The RZA (Wu-Tang Clan) [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – The way of Wu is no ordinary path: ancient Chinese wisdom, comic books, drugs, bitches and of course rap music saturate the culture of the Wu-Tang dynasty. RZA – the clan’s de facto leader – has for decades maintained a seemingly omnipotent corner on the hip-hop market, churning out everything from philosophical doctrine to movie scores. A fine balance of caricature and antiquity mark RZA’s work: over-the-top fictions adulterate the martial arts aesthetic as ghetto meets geisha.
With several alter egos, RZA has predominantly released his solo albums under the moniker of Bobby Digital, a comic book hero who tends to sit on a throne surrounded by beautiful multi-ethnic women or else perch atop tall buildings at night. The latest release Digi Snacks follows the exploits of this hedonistic character through a maze of drug experimentation, inner torment and of course RZA’s chilling digital production.
With endless notoriety and creative outlets, it would seem that Bobby Digital is accurate in boasting, “No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop me now.” HipHopCanada sat down with the ingenious and eccentric rapper to try and decipher the code of RZA.
HipHopCanada: What’s the space between yourself and the character you’ve created, Bobby Digital? How much is you, how much is fiction?
RZA: It’s a blend of both. It’s a blend of my past and of fiction. All of us got something of past personalities about ourselves. Artists learn how to identify them, name them and even utilize them. So Bobby Digital is built on my past, a lot of it is fact, but I put it in a fictional way. It’s a good blend.
HipHopCanada: What elements of Bobby Digital come from that past?
RZA: Well, you name something about him and I’ll tell you.
HipHopCanada: Well, Bobby Digital’s kind of nuts: how crazy are you?
RZA: I’ve got days like that, I’ve got days like that, woke up in my own throw-up. Near the courthouse, or some shit. Woke up in the cells, know what I mean, cause I just party hard.
HipHopCanada: Do you get tired of that lifestyle?
RZA: Yeah, that’s why I left it alone, got real to myself, got into the RZA mentality, built myself up. We all going to be who we going to be, but what part of you is the best person for the best time? I look at Robert DeNiro, he’s a great actor, and a movie like Cape Fear showed me that this guy is incredible, I love The Godfather, I love a lot of his movies but Cape Fear he just went psycho on me, know what I mean? Biting the girl, everything, so that was Bobby DeNiro, and I applied that to myself as well. How he could take a character of himself and have a method with it. You can live it, it can be you and it can be fiction cause the role you put in it. So that’s the artistic nature of me.
HipHopCanada: Your career gets more and more multimedia, you do a lot of acting, scoring, writing and production: what’s your next big project?
RZA: Right now I’m just chillin’, having fun, Rock the Bells was fun, funny people, funny-ass movies – just having fun more than anything and building on myself. Trying to exercise and keep cool.
HipHopCanada: Who do you think is the best actor in Wu-Tang?
RZA: I don’t know, yo, that’s a good one. I won’t say me, I’m still learning and shit, Mef did How High, that shit was funny as shit, know what I mean? He got that Tuskegee Airmen shit coming out next year. I’m still learning but I’m getting better though. I’m watching myself.
HipHopCanada: There’s a new Wu book on the way, can you tell us about it?
RZA: It’s the Wu-Tang manual Volume Two, it’s called The Tao of Wu. It’s the book of wisdom: the first is knowledge, two is wisdom. Through my experiences in life, or through your experiences, I think you can really come across some good ways, knowing where to turn right, knowing where to turn left.
HipHopCanada: What would be your advice to the next generation of Wu-Tang generals?
RZA: Keep it in the spirit of Wu-Tang but also brave the originality. Nobody wanna see a copy of something else. Sometimes it’s okay, like another James Dean maybe. But that’s how Hollywood and how art gets stuck, like they always try to make the next one just like that one. You’ve got to come with the spirit of Bob Marley but the energy and innovation of yourself. That’s a better way to express your art, for the next generation of Wu-Tang or any artists out there.
HipHopCanada: What is the accountability of an artist to their fan base?
RZA: You know what? That’s something I would say there shouldn’t be no accountability. If somebody likes something, they like it. If you love lemon pie, you love lemon pie. You don’t like lemon pie because they served it in a square box. But we’re all held accountable anyways, if you got fans that’s following you, you got to be careful what you lead them to. Not to get religious or whatever, but look at Jesus, he says I’m the lamb or I’m the shepherd at different times. The lamb may have the whole flock following him, or the shepherd leads the whole flock. And sometimes people are like sheep, we go with the melody, the music, the moment. But where’s the shepherd leading you to? Is he leading your ass over a cliff or to some nice grass to graze on where life is good? That’s how I look at it to the fans. They’re following so I try to make sure I don’t lead them off a cliff, make sure they have some grass to graze on.
HipHopCanada: Speaking of religion, what are your religious roots?
RZA: You know what, religion is personal to a man, I think. I say all praises due to Allah cause in Allah I got “all,” and I got a breath. I got that, so that for me fits my mind frame.
HipHopCanada: I have to ask you a question about Digi Snacks. One of your tracks says, “would you rather have a Digi or a Scooby snack?” and it takes some balls to talk about Scooby Snacks on a rap album! Where did that come from?
RZA: [Laughing] Cause Scooby would do anything for a Scooby snack. What would you do for a Digi Snack, know what I mean? And would you rather have that or a Scooby Snack?
HipHopCanada:Well thanks man, nice chatting with you.
RZA: Thanks, yo!
Written by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Scott Alexander