Q&A: Uncle Ralph McDaniels Remembers His First Endeavor With The Wu Tang Clan By J. Pablo
Bar none, Uncle Ralph fathered the hip hop visuals game. Not only did his brainchild, Video Music Box, structure the template for hosting and airing music videos, predating Yo! MTV Raps by several years, he also helmed many of our favorite rap videos from yesteryear. Few souls in the rap game can lay claim to such vision and foresight. In fact even his nickname speaks to that: He was "Uncle" Ralph before Snoop was "Uncle" Snoop.
As he was ushering in the rap video era, he encountered a tall, skinny rapper/producer with a funny sounding name who had the crazy idea of releasing a single with no hook and nine MCs going for theirs. But first their video had to be finished. The funny named MC dropped by Uncle Ralph's office to show him the still rough and unfinished clip.
Ralph being the visionary he is knew that the group was something special immediately. He agreed to finish the project and Wu Tang Clan's "Protect Ya Neck" video was born. Read on to learn more about the exhilarating yet harrowing experience of meeting and working with the Wu for the first time.
When was the first time you heard the name Wu Tang and what did you think?
I probably heard it from Rza. I knew it had to do with hip-hop and Kung Fu movies and the martial arts. Once I heard them rap I thought that they should be called [Wu Tang] because it made sense. It made sense that he would move how he was moving and had his team moving the same way. It was dope that they all believed in the vision. Someone else might not have believed.
How many of Wu's videos have you directed?
I did "C.R.E.A.M." for the Clan and then did a few joints for Raekwon including “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” We shot “C.R.E.A.M.” on Staten Island mostly but we filmed that “Incarcerated Scarfaces” up in Harlem on 120th and 1st. I also shot “Heaven Or Hell” for Rae and Ghost. I don’t recall the name of the spot we filmed that but it was the spot at the time on Broadway. Fat Joe came though that shoot and popped up in the video. I had been doing Fat Joe’s videos so I knew how big of a deal it was for a dude from the Bronx to come and show love to Wu. I also remember when we shot “Ice Cream,” in Jamaica, Queens. Right there in the mall, The Coliseum. I also shot a few affiliate Wu videos but those are the main ones.
Are there any crazy Wu stories you heard like maybe them beating somebody up or bum rushing a party?
[Laughs] I remember when Rza showed me his first Wu video, “Protect Ya Neck.” I knew him from Prince Rakeem days and now he was Rza. I did a Genius video before Wu and now he was Gza so I was seeing the new approach they had. Anyway Rza showed me “Protect Ya Neck.” It wasn’t finished yet. It had the time code on it still. It didn’t bother me though it actually made it look raw so I told Rza I help him with it and that I would play the video. One day the entire Wu comes up to my office. I had an office on Centre Street and they all come up with 40s. They can’t be up here like that; this is a working environment so I told them to wait in the hallway ay by the elevator. When I come out of my office I see that they whole lined up the empty 40s in the hallway by the elevator and just left them.
What struck you most about Rza?
Rza had a mind for business. Around this time Rza told me he was talking to a few labels. He was like, “If I can tell them you’re playing our video that would be great.” It worked because Steve Rifkind called me not long after that and told me he got Loud Records thinking about signing them. I told him I would sign them if I were him. A big part of Rifkind signing them was me telling Rifkind that he should. Rza tells me that all the time and he thanks me.
Who is your favorite Clansman?
I’ve learned to appreciate all their styles. The more you listen to each one style the more you realize each is special in its own way. I always liked Cappadonna. I think Ghost is my favorite because the funny things he says are just incredible. Deck is dope too. Honestly though I’ve learned to appreciate them all.
What’s something people may not know about that you and Rza worked on?
Me and Rza did the Bobby Digital movie together but it never came out. I have original reels because it’s on film. He says he wants to put it out. The one that came out was more to promote the music on the album. The one we did was more story driven. It was never finished because he had to start promo for the album. But maybe we’ll release one day.