The Wu-Tang Hulu Series Just Dropped The ‘Protect Ya Neck’ Episode And It’s Perfect
When Wu-Tang: An American Saga hit Hulu in September of 2019, Wu-Fanatics celebrated. Perhaps the most influential hip-hop collective of all time, seeing the Wu-Tang Clan get the biopic treatment feels overdue. Yet, the slow burn of this show is one that surprised many. In fact, the Clan doesn’t assemble like Voltron until very late in the first season. The second season dropped this year after being delayed by COVID. The most recent episode of the Wu-Tang series on Hulu, at the time of this writing, is all about the seminal Wu-banger: Protect Ya Neck. This is the episode that I, and probably most other fans, have been waiting to see since the series premiere.
The story thus far in the Wu-Tang Hulu series takes places long before Protect Ya Neck was recorded. We get to see what thinks were like back when RZA was just “Bobby” and Ghostface was “Dennis.” There’s not been much rhyming done in the show to this point, because the drama focused on how these almost dozen young men tried to pry themselves from the street life to become full-time artists. And this slightly fictionalized version of hip-hop history works great. There’s been a number of times where I’ve been watching and caught myself thinking dumb stuff like, “Boy, I sure hope Raekwon ends up joining the Wu-Tang Clan.”
Yet as compelling as these individual stories are, we want to see the Wu-Tang Clan doing Wu-Tang shit. And there is nothing more Wu-Tang than “Protect Ya Neck,” so the episode of the Hulu series where they record it had to be special.
Spoilers for the episode/season to the point below.
The ‘Protect Ya Neck’ Episode Highlights the Creativity of the Hulu Series
Image via Hulu
The musical biopic always has a problem. People want to see and hear their favorite performers playing their music. But that doesn’t make for entertaining cinema. Still the Protect Ya Neck episode of the Hulu series gives us just enough Wu-Tang verses to satiate that need. But what really makes this episode exceptional are the sequences showing Ashton Sanders’ RZA constructing the beat.
It begins the way you’d expect. RZA gets some records, starts playing then and using his equipment to construct the beat. However, it suddenly shifts to a gray space where singers and musicians are under his complete control. There’s even a moment where he’s laying down Method Man’s verse, and Dave East is playing the character, pauses and all. He asks, in character, “You just gonna leave me like this?” Eventually the scene culminates with the music, the Clan all rhyming over each other, and kung fu movie characters fighting in the midst of them. It’s as perfect a visual representation of what a Wu-Tang song sounds like as I’ve ever seen.
The whole series is this way. A previous episode took place entirely on the Staten Island Ferry, an allegory about how the Wu-Tang Clan had to squash old disagreements to unite as artists and business partners. All the while, there’s a busking violinist playing the recognizable melody from “Reunited.” It’s a perfect example of how this series uses fiction to tell the “truth.” Likely those old rivalries took a long time to fix. Setting it on the Staten Island Ferry and having the episode unfold in almost real time is cinema worthy of the Wu. The Protect Ya Neck episode of the Wu-Tang Hulu series is a high point. To quote Anakin (or Han Solo), “This is where the fun begins.”
Why the Wu-Tang Clan is the First Nerd Hip-Hop Group
Image via Hulu
I imagine that one only calls members of the Wu-Tang Clan “nerds” at their own peril. Like a lot of what came to (unfortunately) be known as “gangsta” rap, Wu-Tang songs were a sensation. People saw their experiences in their neighborhoods reflected in the music for the first time. Yet, Wu-Tang did something else for representation that’s on a much lower level but nonetheless important. (At least, to your humble correspondent.) Back in the early 1990s, the heyday of my comic book collecting, it was not cool to be into these funny books for kids. Reflecting on it, I am surprised at my own social “courage” to openly wear my fandom my chest. I was clowned a lot in my little, mostly safe neighborhood.
Protect Ya Neck was the first nationally available Wu-Tang single, something the Hulu series doesn’t even yet show. It came out on my 13th birthday, though it wouldn’t be until a few weeks later that I spent some of my birthday money on that single. If memory serves, it was a simple cover. The image on it looked like something that you would see in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu or something like that. In the first verse on the track, Inspectah Deck rhymes that he’s “swingin’ through your town like your neighborhood Spider-Man.” I was stunned.
In 1993, you didn’t get much cooler than rappers, and hearing these guys talk about Spidey, Iron Man, and Ghost Rider in their verses was more than unique. Hip-hop and comics have a long relationship, but it wasn’t until Wu-Tang that I first recognized this. Wu-Tang made being about these superheroes something objectively cool in pop culture, possibly for the first time. I’ll always love them for that.
Wu-Tang: An American Saga debuts new episodes on Hulu on Thursdays.
What did you think of the Protect Ya Neck episode or the Wu-Tang Hulu series in general? Let us know your thoughts, reviews, and favorite Wu bangers in the comments below. Bong bong.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.