U-God is one of the lesser known members of one of the largest and best-known hip-hop groups in the world, recognized by just one stylistic letter: "W."
The Wu-Tang Clan rapper, born Lamont Jody Hawkins, didn't let a minor setback like his incarceration during the production of the group’s groundbreaking debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," stop him from getting his shine.
This Friday, at age 47, dressed in all black with shades and a beanie, U-God checked into his cramped hotel room on a brisk Friday morning in Washington, D.C., and turned up the heat. Beads of sweat immediately started to appear on my brow as I sat down at the desk. Under normal circumstances, I would ask him to turn down the temperature on the thermostat, but I then remembered that the Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to f--k with.
"Talk to me," he panted.
When asked if he's even heard of the Washington Examiner, he said he hadn’t. Following up on whether he read a lot of news, he responded, "Of course, I do. I have the fuckin' news channel on every day."
I then explained to him that he's about to go on the record with me as I gestured to my phone that I've begun recording the interview.
"You make it seem like I'm being interrogated.”
Of course, in this town, everyone is worried about saying the wrong thing and prefers to go off the record or speak on background. But this isn't your run-of-the-mill DC-type, this is U-God, a.k.a. Golden Arms, Baby Huey, or the guy who invented the grotesque torture skit on the hit song “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man.” He shouldn't have that problem.
"I don't wanna talk about Trump," he stipulated, prompting me to burst out laughing. "I do not talk about my peoples. Don't talk about my man Trump. I don't have anything to say about him."
"But he's your peoples?" I inquired.
"I don't talk about him like that. I'm not saying he's my peoples. I'm just saying I don't deal with politics. I don't mix politics and music together," he clarified.
In an age where political polarization is discernibly toxic and publications like Marie Claire still question why pop stars like Taylor Swift hasn’t come forward to denounce President Trump, it's actually stunning (and somewhat refreshing) to hear an entertainer, let alone a rapper, explain why they actively avoid weighing in on the current political climate, especially when it comes to Trump.
"There's things we don't know about," U-God insisted about his aversion to talking politics. "There's levels we don't know about – that we'll never know about. And to sit here and talk about things we don't know about–cause we don't sit in that seat–is just not a problem for me. I can't talk about stuff I don't know about ... I choose, 'You know what? It's too complicated.’”
He explained later in the interview when politics came up again, “That politics stuff is not my game. Like I said, it’s a different game and as a civilian and as an entertainer, it’s like teaching rocket science to a 'hood motherfucker.”
Ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, entertainers across various different industries have felt the urgency to come out to denounce him. In the hip hop community, rappers like Eminem, who’s known for being political, dedicated a number of songs and verses to how much he loathes Trump.
Compton-based rapper Y.G., who’s known more for gang-banging, released a song in 2016 called “FDT” or “F—k Donald Trump.”
But U-God doesn’t feel that urgency. In fact, he relishes not letting politics infect his music.
"Just worry about making a living.”
In his newly released autobiography, RAW: My Journey into the Wu-Tang, U-God maps out his true rags to riches story from when he was five to 26 years old before he joined the legendary rap group. His story touches on the range of his experiences, from the time he first saw a person die when he was a child, to his successful crack cocaine salesmanship in his twenties, to his first tour with the group.
He's a self-taught lyricist, and a gifted one at that. He is featured on every major Wu-Tang project since their debut in 1993 (despite his incarceration), which includes six studio LPs and the infamous single-copy album "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin." That latter album, as it happens, was bought by the now-convicted felon Martin Shkreli (whom U-God called a "cocky motherfucker" whose "shit doesn't stink") and seized by the federal government. U-God has put out four solo albums, and is releasing one at the end of March, titled, “Venom.”
“I’m just a creative genius,” he said when I asked how he stays motivated to continue to make music. “Shit just comes to me. I’ve been writing concepts, like song angles (angles to write music)… probably since I was 15, 14 years old.”
He went on to say that creating music is just one aspect. He feels he’s really letting it flow through his writing outside of music.
“Even with my book, that’s my story. That’s my life story. But, I’m like thinking of something another way, create another genre of books,” he explained. “To be creative… like how he do that? How do you get those juices flowin’? How do you always stay flowin’ with ideas? You just gotta be open minded. You can’t close down.”
The father of three now lives in New Jersey after being born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in the Park Hill projects of Staten Island (better known to Wu fans as "Shaolin"). He sees things differently now, and believes the trials he went through in his youth have become less pertinent to the next generation.
"Everywhere's gotten easier," he explained. "This whole new crop of people that came up. It's way better than the crop that used to be out there. It's like seeing the new lineage, the new people ... It's just different. Kids ain't the same. Everything's changed."
He continued. "In a way, it's kind of cool. I don't have to walk around with my head on a swivel all the time, even though I still do because I'm naturally like that."
When it comes to raising his kids in such a polarized atmosphere, U-God sighed as the focus turned to hateful rhetoric.
"Ah man, it is rhetoric, and focus on yourself," he said. "Focus on what you're doing. Don't worry about all this stuff. If it happens to jump over your fence and invade your space, just know that you gotta be on point for that. As long as it doesn't, it doesn't pertain to you."
He elaborated on how the media tends to amplify problems that may not impact everyone. "A lot of the stuff you see on T.V. is not geared for that. People make the stuff on T.V. personal like it belongs to them. That's the only thing that comes into your home is the television. So now, you gotta understand that it's not personal because if you turn the T.V. off and you wouldn't even know what was going on. You can continue on with your day without any mishaps."
"There's a hierarchy that we just don't understand as civilians. We're civilians. Politicians are above civilians, believe it or not," he said.
As for conspiracy theories, we batted around the idea promulgated by ESPN radio host Bomani Jones that Stevie Wonder isn’t blind.
“You think he’s not blind?” I asked.
“If he is, he is. If he ain’t, he aint,” U-God replied. “But if he ain’t, I think he’s blind in one eye. But not as blind as you thought he was in both eyes. […] I heard he has one eye that’s good and one eye that’s fucked up. So, he was able to see out of one eye, but, at the same time, he is blind and he’s a musical genius.”
He continued on to say that Stevie Wonder is still a “bad motherfucka” [“bad” in a good way, of course, in case Stevie is reading this article].
When asked if he had a favorite conspiracy theory, U-God put it conspiratorially: “If there was one, I’m not gonna talk about it. Mum’s the fuckin’ word.”
I asked if he heard of the conspiracy theory that Osama bin Laden was not killed by SEAL Team Six, but rather was captured in 2011 is being used for intelligence.
“I heard that,” U-God admitted. “I think he’s in a bunker.”
“Yeah, they got a little underground bunker. He had dialysis. He’s laid up in a bunker,” he continued. “I’d lay up in a bunker if I had food, clothing, shelter, and it was nice and good and I had my little wifey with me. I’d lay up in a bunker too! I wouldn’t come out that motherfuckin’ thing if I had billions of dollars and I was laying. Shit! I could just go and lay in my artificial surfboards and my artificial place and just live my life, man.”
U-God opined on the Nation of Islam and the news that has come out recently about Louis Farrakhan and the organizers of the Women's March. U-God identifies as part of the Five Percent Nation, a black empowerment movement started in Harlem by a former Nation of Islam member, Clarence Edward Smith, better known as Clarence 13X or Allah the Father.
"We're totally different," U-God said, explaining that the Five-Percenters subscribe to the teachings as a life philosophy, not a religion. "We always was different. The structure of the Nation of Islam is a little more militant than the Five Percenters. The Five Percenters are a little more loosey. Some street guys who got knowledge of self, and just know who they are. Just know how we came about and where we came from. We ain't no radical group like that. There ain't no soldiers lined up on the front line under the command of a leader."
U-God has been a part of the Five Percenters since he was 14 years old, and he said it has helped him accept that there are simply things beyond his control. Perhaps that's why he stays above the political fray. What sense is there in making everything in your life about something you have little to no control over?
"I have control over what I can see, what I can write, what I can put together, and what I can make as a project -- you know what I mean? -- and my work and my craft and master that.”