Clifford Smith - a.k.a. Method Man - attained lasting fame as a founding member of one of hip-hop's most celebrated acts and as a solo artist, prior to entering a prolific second career as a film and television actor. Exploding onto the N.Y. hip-hop scene in the early 1990s as part of the seminal rap group the Wu-Tang Clan, Smith went on to release both solo efforts and collaborate with other well-known artists, such as Mary J. Blige. As more music industry triumphs followed, the rapper also made early forays into the world of acting, appearing in projects like the Wayans Brothers' comedy "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood" (1996) and the hip-hop/crime thriller "Belly" (1998). The neophyte actor also earned high marks for his recurring roles on acclaimed TV dramas like "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003) and "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08), in addition to partnering up with fellow rapper Redman for such comedic offerings as "How High" (2001) and the short-lived sitcom "Method and Red" (Fox, 2004). As he moved into the next decade, Smith recorded with members of his old Wu-Tang crew on 2010's Wu-Massacre and appeared in the George Lucas-produced World War II adventure "Red Tails" (2012). While never forgetting his urban hip-hop roots as an artist, Smith increasingly courted mainstream respectability in the studios of Hollywood.
Born Clifford Smith in Staten Island, NY, on April 1, 1971, he spent much of his childhood shuttling between the homes of his separated parents in Hempstead, Long Island, and the Staten Island Park Hill Projects. His father imbued him with an interest in music and poetry, which eventually drew him into the hip-hop world. In late 1992, he and several Staten Island-based friends seeking to break into the music business formed the Wu-Tang Clan, releasing their now-classic debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993 to near-universal acclaim among rap fans and critics. As their name suggested, the group was very influenced by martial arts films from the 1970s; Smith's moniker was taken from a character in a 1979 film by China's Shaw Bros. Studios called "The Fearless Young Boxer."
Smith was among the most visible and prolific members of the nine-man group, thus becoming the first to release a solo album, Tical, in 1994. Another monster success, the album was soon followed by a string of singles featuring collaborations with R&B singer Mary J. Blige and fellow solo artist Redman, with whom Smith became associated with for much of his career. One of his singles with Blige, "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need," earned him a Grammy in 1995. Smith subsequently released two more solo albums - 1998's Tical 2000: Judgment Day, which went platinum, and 2004's Tical 0: The Prequel, which, after only reaching gold status, was the subject of much criticism from critics and Smith himself - and Blackout, a 1999 collaboration with Redman. He reunited with the Wu-Tang Clan for 1997's Wu-Tang Forever and 2000's The W, and contributed to countless singles and albums for artists ranging from The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, to Limp Bizkit, Ashanti, and Missy Elliott.
Smith's acting career had begun in 1996 in the Wayans Brothers' comedy "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood." He followed that auspicious debut with supporting roles in several films, including James Mangold's critically lauded "Cop Land" (1997), "One Eight Seven" (1997), and the hip-hop/crime thriller "Belly" (1998). He also crossed over to television on numerous occasions, including a handful of episodes of the HBO prison series "Oz" (1997-2003) on which he played the ambitious and deadly Carlton "Tug" Daniels, who attempts to overthrow the prison drug trade. His other television work included guest gigs on "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005), the third go-round for "The Twilight Zone (UPN, 2002-03) and "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08) as fearsome dealer Calvin "Cheese" Wagstaff. Perhaps his most incongruous television credit was as the rapping voice of the Head Pixie on the animated series "The Fairly Oddparents" (Nickelodeon, 2001).
Smith's most impressive turn was in the broad 2001 comedy "How High," in which he co-starred with off-screen buddy Redman as a slacker who developed an astronomically high IQ after ingesting experimental marijuana. The movie presented the pair as a sort of hip-hop Cheech and Chong team, an idea which had been set in motion by their joint album Blackout!, but unfortunately, their second effort together did not capitalize on their team potential. "Method and Red" (Fox, 2004) was envisioned by Smith as a cutting-edge comedy, but the end result was a tired, fish-out-of-water sitcom that disappointed all involved. The series was pulled after only nine episodes.
Smith continued to rack up credits as an actor in projects of various quality, ranging from an amusing cameo in "Garden State" (2004) to larger roles in the broad comedies "Soul Plane" (2004) and "My Baby's Daddy" (2004), as well as the horror film "Venom" (2005). Never straying far from his rap roots, Smith - as Method Man - released his fourth studio album, entitled 4:21: The Day After in 2006 to generally positive reviews and substantial sales. That same year, he picked up an irregularly recurring role as "Drops," a confrontational Las Vegas party-planner, on the long-running forensic crime-drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000-15).
Smith continued with forays into the world of feature films, landing supporting roles in the indie coming-of-age tale "The Wackness" (2008) - contributing a song to the soundtrack, as well - and the low-brow movie parody "Meet the Spartans" (2008). Back in the recording studio, he re-teamed with Redman for the long-awaited follow-up album Blackout! 2, which finally saw release in 2009 and met with largely favorable reviews. One year later, Smith released Wu-Massacre, a collaboration with Wu-Tang members Ghostface Killah and Raekwon. With an increased focus on his acting career, Smith took on a starring role as "The Mortician" (2011) in the indie-thriller about a withdrawn morgue worker who comes to the aid of a young boy after his mother is murdered. The following year he appeared alongside Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as "Sticks," a crewman with the famed Tuskegee Airmen in George Lucas' World War II aerial action-drama "Red Tails" (2012).
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Formed the rap collective the Wu-Tang Clan with several Staten Island-based friends; members included RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol' Dirty Bastard
Group released debut album <i>Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)</i>
Released debut solo album <i>Tical</i>, featuring collaborations with R&B singer Mary J. Blige and fellow solo artist Redman
Reunited with the Wu-Tang Clan for <i>Wu-Tang Forever</i>
Made feature acting debut with supporting roles in James Mangold's critically lauded "Cop Land" and opposite Samuel L. Jackson in "One Eight Seven"
Cast in first prominent film role in "Belly" alongside fellow rappers Nas and DMX
Released the collaboration album <i>Blackout!</i> with Redman
Landed a recurring role on prison drama "Oz" (HBO) as the ambitious and deadly Carlton 'Tug' Daniels
Co-starred with frequent collaborator Redman as a duo of slackers in "How High"
Acted in the critically acclaimed HBO series "The Wire"
Made a cameo in the indie hit "Garden State"
Appeared in the coming of age drama film "The Wackness," starring Ben Kingsley and Josh Peck
Landed a minor role in the comedy "The Sitter" opposite Jonah Hill
Cast in the WWII drama "Red Tails," about a crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program; executive produced by George Lucas