“C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)” by Wu-Tang Clan (1993)

The Wu revolves around several things that I am quite unfamiliar with: the projects and Staten Island.

Many of the Wu-Tang members are from S.I.’s Stapleton Projects. I’m sure a lot of people who don’t know my background think that I’m bougie or that I come from middle-class means. Someone actually called me “Theo Huxtable” once-fairly recently, too. Not so, my friends. I grew up in the ‘hood, and poor. I just didn’t grow up or find my way into any housing projects during my childhood and teenage years. There weren’t any in my immediate vicinity, I was barely allowed to leave my own block for anything until I was 15 (going to and from school or running errands–that was basically it), and…getting by from day to day in East Flatbush was hard enough as a kid (especially a nerdy kid). I wasn’t going to step into the PJs and basically offer myself up on a plate to get the shit beat out of me, know what I’m saying?

New York City technically has five boroughs, but you’d be hard pressed to find many people who venture in and out of Staten Island on a regular basis. I’ve spent 31 of my 42 years in New York City. Have lived in four boroughs, know most of them like the back of my hand. I don’t know that I’ve been to Staten Island more than two or three times. It’s the red headed stepchild of NYC. I will say this, though: one of two times I’ve been a passenger in a car that was pulled over by the cops, it was in Staten Island. The other time it happened, the pulling over was justified (we were going way above the speed limit.) This time, it was not. I was 13 or 14 years old, and a passenger in a used BMW belonging to the younger of my two aunts. We were coming from a field hockey tournament that my older aunt’s husband played in. There were four of us in the car-younger aunt in the front passenger seat, her husband in the driver’s seat, me and older aunt’s husband in the back. All I remember about us getting pulled over is that the cop was dilly-dallying, looking at paperwork, etc. My aunt kept asking why we were stopped, and the cop wouldn’t answer. We had to have been sitting there for a half hour, and then they just let us go. It’s only lately that white folks have realized that getting pulled over for no reason is almost a rite of passage for black and brown people. And the only reason it happened to us was because we were people of color in a nice car. The only reason it hasn’t happened to me more is because I don’t drive. Post-Eric Garner, everyone knows that Staten Island is a racist shit hole. Makes me happy that the borough’s most popular export is a rap group.

Anyway, “C.R.E.A.M.” is important for many reasons: it’s a bare-bones look at growing up black, poor and wanting money. It’s one of the few Wu songs that actually follows a clear narrative (not the easiest thing to do when there are multiple emcees on one track.) It gave the world a new slang word, and it is one of the best examples of RZA’s now-legendary sound. That broken up piano pattern (coupled up with the gospel moaning in the background) would become a hallmark of late ‘90s hip-hop, the antithesis of Puffy’s shiny suit sound.

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