When compiling a list of the most influential artists in music history, it’s hard to look past the Wu-Tang Clan. The hip hop group has been named “The Best Rap Group Ever” by Rolling Stone and one of the most influential groups of the last 20 years by NME. The group has given us some of the biggest names in hip hop, artists such as Ghostface Killah, RZA, Raekwon and Method Man. One man who has contributed to the success of these artists has been producer and DJ Mathematics.
In October, Wu-Tang released their 7th studio album, The Saga Continues, which was produced entirely by Mathematics, the first time he has produced all the tracks for a Wu-Tang record. The idea of producing an album for such an iconic group seems daunting, yet Mathematics confidently responded “It was different, but at the same time it was just about being more focused. I’m always focused when I’m working, but it was about being more focused and in the zone, to have that passion and drive to put this all together”.
“The reaction I’m getting from the people (about the album) is good, I love that they love it. That’s a beautiful day,” Mathematics mentioned over the phone, with an objectively cool demeanor that is easily assosciated with the East Coast hip-hop scene of the 1990s. The Saga Continues is a hip-hop album for lovers of the old hip-hop. There aren’t any trap beats or overblown production, but instead a familiar yet unique dark and ominous boom-bap sound. The beats are tied together by vocals from Wu-Tang royalty such as RZA, Method Man and Ghostface Killah as well as Wu-Tang associated artists like Cappadonna and Streetlife.
Another big part of The Saga Continues are the skits, a staple of the old school rap albums. “I came from an era where we didn’t make music for sales, we made for albums so the albums had to be complete. So it had to have an intro, skits and an outro, that’s what made up the album. As a producer it gives you the chance to say certain things that you may not be able to say (otherwise).” The album features skits about family as well as the divide between the older and younger generation of hip hop, an issue that Mathematics felt he needed to address as a producer, using skits as a way to verbalise his thoughts on these issues.
Hip-hop has changed massively from when the Wu-Tang Clan started out nearly 25 years ago, and I asked the producer if he felt Wu-Tang were still relevant in 2017. Mathematics didn’t seem phased however, stating “I don’t think you deal with relevancy if you’re doing music, you have to deal with it on an artistic level. You want to create something that people gravitate towards, but at the end of the day you want to stay true to your art. You could be relevant one day and then tomorrow not be relevant, but you need to stay true to yourself and stay true to your art”.
The success of A Tribe Called Quest‘s 2016 album We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service definitely shows that the desire for old school hip hop still exists. “It shows you there’s still a lane for it, people gravitate towards it,” Mathematics mentioned, however he stopped short of saying it gives him confidence, adding “You always have confidence because I know my music’s banging”.
As a pioneering producer and DJ for hip-hop in the 90s, Mathematics acknowledged how the rap game has changed. “For one thing technology has changed, we’ve been in the game 24 years (25 next year), so the music has changed. I think with the technology the beats have become a lot cleaner and a lot of the things have become a lot easier to do. I’m more of a traditionalist because I want a different sound. I attack my music in a different way, I’m not trying to stay relevant, I’m just trying to make something that people will enjoy.”
The Wu-Tang Clan helped bring hip hop into the new millennium and were instrumental to the rap juggernaut we see today. Rap has gone from being an underground movement to topping charts the world over. “You know, I remember the days when people use to say “what’s that junk” and “that’s not gonna last” and it’s still here, it’s the number one music. Hip-hop has expanded to have different genres within it.” However Mathematics still feels as if his sound doesn’t get the recognition it deserves “Even though hip hop has become so big, I still feel as if that real, rugged, underground hip-hop, it still has a chip on it’s shoulder because you still get overlooked.”
Mathematics quickly jumped to the recent Grammy nominations, and the controversy surrounding the lack of nominations A Tribe Called Quest received. “I mean they just released the nominations for the Grammy’s and I seen Q Tip go off and I understand that, their album (A Tribe Called Quest) was banging. I don’t think we need to look at them (The Grammy’s) for recognition of our music, to tell us who’s hot and who’s not. We started doing this for fun, I started rocking in the car for fun“.
There was a certain swagger and bravado that Mathematics held during our entire conversation, he oozed confidence in a way that was cool without ever being arrogant. When asked who Mathematics was listening to now he laughingly responded “at the moment I’m listening to me.” But was quick to shower praise on a bunch of up and coming artists “I like Joey Bada$$, Vince Staples, J Cole, Kendrick Lamar. In fact I like the whole TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) crew, I think they dope, you know Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, The A$AP Mob. You know there’s a lot of talent out there that’s for sure”.
As the conversation came to a close I felt I needed to get the producers opinion on the new wave of SoundCloud rappers who have been topping the charts recently. and as a self proclaimed traditionalist, Mathematics was humble in saying “You know that’s their lane and that’s what they do and a lot of people enjoy it. They get a lot of streams and they do well on the charts, so you know they are giving the listener what they want. The internet is so big and hip-hop has become so big that whatever you want you can find it”. He then went on to reiterate the ‘Message’ track off the new album saying “For me personally music is music, and if they’re making people happy and they got fans who love it then so be it. Never knock another man’s hustle.”
As for whether we will be getting another Wu-Tang Clan tour in Australia in the near future, Mathematics was more tight lipped “It’s a possibility, I know some things are in the works but we’ll have to see what happens. Hopefully though we will be out there soon.”