Must be the money: Wu-Tang Clan’s “CREAM”
Urban legend has it that English speakers’ favorite acronym is “fornication under consent of the knight”. But despite the insistence of pretentious slime in bars and my college sex education teacher, modern etymology has debunked this myth. It’s safe to say that “CREAM” now holds the crown. Sorry, Miss Dickens.
Money dominates everything around me. It is not a mantra; it is manifest destiny. It’s a reminder that we live in America, a nation with a high cost of living and a jagged safety net. Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Method Man were there to tell you how to get it by all means. Wu-Tang will last longer than any currency you hold in your palm. Never forget to diversify your bonds.
The Clan released “CREAM” during the height of the East Coast’s “reality hold era”. Puff Daddy was still struggling to make Bad Boy a viable champagne rap store. Black Moon figured out how to stomp you through a loudspeaker with scuffed Timbalands. De La Soul and Digable Planets brought sophisticated cool jazz to the younger generation. And Wu-Tang brought the ruckus with sound financial advice. A dollar saved is a dollar bill earned.
Le Wu proposed a third way. They were as obsessed with money as the jiggiest but aware of the ultimate truth that if it ain’t raw, it ain’t worth nothing. The RZA and GZA had witnessed the pitfalls of pursuing money at the expense of art. Filled with cringe-worthy business concessions, their early solo projects both flopped. Selling correctly is an art form in itself. It worked for the Black Eyed Peas, but the Wu came from Shaolin. You cannot protect your neck with a scarf.
On a sample of Charnels, the Killa Bees offered a crash course in street-level economics. This is not greed for materialism, but for sheer survival. In two sentences, Raekwon shrewdly breaks down their entire journey: “I grew up on the side of crime/on the side of the New York Times/Staying alive wasn’t child’s play. “His New York is yellow duct tape and chalk outlines, smoke bags for sale, and almost non-existent legal money-making avenues.
The leader’s first verse recounts his last 23 years. His mother left his father, they moved to Staten Island. Drug loot was the only way to pay Polo and
Method Man’s hook remains one of the greatest ever recorded. He says, “get the money” as if it were a biological imperative. A decade before Jeezy and DJ Khaled, this is the greatest motivational anthem ever recorded. It provides the universal inspiration that could apply to the lowliest hustler or the wealthiest titan on Wall Street. They may use different methods but both aspire to the same ends: cream like Julio Iglesias.
The last verse of Inspectah Deck will remain indelible as long as economic inequity exists. As the RZA described it, “in one verse, Deck takes you through the entire cycle of life on the street: from jamming in the street, to jostling, to trying to teach young people a better way and that they don’t hear you – and show that there is no answer.”
“CREAM” explained the other side better than any news article or documentary ever could. If it’s so powerful, it’s because of that hunger, desperation, and indomitable will in their words and their voices. Le Wu wrote vivid lines that you could quote for the rest of your life. “Shorty’s life shouldn’t be so rough; times are rough and tough as leather; living in the world is no different from a cell. Or as Deck’s latest raps sum it up: “life is hectic”.
There is a Full Wikipedia of rappers who referenced it in their own songs. On his latest mixtape, Future rasps “Lord, forgive me for my sins, I know cash rules.” Rolling Stone called it the 11th greatest hip-hop song of all time. You can go on and on. In its own way, it had more influence on a generation than anything Adam Smith ever wrote – distilling his maxims into one easy lesson. If cash rules are the new American way, Wu-Tang wrote the modern national anthem.
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