Wu-Tang 25: Quarter Century of Shaolin is a year-long series celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
Credit to ArtingShark
Last month, we talked about the RZA and the advent of the Wu using alter-egos and AKA’s. This month we are talking about the acting career of Method Man. Although many of the members have appeared one way or another in movies and television, Meth’s career was an easy choice to write about due to his involvement in both cult and absolute classics.
As the cliche goes, “write what you know.” Or in this case, act. A good amount of his roles he took early in his career reflects his background and the imagery he conveys in his music. The first role that comes to mind is Shameek in Belly.
Belly will forever hold a special place in hip-hop. Hype Williams’ directing debut with both peak Nas & DMX headlining the movie. That being said, the movie is more fun when watched without a serious lens. It’s got style as one would expect a Hype Williams production to have, but it ultimately isn’t a necessary watch. But the movie is a testament to the drawing power of hip-hop, and ends up foreshadowing the mainstream appeal of hip-hop by it’s existence alone. Another movie that’s an example of this is How High.
2001 we get peak Method Man & Redman. In 1999, they put out their first collaborative album Blackout!, then ride that momentum through 2001 with How High. I enjoyed the movie for being a stoner-comedy at the time, and on another re-watch, it hasn’t aged well. But there is a charm still with Meth & Red in the movie that it’s not complete wash. But again, this is a testament to the draw of hip-hop, especially in this time. Historically, from 1996 to 2001, hip-hop underwent a huge transformation. It’s not a coincidence that when the sounds in the music began to change coincided with the growth of popularity. Although that’s a topic for another article, it’s important to mention because Method Man’s acting career began during this transition.
When any subculture grows beyond the initial demographic it was formed for and/or by, mainstream culture will begin to adopt it and ends up changing the culture in some way. So when hip-hop is undergoing this change, and new money ends up flooding into it, Method Man is front and center to capitalize. To be clear, I do not want to be misinterpreted that his career is as successful as it is because of timing. The timing, however, did allow him to transcend.
There are many rappers that began their careers before and after Meth did, but Meth is one of the few rappers that broke away from the pigeonhole that Hollywood would box in the others with. It’s easy for Meth and his ilk to be stuck with the stigma of rappers can only act in one-dimensional roles. They can easily be looked at as people who aren’t capable to act, or can only act in anything hip-hop related. Method Man, however, was able to parlay the momentum into roles that flips that narrative on it’s head.
Take him as Tug Daniels on Oz. He was in four episodes in 2001. It’s his appearance in Belly, but with the writing and creative freedom that HBO shows are known to have. It’s funny to hear how Method Man’s first audition was for Oz, and how him being late once lead to his character dying. Method Man’s acting potential shows in his death scene.
His time on Oz is important because he was able to show his capability to act, and do it well. Although, his stint on Oz was overshadowed by How High coming out later that year. But the acting world starts to come around when he gets the role of Melvin “Cheese” Wagstaff on another HBO show, The Wire.
There is no way anyone ends up on two critically-acclaimed shows by accident, especially when one of those shows (The Wire) is arguably the best television show ever. I don’t buy the idea that Meth fell upward. I’d argue he had to work twice as hard to appear in those great shows. Not only to break the rapper-turned-actor stigma to get a shot, but then take that opportunity to transform himself as a bonafide actor. There were other rapper/actors active when he was that this could’ve happened to, but it happened to him because of his chops.
Calling Method Man the best rapper-turned-actor is selling him short.
Now, we can’t finish this article without some of my personal highlights from his career.
- Method Man with one of my favorite deliveries of the N-Word in anything
- His accent as Percy in The Wackness isn’t good but so memorable (Also check that the song The What is playing in the background. Method Man playing Percy, who is listening to a song with Method Man & Biggie on it)
- His cameo in season 1 of Luke Cage was an incredible surprise to me
His most recent role on another highly-acclaimed HBO show, The Deuce now has Meth playing the role of Rodney, a pimp in 1970’s New York.
His role on The Deuce is what sparked the idea of his article. While watching the show, it became easy to forget it’s Method Man playing Rodney. He sinks into the role and is Rodney. It made me wonder how he was able to do that. Obviously, his acting chops allow him to do so, but there had to be more. It hit me when writing last month’s piece about Prince Rakeem.
A part of Bobby Digital is Prince Rakeem to the extreme. That through line is what makes Ooh I Love You Rakeem more important to the Wu-Tang lore than WFTG. Not because of the quality of the music, but what that set in motion. It set the precedent for not only the RZA, but all of Wu-Tang to create these superhero-inspired alter-egos. Not only cause it gave them more words to rhyme with, but it let them explore and express different parts of their personality. Many stage names that rappers use aren’t their real names. Wu-Tang just took that to its logical end.
By adopting all their different monikers and the alter-egos attached to them, it became a skill to jump in and out of. Method Man can become Tical, who then can become The Iron Lung, who then can become Cheese, who then can become Rodney. Again, those AKA’s we love were just a means to an end at the start of Wu-Tang. But Method Man’s filmography is a by-product of that. He was already cultivating the skill of compartmentalizing characters and shifting his mentality to match. It’s not a surprise that Method Man is as good of an actor as he is.
Next Chamber: The Legacy of Cuban Linx