Just about one year ago, legendary New York rap collective Wu-Tang Clan performed their 1993 debut studio album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in Chicago at Riot Fest 2017.
One month before that performance, Wu-Tang manager Tareef Michael arrived in Chicago on a mission to gain a more informed perspective on news reports of the city’s problems with gun violence.
“I think it was about a year ago. I was sitting in my living room and I saw that a young girl had been killed in a crossfire. It just sparked me to want to see what we can do as far as utilizing the Wu-Tang brand and our resources to kind of help that situation,” Michael explained. “We ended up having a summit [last year]. We did an event at Soho House as well. And it was great. We got to get on the ground and just really see the dynamics of what everybody’s up against with the violence and issues taking place in Chicago.”
Michael arrived in Chicago with Wu-Tang associate Oliver “Power” Grant and Mitchell “Divine” Diggs (brother of Wu-Tang rapper and producer Rza) and quickly made working with civic leaders a priority. One issue the group noticed was the lack of a cohesive effort amongst those working to curb violence in the city.
“What came out of it is, for one - and this is even before we had the summit, while we were on the [initial] calls - is the fact that everybody on the calls was doing certain work (peace efforts, non violence, stop the guns, this and that), but a lot of people on the call didn’t know each other or didn’t interact with each other. They’re vying for grants,” Michael explained. “So our whole thing was to create a coalition and say, ‘Hey - everybody come together and let’s utilize each other’s resources.’ It doesn’t have to be financial resources. Just supporting causes and efforts. I think we could solve a lot more like that as a unit rather than everybody trying to do it on their own.”
What began last August continues this week as Wu-Tang Clan gets ready to headline the second installment of the The Breaks Music Festival Saturday in southwest suburban Bridgeview at Toyota Park.
The group is heading to town early and hopes to meet with the Mayor’s office and more. Just as important should be touching base with like minded, socially conscious local artists like Twista and Vic Mensa, who share that concern for city and will also be performing Saturday in Bridgeview.
For years, Wu-Tang Clan’s charitable endeavors have been driven by their Wu-Tang Foundation. As the group’s activism in Chicago continues to deepen, they’re changing the name of it to A Better Tomorrow Foundation.
Last fall, in addition to their calls, summit and event at Soho House, Michael and company visited Cook County Jail and walked the streets of the city’s south side, engaging local residents.
This year they’re hoping to build on that by visiting a juvenile center and revisiting the inmates. The group also hopes to engage gang members and civic leaders alike in the hopes of developing the clearest picture possible of the way violence impacts the lives of many Chicagoans on a daily basis.
“When we got there, we were on the front lines. We’re going to where everything is happening. [Mothers Against Senseless Killings] on 75th Street - they stand out there all night on a corner that was plagued with gunshots. They feed the kids. It was powerful,” said Michael. “If we don’t take care of our own communities and police our own communities and provide for our own communities, no one else is gonna do it. That’s the bottom line to it. Hopefully we can be a bridge. That’s all we basically have been doing with our efforts. We’re just trying to be a bridge.”
Last year at Riot Fest, during their set, Wu-Tang Clan introduced the massive festival crowd to representatives from a number of local organizations trying to address violence in Chicago.
Riot Fest takes place in Douglas Park in the North Lawndale neighborhood on the city’s southwest side, ground zero for the gun violence in Chicago activists are trying to address. It’s not a part of the city most Riot Fest concertgoers frequent outside festival weekend. Introducing that crowd, in that park, to those local activists helped to put the issue on the radar of many Chicagoans who aren’t impacted by the city’s violence on a day-to-day basis.
“One thing I’ve learned is that people, even though they’re not directly effected, if given the opportunity, they do want to help. And we did get a lot of good feedback when we were at the Soho House [too]. That was great,” Michael said.
This Saturday at Toyota Park, Wu-Tang Clan once again plan on using their headlining status at The Breaks Vol. II to shine a light on Chicagoans making a difference. Local breakdancing outfit Brickheadz Crew will be involved as will members of Collaboraction Social Contemporary Theatre’s PEACEBOOK production.
Artwork from a number of local photographers will also run on festival screens during the Wu-Tang Clan set. Tonika Johnson is a photographer and Englewood activist and is working with members of EXPOSURE, a collection of concerned black photographers. Photography by Johnson, Zakkiyyah Najeebah, G’Jordan Williams, W.D. Floyd and Justin Xavier Soto will be featured Saturday at Toyota Park.
In an era where the anti-violence message of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendents like Garry McCarthy and Eddie Johnson are more likely to elicit an eye roll than a round of applause, and a lack of police and prison reform only complicates the problem, the members of Wu-Tang Clan are far more relatable characters to many Chicagoans.
“A lot of time my thoughts go back to how long it’s been - when we were out here then as kids and now we’re out here as adults - but Chicago has always been good to us. For me it’s just that thought of how long it’s been that we’ve really been messing with Chicago. Because that was early on,” said Michael of Wu-Tang’s early success in Chicago. “The response from the communities was wonderful. Obviously we have a brand that stands out and has existed for some time. Chicago has been one of our strong markets.”
Having met recently with people like Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown and Chicago-born rapper Kanye West’s team, Michael is hopeful he can put together a clearer picture of just what the city needs when he arrives in town this weekend.
“When you’re talking about Chicago and someone says, ‘What do you want?' you first have to know what you want in order to achieve it. So, hopefully we can find out and I can go back to him and other resources that I have and say, ‘Hey, this is what they need. Can we do it?’"
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Saturday's The Breaks Vol. II music festival at Toyota Park, featuring Wu-Tang Clan and more, below)
The Breaks Vol. II
Saturday, September 8, 2018
7000 S. Harlem Ave.
Bridgeview, IL 60455
Gates open at 11:30AM
Performing: Wu-Tang Clan, Yasiin Bey, Vic Mensa, Talib Kweli, Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, Twista and many more (For full lineup, click here)
Tickets: $20 to $500
Click HERE to purchase tickets
Tags: A Better Tomorrow Foundation, Brickheadz Crew, Collaboraction Social Contemporary Theatre, EXPOSURE, G’Jordan Williams, Jim Brown, Justin Xavier Soto, Kanye West, M.A.S.K., Mitchell "Divine" Diggs, Mothers Against Senseless Killings, Oliver "Power" Grant, PEACEBOOK, Rahm Emanuel, Riot Fest, RZA, Tareef Michael, The Breaks Music Festival, The Breaks Vol. II, Tonika Johnson, Toyota Park, Twista, Vic Mensa, W.D. Floyd, Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Foundation, Zakkiyyah Najeebah