Interview: Mitchell Diggs, a.k.a. Divine

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TIME: How important was the deal with Loud Records that allows the Clan members to do solo projects on other labels?

Divine: I think that wasn't just important for us, that was important for hip-hop. We had an understanding that the number of people in our band couldn't survive under one small fund. You have to create something that would be able to grow financially and create stability for all. We basically felt that if we could have the individuals go out and pursue their own careers that one's success wouldn't destroy the others and when one rises it rises for the flag of Wu, instead of saying "Hey, Wu may break up because they can't split $100,000." We learned that and we applied it and I think the guys in the band are grateful to us for thinking that way because now they can have their own individual budgets and when it's time to come back together they can share a huge pot.

TIME: How conscious is the band about marketing its own products through its music, like all those references to Wu Wear?

Divine: We always thought about it. When we started using our own brand to sell every other brand that we incorporated, it was a great marketing tool. It worked best when we did that.

TIME: How instrumental was developing the kung fu/shaolin mystique in the band's success?

Divine: It's very important. The good thing about it is you do have people like Power, Oli Grant, who did the Wu game project and is the CEO of Wu Wear, and myself, RZA and other members of the family basically focusing on constantly reinventing and finding new ways to market the logo. Because it's a logo at the end of the day. We do have a lot of praise for the artist, but the artist is part of a brand. And the brand must be allowed to fly like the United States flag. You know, we go through different presidents and different administrations but the logo remains the same. This is the same thing.

TIME: Are clan members replaceable?

Divine: No, not replaceable, but I think that when you go outside their actual physical contribution you can get things done, like a video game, like a clothing line.

TIME: Describe the business model, how profits are shared, etc.

Divine: We did something that basically allows every family member to eat off every deal that we make. We did that because we knew that we had a lot of guys and in a matter of eight years it was going to be hard to get everyone's albums out based on, one, fan demand, and two, [the fact that ] we had to find corporations willing to put up all that money to fund it. So we basically said if we've got X amount of dollars, we'll make sure that a large portion of that goes to the artist whose record it is, which may be Method Man or Inspectah Deck, but U-God and everyone else ate off of it, as well. They appeared on the records or whatever — but we found ways for everyone to get paid. And the same when the U-God album dropped. Others got paid in ways in which maybe he didn't see, but we see, because he's looking at whatever he got, he got, but we made plans for everyone to eat. That was the same system that was employed when he didn't have an album and Meth did an album the same system was employed when Raekwon did an album and Ghost [Ghostface Killah] didn't do an album. So everyone kept the family bond and we put the bread on the table and everybody break off their piece and eat and be merry.

This model's been successful for eight years now. It has its ups and downs, don't get me wrong. But it's like the Constitution, we're not changing because a new administration wants to try different rules because of the times. The Constitution stands for all and forever.

TIME: What's the administration — a successful solo career?

Divine: Yeah, at that point you may start to hear "I don't want to be down no more, I'm taking money and I'm leaving." Him doing that only hurts him. Look at it like we are the United States and if one state tries to break free, where are you going? What can you actually do without the help of the other states and without the nation standing by you? In the beginning everyone in the Clan was represented by Wu Tang in their solo deals. As they got older and more mature and thought they could learn things without us basically holding their hand, they went out and hired their own lawyers and their own accountants and their own agents. And that's what we want. That's signs that this gentleman has learned after eight years what to do and how to manage himself. What me and RZA basically do is constantly keep them respecting the idea that "maybe those guys over there help me out but these guys [Wu-Tang] are really helping me out."

TIME: Do you see your business model changing?

Divine: I think over the next few years Wu Tang Clan will go through a transition where they rediscover themselves. I think I'm going to take my company to another level in how it operates. Because if you have a lot of companies you have a lot of different controllers and that's something the big corporations don't allow. Sony doesn't allow it. Take Tommy Mottola. He's got people that he talks to, but he basically controls what they do. Wu Tang is different, we have each individual state, Wu Wear, Razor Sharp Records, etc, acting without the president. The president just gives funds. Then down the list, the mayor, the governor, or whoever, they have full control over that state. I think in the future what we maybe have to do is come together and be more like a congress in a sense and elect one president to operate and veto or get vetoed. You become more punctual that way — all minds are one.

The thing that will happen is that we'll start to think more about profits. Right now we're more worried about growing. For example, look at our new record studio. We don't plan to rent it out, we're just happy to have a space that we control and don't have to pay others to use their studio. You have to begin with the end in mind. We don't want our overhead to get too high. You go into some offices when people get a little money and they have this huge spread with a marble floor. First, that distracts them from their job, and second, if you go through a dry spell you're living beyond your means. It's important to keep the family thread. We want to keep our offices low-key. That's why we have cubicles. Yeah, you might be the CFO, but you're getting a cubicle — just to keep everyone down to earth. It sends a message that "Yeah, you're getting paid, but when you're at work, you've got to stay down to earth."

TIME: What do you tell young black people that are trying to get into this business?

Divine: There's two ways to look at it. If you're in it for the money, never spend your own damn money. If you're in it for the equity and to have the network that hopefully somebody will pay you for, than don't count your money now. Your money will be worth a lot more later. Also, if you're in the position where you have a capable team keeping your company at the highest level, then doing things yourself works for you. If you don't have a team like that, then you have to go out and employ someone else's services — don't try to do things you're not suited for.

But the big point is that this is a capitalist society and either you're going to be the owner or the employee. Either you're going to be the renter or the landlord. For me speaking to black America, and not being racist, we need to have our own businesses. Because this is how the Jews, the Italians, the Irish and all them founded themselves in America — by having their own businesses for their own communities: Made in the community, stays in the community. We come from a poor neighborhood and for us it was important to return to show the young that this is possible, rather than to go buy a home or do activities outside our community.

Running your own business gives you a sense of dedication, it allows you to stay focused — because if you don't you lose out. It sends a sense of pride to the youth. It gives them a path to say we can be successful, we don't all have to be negative. We don't have to be uneducated and into drugs or violence. So I think that it's very important for the youth of America to understand that in America you can have your own business and be successful.

TIME: Do you see an increased sense of entrepreneurship happening throughout the record industry?

Divine: Definitely, I think it's happening so fast that our kids are losing focus on going to school, they all want to become rappers and rap CEOs because that's all you hear about. But they don't understand that there's a lot of artists that didn't make it. There's a lot of CEOs that's not making any money. There's a lot of CEOs that are not qualified to run their companies.

TIME: How much of an emphasis do you put on dealing with other black-owned businesses?

Divine: I say it's very important that we do business with each other, but we should never limit ourselves to our own people. In this country you must understand that you're gonna run into an Italian, you're gonna run into a black, you're gonna run into a Jew. In Germany, maybe, it's all German people. You go to Russia there's no blacks, it's all Russian people. But it's not like that in America. I'm saying that because I don't want blacks to think they have to deal with themselves in order to be successful. That is the first step because once you deal with yourself then you know how to deal with everyone else. I do think it's very important that we do business with each other but we also keep our minds focused on the fact that this is a large country with many ethnic backgrounds and this large, stable economy is based on the people, not on a gender or race or ethnic background.