Lamont “U-God” Hawkins, one of the nine members of rap’s pioneering geeks, the Wu-Tang Clan, has released a memoir chronicling his upbringing in New York City and membership in the iconic group. The memoir includes the revelation that Hawkins might’ve led a life of science had his street dealings not seen him caught up in the legal system. Twenty-five years after the release of the group’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Hawkins recalled that almost-career this week in an interview that expands on the stories of his memoir.
“I was always a science kid, growing up. I was always dealing with chemistry and biology,” Hawkins said in an interview on New York public radio station WNYC this week. “I was always fascinated with it — and I was good with it, too.” That interest led him to an education in the mortuary sciences and might have resulted in a career as an embalmer in a funeral parlor.
In Raw: My Journey Into the Wu-Tang, he writes: “Believe it or not, I was gonna be an embalmer. That’s what I wanted to do. All that fucking carnage I saw and death and all that, all them fucking bullet wounds, that wasn’t shit for me to handle dead bodies. To this day it’s nothing for me; I can go in, see the corpse, that shit don’t even faze me. Certain things that’ll quease a motherfucker out just doesn’t bother me.”
Hawkins transferred from Borough of Manhattan Community College to Laguardia Community College to study mortuary science before he was convicted for drug charges and served what amounted to 23 months in jail, some of it on Rikers Island. “I’ve been around death my whole life,” he said this week on WNYC. “It doesn’t matter, that was another reason why it wasn’t nothing for me. The more you’re around it, the less scared you are. The fear goes away with you doing it more repetitiously.”
Enrolling in college showed Hawkins the world outside drug-dealing, he recalls in Raw. “Going to college made me realize like, ‘Yo, man, there’s more out there than just the projects,” he writes. “I was in school from like twelve in the afternoon to six at night. That schedule exposed me to a different world; it allowed me to see other things. I was meeting new kinds of women, friends, etc. People from Queens and Brooklyn, and meeting other [people] who weren’t drug dealers. They were kids. Just regular kids going to school, and it was beautiful. It was nonthreatening, and I liked it.”
Hawkins also shares motivating passages about the pursuit of knowledge, a contrast to his drug-dealing days in the Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island. He didn’t seem to share the mindset of other dealers who worked for him, even maybe telling them to quit. “I told them this wasn’t the life, it wasn’t anything to be glorifying,” he recalls in the book. “You see, knowledge is infinite. And if you’re not open to obtaining new knowledge, then you’re only gonna go as far as what you currently know will take you. Am I open to acquiring new knowledge? Yes, I am. Is everybody? No, no, no. Sometimes ego gets in the way of trying to learn new shit.”