The recent news of a connection between members of The Wu-Tang Clan and murders committed back in 1999 seemed to hit the news cycle out of nowhere this week. The sixteen-year-old story resurfaced because the murder trial has just recently come to a close.
However, this isn’t the first time The Wu-Tang Clan has been connected to a mysterious crime story with a cast of characters and a plotline as convoluted as a hybrid episode of Empire mixed with Scandal AND How to Get Away With Murder.
In 2000, Village Voice writer Frank Owen published a cover story titled “Wu-Tang Clan Is Sumthing Ta F**k Wit.” The story was an investigative piece on several active criminal cases involving members of Wu-Tang and their associates. Most concerning were allegations that some of the members were involved in gunrunning.
RZA, the founder of The Wu-Tang Clan, moved to Steubenville, Ohio, a town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, to live with his mother when he was a teenager. Steubenville would eventually become a place where members of Wu-Tang and their affiliates would convene to record and hang out.
In 1997, a friend of RZA’s was killed in a shootout in Steubenville. A shooting of another Wu- Tang associate back on Staten Island and a flurry of possible retaliation shootings in Steubenville led to an investigation of the group by the ATF. Research on weapons used in the shootings led to a batch of firearms purchased in a Steubenville gun store by an associate for Wu-Tang, which led to the whispers of a gunrunning operation between Steubenville and Staten Island.
As with the recent news events, the 1999 gunrunning story was problematic in that it was tied to auxiliary members of an already massive rap group with multiple tentacles. Was RZA having an associate buy guns in Steubenville to use in Staten Island in the late '90s? No charges were ever filed against him or any other member of the group. Was RZA responsible for retaliation killings for the people who shot and killed his friend? Again, no charges were ever filed against him.
Beyond Steubenville, there were other notable incidents involving Wu-Tang members. In the same Village Voice story, the name Michael Caruso brought a shadow of criminal activity to the group. Caruso, an Italian former nightclub promoter turned federal informant, had rebranded himself as a hip hop impresario, managing Wu-Tang member Cappadonna.
Soon after the Village Voice article was published, Cappadonna fired Caruso. In a 2013 interview he was asked if he knew that Caruso was a federal informant when he hired him.
“I don’t know about his personal life,” said Cappadonna. “We did some work together, he worked for me. He was good at what he did and I hired him on those basics. I didn’t do a background check on him.”
It’s safe to say that since Wu-Tang’s inception, background checks have been run on the entire group — and more than once. While there was often genius going on in the booth, there was drama outside of it.
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Check out RZA discussing the history of Wu-Tang in the video below:
(Photo: The Village Voice, May 2000 Issue)