Through his work as the star MC of the infamous hip-hop supergroup the Wu-Tang Clan, as a Grammy-winning solo performer, and as a guest rapper on countless other projects, including those with partner-in-rhyme Redman, Method Man—also known as Meth, Tical, Johnny Blaze, Hott Nikkels, MZA, and Iron Lung—became one of the hottest men in rap. His albums have sold millions, and he emits a raw, creative, direct, and dynamic energy. The rapper’s often imitated tough-guy image has taken on various personas over the years, from his comic-book inspired John Blaze character to one of a medieval knight in armor looking toward the future. “I am a charismatic brother, “Method Man boasted for a 1998 Def Jam Records press release. “I got a flair that a lot of people don’t have. You’re either born with it, or you just don’t get it at all. And I feel like I was born with it, so I use it to the best of my advantage.”
Born in 1971, Method Man grew up as Clifford Smith, a youngster constantly shuffled between his delinquent father, who lived on Long Island, New York, and his mother on Staten Island in New York. For the most part though, Method Man, the middle child, and his two sisters were raised by their mother in the Park Hill housing projects. It was on Staten Island that Method Man befriended the group of boys that would eventually join forces as the Wu-Tang Clan. At various times, in both the ninth and eleventh grades, Method Man dropped out of school, and, as he later admitted, bought and sold drugs. Thanks to rap, he found a way out. “Reality smacked me in the face early. That’s why I don’t like to talk about my childhood, “he once said in a Rolling Stone interview. However, he added, “I don’t ever want anybody to feel sorry for me because of the way I came up. There are a lot of people who have it a hell of a lot worse than me.”
During those years, the troubled teen hung out and rapped with Robert Diggs (now known by the names Prince Rakeem, or the RZA) and his cousins Gary Grice (the Genius, or GZA) and Russell Jones (Ol’ Dirty Bastard). Some years later, Diggs and Grice, after suffering recording industry setbacks, gathered old friends Jones and Smith along with newcomers Dennis Coles (Ghostface Killah), Jason Hunter (Inspectah Deck), Lamont Hawkins (U-God), and Raekwon to form the Wu-Tang Clan in 1991. They derived their name from martial arts principles—” Wu-Tang” translates to mean “sword family” and is considered one of the deadliest styles of the art form—and after some practice, were considered the best crew of MCs in the neighborhood. RZA, who produces as well as raps for the group, claims that he came up with the name after reading a Bible passage referring to the tongue as a double-edged sword. Thus, because his group possessed the most envied lyrical technique around, the named seemed a fitting description.
Although many labels wanted to sign the Wu-Tang Clan after hearing initial demos, the group was unable
Born Clifford Smith in 1971 on Staten Island, NY.
Formed Wu-Tang Clan with childhood friends, 1991; Wu-Tang Clan signed with Loud records and released classic debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 1993; Method Man signed solo deal with Def Jam Records, 1993; released debut album Tical, 1994; released Tical 2000: Judgement Day, 1998; appeared with Redman for Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life tour, 1999; Wu-Tang Clan released third album, The Wu, 2000.
Awards: Grammy Award for “You’re All I Need” (with Mary J. Blige), 1994.
to obtain what they considered a fair offer. Therefore, they pooled their money—each member contributed about $100—and recorded their first single, “Protect Your Neck.” Released on their own Wu-Tang Records in 1992, the record sold 15, 000 copies, leading to a unique deal with Loud Records, then a fledgling rap imprint for RCA. Loud not only signed the group, but also allowed members to sign separate solo contracts. Consequently, much like N.W.A. on the West Coast, the Wu-Tang Clan gave rise to several solo careers, including those of Method Man, Ghostface Killah, RZA, and Raekwon. “We have too much talent, “Method Man later observed. “You can’t sign the whole Clan and just give them $300, 000. That’s worth one brother right there.” But even while they thrived as individuals, the Wu-Tang Clan never splintered, and their family-like existence only strengthened over the years. As RZA explained to the New York Times in 1996: “The point is when Wu-Tang came together, we vowed brotherhood to each other. When you stick together you can’t lose.”
After enlisting the Wu-Tang Clan, Loud repressed copies of their debut single, adding Method Man’s “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” as the B-side. Introducing the MC’s lyrical wit and seemingly effortless vocal abilities, the song commanded him instant attention. Soon thereafter, in December of 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan arrived with their full-length debut, the now-classic Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album, according to Los Angeles Times critic Marc Weingarten, showed “hip-hop in garish Technicolor, an urban creep show in which a large cast of brilliant rappers winded its way through producer RZA’s innovative, unsettling constructs” and is “easily one of the best hip-hop albums of the ’90s.” Enter the Wu-Tang provided the rap world with several hits, including “Protect Ya Neck,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin to F*** Wit/Can It Be All So Simple, “and “C.R.E.A.M./Da Mystery of Chessboxin’, “featuring Method Man singing the memorable chorus “Cash Rules Everything Around Me/C.R.E.A.M. get the money/Dollar dollar bill y’all!”
Over the course of 1994, the Clan’s debut went platinum. Meanwhile, Method Man, who had signed with Def Jam Records in 1993, released his first solo effort that same year. Tical, although dark and ominous-sounding, entered the Billboard charts at number four. It, too, eventually gained platinum status and spawned hit singles such as the propulsive “Bring the Pain, “the anthem-like “Release Yo Self, “and the platinum-selling, Grammy Award-winning smash “You’re All I Need, “a duet sung with Mary J. Blige, produced by Bad Boy Entertainment’s Sean “Puffy” Combs.
Fast becoming one of the most sought after voices in hip-hop, Method Man went on to appear on numerous tracks for other artists, including those by the Notorious B.I.G. (“The What”), basketball giant Shaquille O’Neal (“No Hook”), and Boyz II Men (“Vibin” ’). Then in August of 1996, he teamed with fellow Def Jam artist Redman for the surprise hit “How High.” Amid all this activity, Method Man throughout 1995 and 1996 continued to make records with other members of the Wu-Tang family, appearing on the solo efforts of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon (“Ice Cream”), Genius/GZA (“Sha-dowboxin’”), and Ghostface Killah. Further evidence of Method Man’s popularity occurred when he adopted his “Johnny Blaze” persona for Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album. Afterwards, the concept became the name of a new rap magazine, Blaze, and even a line of clothing.
These individual successes, however, resulted in unrealistic expectations when the time arrived to record a second Wu-Tang Clan album. Hyped-up and promoted by the group’s label, the double-album Wu-Tang Forever, released in 1997, sold 600, 000 units in its first week alone. But reviewers, confused by the record’s abstract themes, were less enthusiastic. Wu-Tang Forever, noted Weingarten “was slack and unfocused, a tangle of ideas in search of a unifying principle.” Nevertheless, the record-buying public and the music industry exhibited a different opinion, as Wu-Tang Forever went on to sell in excess of five million copies and earn the group a Grammy nomination.
Following the release of their sophomore effort, the Clan embarked on a major sold-out tour with the rock bands Rage Against the Machine and Atari Teenage Riot. However, after several missed dates, supposed scheduling conflicts, and an altercation with an artist and repertoire (A&R) representative from Loud, the Wu-Tang Clan backed out of the tour. This, in turn, invited much speculation in both the press and among fans regarding the group’s behavior, leading to a decline in popularity. But surprisingly, Method Man’s star continued to rise. In addition to guesting on other projects—including LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1, “Redman’s “Whateva Man, “and Kayo “Whatcha Gonna Do, “—he landed small acting roles in the films 187, The Great White Hype, Copland, and Belly.
In November of 1998, Method Man released a second solo album entitled Tieal 2000: Judgement Day, which debuted at number two on the Billboard charts (behind Garth Brooks’Double Live album) and went platinum soon thereafter. Early in 1999, Method Man made a joint appearance with friend and collaborator Redman for rapper Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life tour, which set records for grossing $18 million in ticket sales. While on the road, Redman and Method Man wrote a duet LP, Blackout, debuting at number three upon its release in September of 1999. Coincidentally, Brooks beat Method Man in chart position again, this time with his Garth Brooks…The Life of Chris Gaines, which came in at number two. That year, Method Man made other guest appearances, contributing to the Limp Bizkit song “Shut the F*** Up” and EPMD’s “Symphony 2000, “and joining the Family Values tour.
In September of 2000, Method Man appeared in another film, Backstage, a documentary that followed the previous year’s Hard Knock Life tour. Directed by Chris Fiore, Backstage garnered critical praise and appealed to hip-hop fans for its live concert sequences. “But more remarkable is the film’s raw, behind-the-scenes peak that strips away preconceptions (often stereotypical and judgmental) about the rappers, revealing the drive, brains, anger, pain, and humanity of the urban hip-hop scene, “noted Loren King in the Boston Globe. In December, the Wu-Tang Clan returned with a third effort, The W, to mixed reviews. While an improvement over Wu-Tang Forever, by most accounts it failed in comparison to their celebrated debut.
Tical, Def Jam, 1994.
Tical 2000: Judgement Day, Def Jam, 1998.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Loud/RCA, 1993.
Wu-Tang Forever,(double album), Loud, 1997.
The W, Loud/Columbia/Sony, 2000.
Billboard, January 11, 1997; June 21, 1997.
Boston Globe, November 27, 1998; December 23, 1999; September 6, 2000.
Chicago Tribune, September 6, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1998; November 19, 2000.
Melody Maker, December 5, 1998.
New York Times, December 8, 1996; November 23, 2000.
Rolling Stone, December 29, 1994; June 26, 1997; July 10-24, 1997; December 25, 1997-January 8, 1998; October 15, 1998; December 10, 1998; May 13, 1999; August 31, 2000; December 14-21, 2000.
Time, December 11, 2000.
USA Today, July 11, 2000; November 21, 2000.
Village Voice, May 30, 2000.
Def Jam Records, http://www.defjam.com (December 12, 2000).
Wall of Sound, http://www.wallofsound.com (December 12, 2000).
"Man, Method." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/man-method
"Man, Method." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/man-method
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