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While all this may sound good--by 1998, Wu-Tang, Inc., was grossing more than $25 million a year--RZA, Divine and Oli Grant, the band's corporate brain trust, feel the group has spread itself too thin. "A few years ago, I told my brothers [fellow Clan members] that the W is gonna be like the Mickey Mouse ears," says RZA. For brands trying to be cool, though, ubiquity can be a bad thing--just ask Gucci. The W began showing up on too many things, while the band hardly showed up at all. It got to a point where the whole group assembled only once a year.
Divine and RZA are now cracking the whip like senior execs. "We're coming together like we did for the first five years," says RZA. "We see each other at least three times a week, with everybody aware of everything we're doing." Divine, meanwhile, is pushing the group to begin acting as a formal board of directors. The plan is to hire managers to run the business and keep the chubby W on only the handful of products that the entire band endorses.
This type of transformation isn't easy for hip-hop performers, RZA admits, noting, "We've had accountants quit on us saying, 'I can't take it. I don't know if I'm gonna get punched in my face if I f___ up.' It's not that we're gonna punch someone in the face. It's just that we talk different from them and they take it the wrong way."
The band has taken other steps to be more corporate--all part of a plan, says RZA, to go public within five years (if the WWF sells on the N.Y.S.E., why not Wu?). Last year it bought office space in midtown Manhattan. It also owns property in New Jersey. Next year the group plans to buy a small film studio, a tie-in with its newest venture, Wu-Tang Filmz, which aims to produce big-budget movies.
There's the larger question about whether this form of mini-media conglomerate can survive. The artist-as-mogul trend (Puff Daddy and Madonna, for example) has had a bumpy ride. Whether or not Wu-Tang winds up challenging the media giants, and whether or not the world-domination thing pans out, the band has built something it may be able to live with. "Sometimes I wake up and say, 'Man, we came from nothing and look at what we've got,'" says Diggs. "I just wish America one day can take a look and realize the prodigal children it has. All the potential released from its hells." Clearly, he's seen the mountaintop, and he likes the view. Now send up the accountants.