1992.

The original members include legendary names like RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Kills, many of whom have gone on to marquee solo careers.

The group released its debut record, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993 and the album changed everything. In 1997, the collective released its sophomore album, Wu-Tang Forever, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1998 Grammy Awards. A number of albums followed and ever since that time, the group’s name has been synonymous with high-quality music and the cream of the crop when it comes to rap music.

The band of emcees has always stood for something larger than itself. Namely, a mix of camaraderie and goal-oriented behavior with the idea of the sum being more important than the individual parts.

Before Wu-Tang

In the late 80s, cousins Robert Diggs, Gary Grice, and Russell Jones formed a rap group called Force of the Imperial Master. That outfit was also known as the All in Together Now Crew.

Each of the founding members recorded work under monikers. Grice was The Genius. Diggs was Prince Rakeem or The Scientist. Jones was The Specialist.

Together, they never were able to sign to a major label, but established rapper Biz Markie was impressed by the trio. By 1991, The Genius and Prince Rakeem were signed to individual labels and released solo albums. Both, though, were soon dropped.

That’s when they adopted new aliases. The Genius became GZA. Prince Rakeem became RZA. The Specialist became Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

RZA began working with a young up-and-comer from Staten Island, Dennis Coles, who later took on the name Ghostface Killah.

Together, the duo had a goal: to create a rap group with an ethic that blended Eastern philosophy, which they’d picked up from kung fu movies, with comic books and the Black Nationalist Five-Percent philosophy they’d learned in New York.

And in 1992, Wu-Tang Clan was born. RZA was the de facto leader and the group’s beat producer.

But Where Does The Name Come From?

RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard picked up the name from the film, Shaolin and Wu Tang, a 1983 martial arts film from Hong Kong, starring Gordon Liu. The movie is about a rivalry between the Shaolin and Wu-Tang martial arts schools.

With the name in tow, the members created “backronyms” for the name, meaning once they had the name, they invented what each letter stood for. Early backronyms for the group’s moniker reportedly included: “We Usually Take All N—as’ Garments,” “Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game” and “Wisdom of the Universe, and the Truth of Allah for the Nation of the Gods.”

In 1993, the group earned acclaim and popularity after the release of their hit single, “Protect Ya Neck.” Songs like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Triumph” followed. And as a collective, the outfit boasted more power.

Said RZA, “We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else’s […] We still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen Records, feel me? […] And all these labels still put “Razor Sharp Records” on the credits […] Wu-Tang was a financial movement. So what do you wanna diversify…? […] Your assets?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

(Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

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