Words of Wu-dom

Haven't had enough Wu-Tang merchandise? Now there's a book.

The Wu-Tang Clan shouldn't still exist. In an industry in which today's rap superstars become tomorrow's MC Hammer, nine Staten Island MCs pulled off the impossible, outlasting the three great pitfalls of modern hip-hop: ego battles, gang violence, and, most important, irrelevance. So how did Wu-Tang leader and chief producer the RZA succeed in building a hip-hop empire with nine of the craziest drug-huffing, gang-banging New Yorkers to grab a mic?

To answer that question, RZA has given the hip-hop community a rare gift with his first book, The Wu-Tang Manual. This catch-all collection of member histories, lyrical influences, and spiritual discoveries is the ultimate checklist for emulating the Wu's success. Granted, RZA's lessons are as multitiered, out-there, and conflicted as the group's output, but in spite of every jump in logic and incomplete statement in the Manual, it's hard to ignore advice from someone who could persuade Ol' Dirty Bastard to concentrate on occasion.

"The best thing for making music has really been some good weed," RZA writes in a chapter dedicated entirely to chemicals. "Cocaine influenced a lot of the best rapping on [debut album] 36 Chambers," he continues, and "[Ecstasy] makes you feel real nice." But even more amusing is that chapter's opening warning: "I don't advocate the use of illegal drugs," RZA claims. Right. C'mon, RZA, you were high when you wrote that!

Balancing the illicit with the legit, the Manual also touches on the group's many pop culture and spiritual inspirations. From Mafia tales to numerology, kung-fu flicks to superheroes, RZA references many ideologies, though he fails to detail their connections. Still, Wu-Tang stories about humility, balance, and chi are a refreshing contrast to '90s gangsta-obsessed peers and recent bling-crazy chart-toppers, and for a group that grew up in violent slums, it's nice to see a hint of a noble worldview beneath the angry lyrics.

That contrast may be the most compelling element in the Wu-Tang's formula, so it's a treat to see RZA break down eight hits, lyric by lyric. Easily the Manual's most interesting section, these reprinted songs come complete with footnotes explaining double-entendres, hometown secrets, and Wu history. It's the kind of analysis that will one day make this book required reading for college courses about hip-hop.

The Wu-Tang Manual closes with comments from members GZA and U-God on the art of crafting rhymes, and while the stuff isn't the rap equivalent of a creative-writing textbook, the advice is solid and direct: Work harder and study more than the best MC out there and you'll last. That theme is the basis of the book, told in a streetwise manner, and for all the Manual's shortcomings, authenticity is its most redeeming quality. Professor RZA might be rough around the edges, but there's no denying that when he speaks, Ol' Dirty class is in session. -- Sam Machkovech

Sonic Surgery

Never Mind the Vioxx

Sorry, kid -- no drugs for you. This rockin' doctor is not risking another AMA investigation to score you some painkillers (damn whistleblowing nurses) -- especially when your complaint is "a stiff neck caused by acute boredom at indie-rock concerts." Look, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a drug dealer. Besides, there's a better remedy for dealing with showache, and the word's not Vioxx or even Vicodin -- it's Viking.

"I just found out that I'm part Viking," says Darren Keen, the myth-making one-man-band known as The Show Is the Rainbow. "My Nordic heritage is really shining through on this tour. [The show is] one-half music and one-half religious expression -- general sonic pollution and a lot of dancing."

Surly and crimson-bearded, Keen is a modern-day Erik the Red, marauding national stages like Rush Limbaugh on an Oxycontin jones. He rants. He raves. He spits fake blood and writhes across the floor. These are symptoms of great showmanship -- and probably chronic schizophrenia.

For all of the native Nebraskan's spazmocity, Keen is an equally adept songwriter. He whips up a mix of guitar and synthesizer, big beats and catchy choruses, which, along with surreal homemade movies, play on his laptop while he raps like the tweaked-out white boy he is. Judging by his last show at the Lounge, I can tell you his shtick is as experimental and unpredictable as any drug study I've conducted. And while I'm used to having a full staff on hand to handle freakouts, Keen does it all by himself.

If The Show Is the Rainbow doesn't cure your showache, then I recommend the full treatment. "Whoever wears the most Trojan armor gets a free CD," he proclaims. Yes, behavioral therapy can work wonders, and besides, drugs are just too damned expensive. This Rainbow connection is all about pillaging, not pill-popping.

Findings: Bands, stop staring at your shoes; you're comatizing your audience. Diagnosis: primary showache with second-hand narcolepsy. Treatment: A full-body Viking experience, courtesy of The Show Is the Rainbow, 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, at the Lounge, 517 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Admission is free. Call 561-655-9747. -- Doc Le Roc

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