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'Of Mics and Men' review: Documentary celebrates Wu-Tang Clan, hip-hop's 'warriors of the imagination' 

RZA, left, Ghostface Killah and Method Man in

RZA, left, Ghostface Killah and Method Man in the Showtime documentary "Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men." Credit: SHOWTIME/Kyle Christy

DOCUMENTARY “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men”

WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT’S ABOUT It’s the origin story of the Wu-Tang Clan, a four-part documentary on how 10 guys from Staten Island discovered music and became RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, U-God, Ghostface, Method Man, Masta Killa and Cappadonna. Director Sacha Jenkins, known for his hip-hop documentaries like “Fresh Dressed” and “Word Is Bond,” as well as producing shows like VH1’s “The White Rapper Show,” uses archival footage and the Wu-Tang Clan’s 25th anniversary last year to show how the unique artistic Wu-Tang partnership happened and why it continues.  

MY SAY The Wu-Tang Clan is “The Avengers” of hip-hop. Each member has his own talents that serve them individually. But together, they changed the world.

It was all on display in the video for the first single, “Protect Ya Neck.” Each of them had their moment to shine, but it was also clear that everyone in this large clan had each other’s back. And as anyone who has seen the entire Wu-Tang Clan perform together, the effect of seeing all of them acting as a group was overwhelming.

This was a group from the projects of Staten Island — or in Wu-speak, “the Shaolin” — and they rapped about every aspect of their lives, from their comic book favorites, their love of martial arts culture, to the struggles they endured every day. What sets “Of Mics and Men” apart from the usual music documentary is how it goes out of its way to show the context that inspired Wu-Tang Clan’s music. There is footage of the racist taunts that Staten Island protesters in the '80s endured from their neighbors, as well as interviews from Wu-Tang Clan about how when some of them were in elementary school they were chased out of some neighborhoods by grown men just for being black. There are scenes of police hassling them during a photo shoot, demanding to search their vehicles.

Method Man talks about being born in Hempstead but losing that stability quickly. He and his family had to live in a Brooklyn women’s shelter before settling on Staten Island because of problems between his parents, including his father trying to steal him away from his mother.

“Wu, it felt like the streets that I knew as a kid,” author and cultural commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates says in the documentary. “It felt like the ‘80s that I had just come up out of. I felt like they were speaking to me, speaking for me. . . . I felt seen.”

Wu-Tang Clan has endured plenty of hardships, including the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard in 2004. But, in some ways, they made the group’s successes that much sweeter, especially on its landmark debut, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”

“You cannot destroy the strength of ideas,” noted director Jim Jarmusch says. “And the Wu-Tang celebrate that. They are warriors of the imagination.”

BOTTOM LINE A fascinating look at how one of hip-hop’s greatest groups got together and keeps going after 25 years.

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