Solo albums for each Wu-Tang member were recorded and slated for release not long after their iconic debut when the unthinkable happened. A flood struck RZA’s basement studio, wiping out countless hours of material.
“When the first Wu album came out, we had all the other albums ready,” RZA said in a September 1996 Vibe interview with Jeff “Chairman” Mao. “I had the shit with everybody’s names on it, and everybody had at least 15 beats in their section.”
As a result, many group members were forced to put out a product that didn’t match their initial vision. “My first album wasn’t even the album that y’all hear as Uncontrolled Substance,” Inspectah Deck said in an interview with VLADTV. “It was a totally different album…But the flood came.”
“I make music that reflects my emotions…I can sit here and give you this shit all day, every day.””- RZA
Deck tried his best to salvage his work, but his efforts were in vain. “Back then we was doing beats on the ASR-10 floppy disks and things like that,” Deck told DJ Vlad. “Floppy disks got soaked…I tried to salvage it. I took it to a computer place. Nothing could happen. So, I lost that first album and had to start all over again.”
While RZA estimated he lost 300 beats in the flood, Raekwon told DJ Booth the number was closer to 500. And it wasn’t just RZA’s hard work that washed away with the flood. According to Rae, ODB and several other Wu-affiliated talents lost the fruits of their labors.
“A lot of people didn’t know that Dirty was making music,” Rae told DJ Booth. “You had Tru Master. You had 4th Desciple. They all had different sounds. It was just a collage of organic violins and certain eerie sounds…Knockers and bangers and beats that was challenging to us.”
Losing so much irreplaceable work taught Rae a valuable lesson. “I tell people all the time, back your shit up,” he told DJ Booth. “I might have three drives of music, just to have it.”
“It was a totally different album…But the flood came.”- Inspectah Deck
Though devastating at the time, the group deserves credit for soldiering on after the flood. In the Vibe interview RZA makes it clear that no flood or personal setback of any kind was going to stop him. “I make music that reflects my emotions,” he said. “I can sit here and give you this shit all day, every day.”
Rae’s DJ Booth interview shows that he was in a similar frame of mind. “That might just be telling us to go back in the studio and make more shit,” he said while reflecting on the flood.
Wu-Tang didn’t let this massive setback stop them, yet one can’t help but wonder how it changed the trajectory of their career. No matter how impressive and massive their catalog, we were likely robbed of some timeless music when Mother Nature struck RZA’s basement studio.