Shaolin Monks on the Mic: Orientalism, Buddhism, and the Wu Tang Clan, Pt. 4
The Wu Tang Clan holds an elite position in the history of hip-hop as an act that greatly innovated the genre, and brought together nine different rappers and all sorts of disparate influences to create a unified whole. The synthesis of styles and influences serves to create an alternative artistic and spiritual narrative for the group; unsatisfied with the values thrust upon him by Western society, the RZA seeks out wisdom everywhere. With the inclusion of Oriental and Buddhist elements in particular, the Wu Tang Clan claims an identity as both black and “Asiatic”, and builds a framework through which to understand themselves and their circumstances. Returning to the curious case of the inclusion of the Heart Sutra in “Life Changes”, now with the understanding of the role of Buddhist teachings on the ideology of the Wu Tang Clan, this hip-hop requiem mass to Ol’ Dirty Bastard attains additional poignancy. In The Tao of Wu, the RZA interprets the Heart Sutra as being “about that spark of God inside you”, and follows this explanation with “a street parable of courage” (Tao of Wu 64-65). This connects Buddhist teaching both to the search for identity and to the experience of suffering in the ghetto. Ol’ Dirty Bastard is sent into his next rebirth with a reminder of what he has learned from his time as a man of the Wu Tang: a guide to attaining knowledge of self and escaping the suffering he knew all too well.
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