"Yeah, I went to high school with them cats," he says, amidst the warm pulsation of his spine-tingling track "Never Again," which emanates from the sizable speakers of a midtown Manhattan recording studio. "Never Again"-a poignant coming to terms with the atrocities of the Holocaust-is his third release under Wu-Tang Productions.
With a running storyline within their albums, molded from old kung-fu movies and even older Buddhist legends, Wu-Tang has become notorious worldwide. Often graphic and obscene, their lyrics and infectious rhythms have redefined hip-hop as a whole.
The Wu-Tang have reigned supreme within the rap scene for nearly a decade and remain unparalleled in the genre, continuing to pioneer in the art form, bringing it to new levels. Dominated by nine original members (The Rza, The Gza, Old Dirty Bastard, Inspektah Deck, Raekwon The Chef, U-God, Capadonna, Ghostface Killah and The Method Man), their 1997 release, Wu-Tang Forever, ranked number one on the Billboard charts and sold over a half-million copies in its first week of release. Throughout 1997-98, that number rose steadily to over 4,000,000. In addition, Wu-Tang produces their own line of designer clothing, called Wu-Wear, which can be found in nearly any shopping mall in America, as well as their franchised stores throughout the U.S.
"You see," says Remedy, "what's exotic about The Wu, is that you'll find cats who listen to them and love them, but don't know a lot of hip-hop." Remedy himself is certainly no stranger to rap. Inspired by the "old school flavor" of Run-DMC and The Beastie Boys, he began his musical career at the tender age of 10, writing rhymes and "kickin' it with his boys."
"Hip-hop is universal," says Remedy. "It crosses cultural lines. Older generations don't really understand. It's like a new language-the new generation's way of communicating." The proof is in the numbers: As Time magazine reports in their February 8 issue (which featured a cover story entitled "Hip Hop Nation"), in 1998 over 80 million rap records were sold, increasing over 30% from 1997, for the first time outselling country music (formerly the most popular style of music) in sales.
Further evidence is in Lauryn Hill's victory at this year's Grammy Awards, in which for the first time ever, a hip-hop artist received the awards for "Best Artist" and "Album of the Year." However, contradictory to Remedy's point, is the controversy pertaining to an MTV interview in which Hill was quoted saying that she would rather "have (her) children starve than have a white person buy (her) album." Perhaps, at the time, Hill didn't realize that 70% of all hip-hop records are purchased by white teenagers. She later apologized for her remark.
It would appear at first glance that Remedy himself is in a complex situation with his contemporaries. A good number of Wu-Tang artists are members of The Five Percent Nation of Islam, a group well known for its rabid anti-semitism. "But they ain't like that though," says Remedy. "See, Muslims believe that Islam was the original religion and that everything stemmed from that. To me, Judaism is the root of everything: Islam and Christianity came after. Sure, every time I see Rza, he and I argue about that-he'll tell you the first person on earth was black. But he don't hate me 'cause I believe in something different. It's not even an issue."
That doesn't mean, however, that Remedy hasn't been exposed to anti-semitism. "I remember growing up, when I was young and going to school, knowing I was a Jew-I always felt a little bit leery. Kids would call me Jew, kike, penny-pincher. Now, I'm proud of being a Jew. To be a Jew is good. Jews are in the right state of mind. They've got the best customs."
Preserving those customs is important to Remedy. "I sat down with Rza to talk about a compilation he was working on, called The Swarm, and he told me he wanted to put me on it. I said, 'Yeah, I got something for you.' " That something was "Never Again."
The song begins with a traditional kiddush (blessing over wine)-a sound-bite taken directly from the film Schindler's List. A high-hat cymbal enters, lightly tapping through a wave of stringed instruments, creating an ominous atmosphere. The bass drum kicks in-"Feel this!" he proclaims and shouts out his Hebrew name "Reuven Ben Menachem!" He begins his flow, and soon arrives at the chorus:
"Never again shall we march like sheep to the slaughter
Never again shall we sit and take orders
Never again shall our children be
Stripped of our culture, robbed of our names
Raped of our freedom and thrown in the flames
Forced from our families, taken from our homes
Pulled from our God and burned of our bones
So far, The Swarm has been certified gold, and though the album hasn't received the greatest reviews, "Never Again" has always been the exception. "I've had mad kids come up to me, especially black kids, telling me that that's the hottest track on the album." The question then stands: What inspired this piece of music? Remedy explains: "As I was getting older and just 'doing the knowledge' and searching for the truth, I found out that my great uncle was shot in the back by the Nazis. The rest of his family was put through the chambers. Others I know went through the camps-still got their wrists numbered. Some of my family made it out, over here to the States, and ran around, slaving, just trying to put food in their mouths. It's drastic. My blood went through this. I'm gonna let people know, that's part of me right there.
"The sad thing is that, soon, everyone who survived won't be around anymore. There'll only be people like me carrying on the message. See, they didn't have Holocaust education when I went to high school. And from the looks of things, what they have now isn't working. You need a guy like me to reach the kids. Kids learn faster through music than by you sitting there and talking to 'em.
"Hip-hop is for the kids, you know. Wu-Tang does a lot of rapping about the madness of life in the streets for the kids in the streets, and for the kids who act like they're from the streets. When I was out in the streets, I did what I had to do to get by. But I advanced from that level of negativity. I'm on to wiser and better things. Hopefully, I can impart that lesson to them too."
Within the coming months, Remedy plans to perform in both Tel Aviv
and Moscow, where he is known to his fans as "Jew-Tang." He is also working
on his first LP, which features additional Judaic-style raps, including a new
song called "The Exodus." He hopes to have the album released within the