Once hip-hop's mightiest unit, the Wu-Tang Clan have fallen off some since their mid-'90s zenith. Now even they and their three-headed-dragon-sized egos can't deny that their metaphysical kung-fu style is out of fashion.

From the slums of Staten Island and Brooklyn, this nine-man crew swarmed onto the scene in 1993 with one of hip-hop's essential platters, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The mastermind behind their sound was the RZA, who invented an eerie moonscape of minor-chord piano riffs, martial arts samples and fulminating beats. As lyricists, Wu-Tang fired off rounds of polysyllabic, nonsensical madness, a style that was absorbed by packs of rappers for the next half-decade. Emerging from the Wu-Tang as its foremost eccentrics were Method Man (whose gravelly voice and clever wordplay made his solo debut, Tical, among the finest of the 17 or so solo albums the original members have released) and Ol' Dirty Bastard, whose schizoid, potty-mouthed raps are less memorable than his arrest for shoplifting sneakers, the time he was shot at by the NYPD and his prosecution for wearing an illegal Kevlar vest.

Ol' Dirty is now doing time in the pokey, so he couldn't make it out for the Wu-Tang's current tour or onto their most recent record, Iron Flag. After the hype that accompanied their monumental 1997 double album Wu-Tang Forever, the anemic Iron Flag arrived last year like the latest Martin Lawrence film. It won't make you want to join your local dojo, though the RZA did concoct some hypnotic loops for this one, and his MCs occasionally jump through them ably. Of course, it's also possible that some in the Clan are saving their best rhymes for their next solo projects.

In any event, the Wu-Tang stamp (Wu-Wear, anybody?) has in recent years come to mean very little. None of the Wu-Tang associate acts like Sunz of Man or Killarmy has amounted to anything, commercially or sonically. The RZA has flooded record stores with uninspired compilations, and even Method Man has begun to sound tired after guesting on too many records. Hip-hop has found money decays creativity, and in the Wu-Tang Clan's case, capitalism has pretty much tainted their whole enterprise. But at least we'll always have their old albums, those sacred hip-hop works of art the band has since converted into Wu-Big Macs.

The Wu-Tang Clan at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Mon., 8 p.m. $35. All ages (anyone 16 or under must be accompanied by an adult 18 or over with a valid state ID).

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