The Wu-Tang saga started in the streets of Staten Island and now it continues on the Vegas Strip. The legendary group is embarking on their Wu-Tang Clan: The Saga Continues… residency at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas this week with four shows. The first two will be this weekend, in tandem with Super Bowl weekend also happening in Las Vegas.
RZA says that the residency is a litmus test not just for them, but for the lasting power of the hip-hop residency. “There’s not a lot of shows that service the hip-hop crowd [consistently],” he says during a Zoom call. “There’s always a concert popping in and out, but there’s no substantial place where you can say, ‘Hey, let’s go check out some hip-hop.’ You got to go to a club. So hopefully this will change that dynamic.” He says that the success of these shows will help determine whether they actualize his goal of a long-term residency in Sin City.
There have been other rap residencies of late: T-Pain is starting his residency at Zouk Nightclub and Ayu Dayclub this week, and Rick Ross has had a residency at Drai’s Nightclub since 2021 (after dropping the song “Vegas Residency” in 2019). But this will be the first time that gritty, golden-era hip-hop will take the spot typically reserved for balladeers and classic rock bands.
RZA says that all eight living Wu members are contracted for the performances, but also advises that “The ‘U’ in Wu-Tang is unpredictable.” That said, RZA is looking to surprise attendees in a positive way, as he and creative director Danny Hastings have crafted a show that will imbue the classic Vegas experience into their live show — within reason. “We’re not Cirque du Soleil’ing it, but we’re adding some great visual and musical context that I don’t think the audience is going to expect,” adding that they’re ideating an “elevated show that fits the venue.”
The residency, which includes two additional dates in March, has VIP passes that, among the many perks, include access to a pre-show party and the opportunity to play a round of Black Jack with the Clan.
We talked to RZA about the residency and how the group’s recent New York State of Mind tours with Nas showed the collaborative possibility for rap vets.
How did the residency come together?
It’s something that Wu-Tang has been striving to do through my leadership for almost seven years. I thought that Vegas would be a great spot for a continued residency, and it just didn’t work. We had a lot of kinks that we had to figure out within ourselves. And the system, I don’t think, was ready for it. But we kept pushing, and about six months ago, we started the conversation with Live Nation and AEG. And with the help of my managing partner, Tyler Childs and the CAA, we was able to get to a point where it made creative sense, economic sense, and it made cultural sense. And [we got] a venue that could facilitate it all. So it was a long process to get here. And there’s still, just to be quite frank with you, this is the beginning of a process.
What do you envision as the progression of this relationship?
Well, first and foremost, can a hip-hop act sustain an evolving audience at a centralized location? For the course of this year, we announced four shows, but that’s all we announced. But we actually forecast and plan for more, but we’ll announce them as we get there. And this year, with the data we obtained the long-term plan is to have a multiple-year type of residency.
To actually have a show in Vegas that when people come from around the world, and look into going to a show, [they’ll come to ours]. There’s not a lot of shows that service the hip-hop crowd [consistently]. There’s always a concert popping in and out, but there’s no substantial place where you can say, “Hey, let’s go check out some hip-hop.” You got to go to a club. So hopefully this will change that dynamic. Open up the doors for Wu-Tang, and maybe even other hip-hop acts will follow suit.
How does the residency speak to the lasting power of a strong brand and a strong catalog?
It’s validation of a strong brand and a strong catalog. Some people [will say], “Wu-Tang is the most unlikely success story in hip-hop.” It’s like, how do you get nine MCs who start off with songs with no hooks, and get worldwide recognition [from that]? A brand that stands this test of time, a vibe that continues to resonate with the audience and resonate in the hip-hop community?
You hear so many other artists who have joined hip-hop, whether you’ve dealing with Uzi Vert or Big Sean, or Drake or Migos, all these all having a homage or some lyrical reference to Wu-Tang. Tyler sampling from the Gravediggaz song. It’s a testament to what we believe in ourselves as artists, and it’s a testament to hip-hop itself. Having this birthplace in New York and having multiple representatives of it, but also having this gritty, rugged representation of hip-hop. Which is different than some of our peers. It’s a testament.
Will every living member of the clan be performing in these shows?
Yeah. Every member has been invited. That’s the only thing about Wu-Tang…The “U” in Wu-Tang is unpredictable. With that many people moving, whether from plane, train, or automobile or whatever. Family, health, wealth, all these different equations have to always be aligned. Sometimes there’s an unpredictability to it. But as far as contractually, yeah. Every member is scheduled to be there.
Are you planning other surprises?
We’ll let [attendees] come find out. Hey, the biggest surprise is just to watch all of us, right? [laughs] That’s been a surprise throughout a lot of our career. We’re putting together something different though. We know what Vegas offers in other forms of shows. We’re not Cirque du Soleil’ing it, but we’re adding some great visual and musical context that I don’t think the audience is going to expect, but I’m sure they’re going to enjoy it. We’re planning an elevated show that fits the venue.
The New York State of Mind tour was an elevated hip-hop tour that inspired hip-hop artists, especially from our generation, to unite. To not compete while performing, but to complement the culture and compliment the music by sharing our artistry with the audience, versus trying to outshine each other.
There’s no need to try to win over the crowd because hip-hop should represent itself as a community. Especially at this phase. Maybe the younger artists could continue to compete for that space because hip-hop’s a sport. But for the Hall of Famers, and for those of us who traveled this road for all these long periods, there’s a strength in the unity of it. The New York State of Mind tour helped pioneer that. I don’t know if you’ve seen it in those concerts, but it was a seamless integration of Wu-Tang, Busta, and Nas. Or Wu-Tang, De La and Nas. And that was able to happen because — and not saying this in an egotistical way. — me having the experience I’ve gained as a film director, film producer, TV showrunner, [made me able to] bring that expertise to the table and direct the tour. Brothers trusted that the vision that I had would work. And it worked. Now going to Vegas, we’re striving to create a team that we’ve been able to assemble from multiple disciplines, [and] apply that to this Vegas show.
Are you the creative director of this residency? Or are there other people you’re working with as the brain trust, so to speak, in curating the event?
I’m The Abbot, right? So things start with me. I hired all my creative team from my company. My creative director is Danny Hastings, from the original hip-hop photography for the Wu-Tang album, Mobb Deep Albums, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Big Pun. So many, I think three or four of the top 10 legendary hip-hop albums of all time were shot through his lens. I hired him a year ago to be my creative director. Somebody I knew that if I say, “A-B-C,” he knows “E-F-G.”
And the rest of The Clan are engaged. I think the New York State of Mind revitalized their trust in The Abbot, but also revitalized their creative energy. When you get the Wu-Tang Clan creating together, that’s when you get this brand that you mentioned in your first question. That’s legacy. That’s undeniable. The New York State of Mind tour has helped to rekindle that flame. And I think the audience will see that in this Vegas residency and in the near future of whatever comes out from the Wu-Tang brand.
What was it like for you being back with the guys on tour, after all that time?
It was love, peace, and happiness. It was joy. And challenging, though. We got a slogan: steel sharpens steel. It actually, for me, built up some other strengths in me that I may not have used in a while. And those muscles are healthy to see them reappear in my psyche.
What are some of those strengths that you’re referring to?
Creatively. Our ‘Triumph’ video is a good example. In the beginning, I had all these ideas. I would be like, “Yo, so we going to do this, and [Inspectah Deck] is going to come down the fucking wall like Spider-Man, for real now.” On “Protect Ya Neck,” he said, “Swing up in your town like your neighborhood Spider-Man.” I said, “Imagine if he’s actually on the wall like Spider-Man, and he’s kicking his verse.” You know what I mean? Then after that, he comes down the building and lands on the ground. He said, “Oh, that’d be dope.”
Then somebody said, “Nah, nah, nah. ODB falls off and gets caught by Inspectah Deck.” Somebody came up with that idea. Spoil, that’s dope. Then what? And then he goes into a bunch of [ideas]. Then we just keep adding on. That’s the beauty of collective minds, having a collective group of people, [where] somebody could spark an idea.
The Abbot was, as they were called, the best knower. He adds what he knows to the circle. But then the generals add on. Yeah, as an artist, I’m a gold artist., I got gold albums with Gravediggaz. I got gold albums as Bobby Digital. But with Wu-Tang Clan, I’m platinum.
So you could go the same thing with GZA: he’s a platinum artist. But with Wu-Tang, they’re multi-platinum. You see what I mean? And that’s the multiplication that we bring to each other. So that remembrance of that energy has been re-spawned and re-sparked from the New York State of Mind tour. As well as the patience and tolerance that it takes to even deal with [each other], because we are all alphas.
What’s your favorite Vegas memory?
My favorite Vegas memory is XXX, bro. So let me go to my second favorite. [Laughs] We had some fun in Vegas, man [in] the earlier days. And it was just one of those cities that you can go, as they say, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But I will say, for me, I’m an East Coast, Brooklyn, Staten Island baby who grew up to be a man. New York is so full of art and plays. I mean, it’s art everywhere in New York almost.
I feel like on the West Coast, when I’m out here with my family, I was working on films almost 60, 70% of my time. Sometimes I don’t get that immediacy of being able to go and get art and watch a bunch of shows. Vegas is that for me. Throughout the last seven years, when I get artistically numb and don’t feel inspired by external art, me and my family just go and spend a few days in Vegas and pop up and go see all the shows, and just rekindle the idea of enjoying art in different forms. Whether you want to see magic, dancing, singing, acrobatics, plays, digital things…I haven’t been to The Sphere yet, but I’m definitely headed there in the next few weeks.