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by Wu-Tang Clan


"Naming is very important to the mythology that Wu-Tang Clan has built around itself," one commentator wrote. Or, according to the RZA, "Wu-Tang n----s are famous for having lots of names, lots of pseudonyms and alter-egos" (The Wu-Tang Manual, 4). From lifting the phrase "Wu-Tang" out of their favorite martial arts movies, to making C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) into common slang for money, to turning "Shaolin" into a word for "Staten Island," Wu-Tang Clan definitely has a knack for naming. And their names and titles are more than just nicknames: each one generally has a pretty complex meaning, whether it's based on a spiritual belief, the Wu Tang system of numerology, or a favorite movie.

Each Wu Tang member has multiple names and alter egos, and each of those has a few layers of meaning: the RZA is also known as the Abbott (since he is the spiritual leader of the Wu Tang Clan), Bobby Steels (which combines the name of Black Panther Bobby Seals with the wheels of steel, slang for turntables), Bobby Digital (a superhero alter ego), and Rzarector (a horror flick alter ego). RZA is short for the word razor (because RZA has razor-sharp rhymes) and can also evoke the rizza-rizza sound used to stutter a vocal track on a turntable (as in rizza-rizza-Rakeem—it sounds more like wiki-wiki to us than rizza-rizza, but to each their own onomatopoeic term). And before he was RZA, he was Prince Rakeem. Adding yet another level to the name, as a teen he converted to Islam and became a part of the 5 Percenters (a mystical street-based offshoot of the Nation of Islam), and in 5 Percent's system of "Divine Mathematics," the letter Z stood for Zig-Zag-Zig, three strokes that in turn stood for knowledge, wisdom and understanding ("the last letter of the alphabet and the final step of consciousness," RZA explains in The Wu Tang Manual, 5). Hence the RZA was born. Taken altogether, his name stands for Ruler-Knowledge-Widsom-and-Understanding-Allah. The RZA was born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, named for Robert Kennedy and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The naming game is seriously complicated.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me, that memorable hook featured in "C.R.E.A.M.," went a long way to make the word "cream" into commonly used slang for cash. It can also be slang for crack-cocaine, making it a classic instance of Wu-Tang double entendre. It's also a classic instance of Wu Tang "backronym", or a phrase that is created out of a word to give it a reverse-engineered acronym. "Witty Unpredictable Talent and Natural Game" is but one of several backronyms for the title Wu-Tang, and Cash Rules Everything Around Me is now one of the most well-known backronyms ever invented.

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