A Cut-Throat Industry
The music business is a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. From lucrative contracts stipulating a certain number of albums shifted, to a revolving door of manufactured pop acts and producers stumbling over the next big thing, making it big in the music industry is no easy feat. Wu-Tang’s latest episode attempts to show this too and while it is successful in some respects, the episode itself values style over substance, with an hour of drama depicting Bobby’s tumultuous journey to the top and subsequent fall from grace.
Split into different chapters, Wu-Tang: An American Saga kicks us off this week with our trio of rappers sharing pizza together. From here, we cut forward to Bobby heading to the studio and onto the make-shift stage, where he experiences problems fine-tuning his mix. Telling the man one of his sound mixers is broken, Bobby receives a blank expression in response before being introduced to a few more players in the rap game.
A journalist takes Bobby aside and asks him questions about his newfound fame soon after, acting as a clever way of delivering exposition. Making a hasty retreat, Bobby is given some merchandise to sign but as he looks over the shirts, he notices his name is spelt wrong.
Taking some artistic cues from Legion, he backs into another rapper who tells him what Rakeem actually means as a spotlight shines on him and the sound begins to echo out. Heading back to the stage, Bobby continues to have problems achieving the right sound levels as we reach Chapter 2.
Bobby prepares for his big gig on stage in New Orleans and with a single, smooth tracking shot, we see him walking to the bathroom where he raps infront of the mirror before heading back with the rest of the group for a special performance on the radio.
Chapter 3 arrives swiftly after this where we see Bobby in Greenboro. Dodging a large crowd out front, he heads in the back and asks about record sales before signing a record for the owner’s nephew. Allowing him to rap, he lavishes praise on the kid before Bobby’s family arrives and surprises him. Reluctantly bagging them tickets to his show, more bad luck is heaped on Bobby as he learns for the record signings, no records are actually available for him to sign. Eventually Bobby decides to compromise as a solution is offered, paving way for Chapter 4 to begin.
Divine visits Bobby as he rolls into New York under his stage name of “Prince Rakeem”. Andre greets them at the door and piles more misery on Bobby as he tells our protagonist he won’t be producing his own album, someone else will be doing that for him. All of this flashy production and make-up is a far cry from Bobby’s basement but on the cusp of his video being filmed, old rivalries flare up as Dennis arrives and immediately starts raging. With things put on hold for now, Bobby takes his position with his top-hat and begins his music video.
Chapter 5 is the final act of the episode and sees Bobby walking purposefully into the studio to test the mixing channels on his headphones. With everyone joined together in the room, Bobby talks to the guys who have supported him through his musical journey, telling them they can hit the scene with the “wu-tang” sound. Together. With a simple, raw beat, the team begin working excitedly on a new track before Bobby is pulled aside by Andre and told sales aren’t what they expected. The label are dropping him and the album, leaving things hanging on a cliffhanger where we leave the episode.
With a run-time a little shy of an hour, Wu-Tang ditches its crime drama on the streets this week for a more intimate look at the rise and fall of Prince Rakeem. The result is an episode that’ll almost certainly be received in polarising fashion, with some lamenting the lack of plot progression or grit in favour of style while others subsequently loving the smooth camera movements, creative aesthetic and chapter breaks through the episode.
Although Wu-Tang continues to deliver the goods with this episode, with another enjoyable slice of drama, it also feels tonally different to what we’ve seen before. Still, the ending is pretty dramatic and the final scene certainly leaves things wide open for where this may go next. If you’ve made it this far though, chances are you’ll almost certainly see this one through to the end.