On July 31, 1995, I started something called the Unofficial Wu-Tang Clan Mailing List, also known as the U-WU (“ooh-wu”) What I tried to do was to make it a news source when the official source was not offering it. I wanted it to be the “University of Wu”
When I started it 20 years ago, it actually didn’t have a name. Originally, I did one edition on the ImagiNation Network (INN) but that was a bit pointless since most of the people on INN were into it to chat or play card games. Thus, I wanted to form a mailing list where one was able to get Wu-Tang Clan and Wu-Tang related news. At that point, it was a day away from the release of Raekwon’s debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and while there were a number of places to find the news, there wasn’t one place where you coukd find that gathered information. I wanted the newsletter to be a mixture of The Source and Rolling Stone, but I wanted to add my nerdiness to it by offering a growing discography. I wanted to show the world that hip-hop could be in the pages of Goldmine, which I attempted to do with reviews in the early 90’s but they did not feel covering hip-hop was worthy enough. In hip-hop, there was very little attention being paid to the discography, for it was believed the music is not going to be around that long and it’s not collectible. My goal was not so much to prove them wrong, but to archive an artist’s output so that other fans could locate what they’re missing. For four years, I made an attempt to buy anything and everything that was Wu-related, at least within the U.S. By 1996/early 1997, it was becoming a rough task but I tried.
The U-WU started with nothing more than 5 members. Sending stuff via e-mail was not impossible, but a very difficult task. For a brief moment, I could only send out x-amount of e-mails before Prodigy would charge me. When they realized people actually wanted to send e-mail out of Prodigy (everything was done internally), they opened it, but you could only send something at 100 e-mail addresses at a time. At its peak, the U-WU was 5200 members strong, which meant I had to send out an e-mail for each newsletter 52 to 53 times a crack.
What I loved was hearing from younger members who said they printed my newsletters and would pass it around to friends who wanted to read not only my information, but the e-mails from other members across the U.S. and the world. It felt good to know my work was being appreciated in that way.
When the Wu-Tang came out with Wu-Tang Forever, I began to lose a bit of interest with what was going on with their music. That might be considered odd, considering Wu-Tang Forever opened the group up to an entirely new audience, those who were not there from their first album or even experienced their solo albums. Or if they did begin, they started with Ghostface Killah’s Ironman in 1996. That in itself also coincided with three albums that year that made me realize that perhaps I should expand my outlook to more than just the Wu-Tang, which I was doing. Those albums were Prince Paul’s Psychoanalysis (What Is It?), Dr. Octagon’s self-titled album (some of you also call it Dr. Octagonecologyst) and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.) I was reading URB magazine a lot a lot more than The Source and found the music in URB to be much more to my liking. Oddly enough, most of it was what I considered more towards hip-hop, even though I did like the subgenres. In truth, like many of the other big publications I wanted to write for, I wanted to write for URB but didn’t make it in. It was my way of showing people there’s more to music than just the Wu, which in truth was my way of saying “this is what I like to listen to, check this out.”
There were two things that let me know the U-WU was a success. One was that I had received a call from Wu-Tang management, asking me to check out a new group he was working it. I don’t remember who it was but the track was something like “NY Drive-By”. I liked it and talked about it. The next week, I call up the management and they had no idea who I was or why in the hell I would call them. I was like “I was given a fax from you a week ago” and their view was more or less “we didn’t send any faxes to you.” Sure.
The other thing was when an official Wu-Tang related website used a discography from another website. a discography that was mine, right down to the descriptions I wrote for each title. They decided to give someone else credit, basically for stealing the information from me.
By 1999 or so, I had to find a way to send out e-mail in a better way so I chose to try out Yahoo, which was the hot source engine of the era. They began to have mailing lists, which was my way to transfer some of the e-mail addresses to the new database. By 2001, I had pretty much lost interest with what the Wu were doing. The last album I covered in the newsletter by IRON FLAG. By then, I had found a few communities that featured people I could gel with: Okayplayer, In/Flux//Hindsight, and Soul Strut, the latter of which came from the ashes of the Crates mailing list, which featured a number of well known DJ’s, producers, and collectors. A few of the people in each group were also from rec.music.hip-hop (RMHH) and Prodigy, whom I may have known from when chat room freestyles were a thing or when there was a group known as Lyrical Militia. In many ways, the best communities I was in was an online knitting circle where we could all talk shit.
When I ended the U-WU in 2001, it was a longtime coming. There were other websites who were doing far better graphic-wise, and it was obvious (to me at least) people wanted quality images more than text and info. I’m able to do graphics on a basic level but not what I felt some wanted/preferred. By then, having OKP, In/Flux, Hindsight, and Soul Strut felt like places I could belong in. Maybe in a small way, there’s a bit of a lone rebel mentality but I feel I did very well with the U-WU. I was able to be one of the first to bring a discography mentality into hip-hop when someone like Mercer of Sandbox Automatic was one of the few that made it worthy to others. I wanted to say “this record is worth something, and not just on the collectible side. If it’s worth something to do, archive it in a proper way.”
It’s hard to believe it has been 20 years since I started it, something I really didn’t think was going to turn into anything. I can look back and remember various writers who had just started out and see where they’re at now. I look at myself and I’m still struggling, hoping to get to another next level so someone will now that my hard work is worth something. 20 years from now, I hope to be somewhere better, figuratively and literally.