Words with Genius (Part One) [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – GZA is a little unfocused after the show; there’s a lot going on backstage and many people want his attention. But for a few minutes, I’m able to get that attention while he talks candidly to me, answering my questions with a smile while occasionally letting our knees touch. Its enough to make a girl lose her own focus, but somehow I stay on task, speaking with the foundational Wu-Tang member about many things, from words to sports bars to his upcoming graphic novel Chlorine. He has so much to say, in fact, that it’s spread across two interviews: the weaver of words shares some interesting views about books, vibrations and RZA in part 2.
“Its just language, a way of expressing yourself, and if you can articulate yourself well, more people understand you.”
HipHopCanada: You’re known for your storytelling abilities…where does that come from?
GZA: I guess it just goes back to my early days of rhyming. Years ago – golden era, before MCs were just so stuck on being really good lyrically – they told a story. They were more into the craft then and we come from that era, so we were really really on top of whatever we were doing. In hip-hop you have your certain periods and your eras where stories is poppin, other times freestyle – like I don’t mean off the head, I just mean no particular subject – or party stuff may be poppin, so you have your different eras. At one time, storytelling was this fascinating thing, especially in the golden era, people like Slick Rick, G-Rap, it was something that went with the craft. Whatever you did you had to be nice. I just like to tell stories to draw people in. I think it’s interesting to tell a unique story and have people captivated from beginning to end, so it’s something that we picked up when we were young as MCs.
HipHopCanada: What’s your favorite kind of story to tell?
GZA: I don’t think I have a favorite kind of story. A story is just a story, it all depends on how the stories move you. You can watch a love story that has just as much as an affect as an action story, can strike a person in the same way for different reasons. I can make a story out of anything, so I can’t really say, Oh I like to rhyme about murder mysteries. I mean I do, but that wouldn’t be my favorite.
HipHopCanada: What do you feel about metaphors as a living symbol?
“You measure the metaphors, the definition is more than one/ take it both ways I’ll still be here when you’re done.”
GZA:That’s an old verse, I used to rock that. But that verse said it all. So even on Wu-Tang Reunited, from metaphorical parables to fertilize the Earth, it’s all about the metaphor. It’s all about the double, triple and quadruple meanings. Nowadays a lot of hip-hop and rap, forget the double and triple meanings, there’s not even one way of looking at it. I think when you write in a metaphorical way you open up people’s minds more. You give them different ways of looking at something. Its just language, a way of expressing yourself, and if you can articulate yourself well, more people understand you. It’s all about articulation. Everything I do, I like it to be a metaphor and I’ll always write that way. I think its’ important to write that. If I take a story like “Animal Planet,” the whole song is a metaphor. It’s about the jungle, I use animals and relate them to people. And each animal, whatever its description or job is, fits. The giraffe was a lookout for gorillas in the mist, the bats use their sonar to guide and assist. It’s not just like the bats is chillin on the corner and the elephants move tons of leaves. It’s the time you put into the rhyme to craft it. I can go on and on, we can talk for an hour about metaphors and I could break down songs and lyrics. I think artists nowawdays confuse similes with metaphors. I’m like this, I’m like that, I’m tall like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, fat like whoever. It’s not a metaphor.
HipHopCanada: Is there any particular memory of coming up that’s stuck with you?
GZA: It is and it isn’t. Because when you ask that question I can’t think of anything, but when the interview is over and I’m chillin in my room and all kinds of things start poppin in my head and I can remember…So there’s many moments but sometimes when you’re put on the spot none of them stand out. If you try to think of something it don’t come to you, it only comes to you when you’re not thinking about it and you’re at ease state. That’s how things work.
HipHopCanada: How do you feel your place and the game has changed over the years?
GZA: I think I became lyrically sharper, I’ve grown. That’s a part of life, growing and developing, and even in music you should grow and develop. If you was rhyming about crack in ‘95 I don’t think it’s good to be rhyming about crack in 2011. You gotta realize that Wu-Tang has 3 generations of fans, which is incredible in a sense, but if we have 3 generations that means we have at least one or two that grew with us, so they have children now, they grown, they different, they see life in a different way. However life shapes or molds them, they grow. And you see that all the time with artists, Mary probably is not singing about the shit she was singing about in ‘92, she’s experienced different things and can talk about different things, still tryna develop in her style. I just think I’ve changed. I love to write.
HipHopCanada: In which ways are you still pushing boundaries?
GZA: I don’t think I can necessarily point them out, like I’m gonna do this that no one has done. I’m working on an album, I don’t wanna throw the name out, but it’s just a beautiful story, it’s the best yet ever that I’ve ever written. Ever! It’s told in a unique fashion, it’s compelling, it’s mind-blowing.
HipHopCanada: I’ve heard buzz about a TV show…is this coming up? Or any other major projects outside of music?
GZA: Yes and no. I am writing right now, working on a couple of screen plays, a couple of graphic novels that I’ve been working on for several years, just drafting and changing. I don’t illustrate or draw like that, and I’m working with a writer based on ideas that I have. One of them’s called Chlorine, it all takes place in a pool. It’s young kids. It was this pool in Staten Island we used to go to, we all grew up there, the whole clan. When we first started going, it was one of those pools where you gotta be in swimming trunks and no shirt, and you probably have to shower before you come out, you know, you have to get wet. It was one of those pools when we first started going, and then by the time I stopped going it was a pool that people were swimming in sneakers, jeans, pampers floating in the water with shit in it, it was a place where we grew up at throughout the summer and there were a lot of interesting stories, good and bad. So it has this message to it, but it’s just about these four young kids, and it’s something that you really don’t expect from me. I’ve met with book publishers and things like that, and between me and the other Wu-Tang artists they always expect you to do something that’s in the box. They would never expect something like this, they would probably rather see a Cold World novel or Killah Hills 10304 graphic novel or something that’s an inner-city urban tale. This is just something that’s based on the environment where I grew up, interesting stories good or bad, there’s messages in it. All sorts of things happened at this pool, from dudes I grew up with smoking angel dust and crashing the pool at night – we used to do that all the time and just go swimming. Dudes just jumping off and landing in the pool, or missing it and cracking their skull and dying there. Those kinds of stories, from the craziest to the funniest. It’ll be out…I would say late 2011, early 2012.
HipHopCanada What are your impressions of Canada? You’re currently touring the West…
GZA: I like Canada. I don’t necessarily like immigration. I don’t really have trouble at the border cause I don’t have a criminal record, so it’s not like they fuck with me. They mess with some of the other guys when they come through and sometimes they can be a pain. But a lot of the time we’ve run into fans that work at immigration and they were in high school or junior high when Wu-Tang came out. The cities are great. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary is cool, a lot of places I’ve been to in Canada are really clean, the streets, people are nice, hospitable. A lot of good things. Good sports bars too. I watched a couple of UFC fights on Pay Per View in sports bars that look like arenas. I went to one in Calgary that was just an amazing spot. And cheap. Usually in the states if you watch a Pay Per View event they might charge you 40, 50 dollars to get in the spot. They was charging like 5, 10 dollars. And I was getting drinks for free. I think it’s cool. For the most part they speak English in Canada, right? I know there’s parts where they speak French. Other than parlez-vous Francais and bonjour I don’t speak any French.
Interview conducted by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Tyler Simpson for HipHopCanada