Words with Genius (Part Two) [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – As the interview continues, I begin to see the gentle nature of the GZA, which couples with some rough edges to create a lovely character. Sharp, deep and easily flow the words of this man, always this as well as that, yes and no. The more the man warms, the sweeter the stories, so let’s have tea with Killah Priest, get caught up with Jim Jarmusch and hear a love letter to Always: let’s roll a joint with GZA.
“RZA came in the room and was like, “Yo don’t take two fuckin weeks to write a rhyme, you don’t wanna strain your brain like that. Don’t go at it like that,” but that’s how I am, that’s how I work.”
HipHopCanada: Are you a reader? What do you like?
GZA: I don’t really know a lot of authors. Sometimes it seems like I read a lot cause I love information, and a lot of stuff I’m interested in is based on science, mathematics, stuff that really relates to a lot of things as we deal with our surroundings, but I’m not an avid reader like that. It’s not like I’ve read thousands of books. But I read a few and a lot of the books I keep on me, depending on what kind of book it is I know it holds a certain type of vibration so I just like to travel with it, just for the vibrational effect on it in relation to what I’m doing, like if I’m on a plane to have that aura and energy around me. Because words are powerful and have vibrations.
HipHopCanada: That’s a really cool take on words… can you explain a little more?
GZA: At one time years ago, before I started learning more about sound and vibration and the power of words and thought, I used to think that if someone said “have a good flight” it had no bearing, it really didn’t mean anything because it’s not what he say or she say in those words, but it’s what the pilot is doing and how he’s feeling. But it’s not that. It’s that and it’s that, it’s a combination of it all. It can be a flight attendant with an attitude that can just offset everything, it can be the workers who worked on the planes, it could’ve been slave labor, it could’ve been anything that’s connected to it that can affect it in any kind of way, good or bad. There’s this book called Hidden Messages of Water, this Doctor put words and music in front of water and it formed different crystals, he’d write words in different languages and place them on the water to form different crystals depending on what the word is, because of the vibration that’s in the word. So having a beautiful book in your bag all day is almost like a force field. I’m not saying something can’t happen to you, anything is possible, but it’s almost like a safeguard, you know? I see it like that, so I don’t really read so many books but recently I was reading Quantum Zoo. I bought these seven books when I was in Europe, they were all titled, 50-this, 50-that, 50-physics ideas, 50-genetics ideas, 50-philosophical ideas.
HipHopCanada: Do you think you have a more scientific or artistic mind?
GZA: I think a combination of both but it turns off and on, depending on where you wanna take it. Because I think for the most part I have more of an artistic mind but I am a scientifical person. I would say artistic mind because of the time I take to do what I do. I may take a month to write one rhyme because I want it to be what I want it to be. There’s been times where we were in the studio, one time where RZA came in the room and was like, “Yo don’t take two fuckin weeks to write a rhyme, you don’t wanna strain your brain like that. Don’t go at it like that,” but that’s how I am, that’s how I work. The crafting of it, the perfection level of it, that’s more artistic.
HipHopCanada: Well I think I’ve taken up enough of your time…
GZA: You can ask whatever you want, I’m here. As long as I’m here, rollin and smokin…
HipHopCanada: I like the way you talk about words, it fits with a very classical literary theory to give words that kind of weight.
GZA: Thank you, I appreciate that. You know sometimes people define my work in words I can’t even define, which is interesting to me. I was online and I was listening to some songs of mine, and reading some of the comments, and one of the guys said, “GZA’s lyrics is like the string theory of hip-hop,” and another guy said something about it being wheatgrass. And these are all things I’m familiar with, and I know their potency and the relevance to it, and I just think…One guy that I’ve known for years, he worked with me on an album cover or two, he said “Your lyrics are like Shakespeare.” And I’m not familiar with Shakespeare like that, at all. But I know a lot of people respect Shakespeare, a lot of writers, and I said, “Why you say that?” and he said, “Cause you don’t tell stories, you weave tales.” So I thought that was interesting.
HipHopCanada: Do you realize your place in the greater literary canon?
GZA: I do and I don’t. I do when it comes to hip-hop, cause sometimes it seems like – not to go ego – but it feels like I’m here, and a whole lot is here, when it comes to hip-hop. So I do feel that way. But as far as the outside world, I don’t. Because I don’t know…well I’m starting to learn that more and more, to see that more and more.
HipHopCanada: What kind of things show you that?
GZA: One day I was in a tea spot in LA with Killah Priest, and we were in there and talking, and I told him I ran into somebody, an older school rapper, and how we was exchanging rhymes, and I didn’t think he really knew what I could do lyrically. So I was just telling Priest some of the stuff I was telling him, lyrically. And this is an organic tea spot, called Elixer, they don’t exist any more. This is an herbal, organic spot so everyone in there was consciously on a certain level any way, as far as health, it’s not just a regular place where everybody’s eating pork chops. So I’m telling him this rhyme, then I went into another rhyme, and then there was a lady sitting next to us, she turned around, she says, “Do you write that stuff? Do you publish it? Oh my God you are a Shaman!” After three rhymes. Now this is someone who don’t listen to hip-hop but the way it was delivered, it wasn’t delivered like it was hip-hop, it was delivered like – I wouldn’t say spoken word cause a lot of spoken words have a whole bunch of theatrical dramatics in it – it was just spoken and delivered in a cogent manner. And she was drawn in. But a lot of artists know what they are when they do it cause they have one way of doing it. If I’d have been in there like [starts to rap aggressively] she probably wouldn’t have given me any mind. But I was like, “why universe run like clockworks forever, my words pulled together, sudden change in the weather, the nature and the scale of events don’t make sense, the storm with no warning you’re drawn in environments, gravity is going mad, clouds of dust and debris…” she was like, what the? I didn’t say I was an artist, any of that, I just said that I write. So I think I do see that in myself when it comes to artists but when it comes to people outside of hip-hop and that world I’m starting to see it more and more.
HipHopCanada: What else do you write?
GZA: One day for BLAG magazine – they from Europe – they wanted me to write an article and I had four things to choose from, but it was from a Sony Playstation game – the X, the O, the triangle and the square. I had to pick from those and I picked the circle. And I went there and thought about all the stuff I could write about a circle – a cipher, 360 degrees, how energy moves in circles, and all kinds of stuff I incorporated and I just went on. So I didn’t think anything of it, and one day RZA talks to me on the phone, and RZA’s deep himself, he’s a fucking scientist, and he was like “I love that, that shit is incredible,” but I didn’t look at it like that. And one day I was upstate somewhere doing this festival, I was in a room with Jim Jarmusch, who wrote Ghost Dog and made Coffee and Cigarettes, and we were in a room, and he was there cause he was involved with the show, and my DJ said to him, “Yo that thing you wrote for Blag Magazine, I loved that shit!” And I said, “I wrote that,” and he said, “You’re fucking me up right now GZA,” and Jim Jarmusch was like “GZA wrote that?” Cause Jim Jarmusch called me one day and my boy Dreddy was doing an Indie album and Jim liked it so much he wanted to say it on the album. He was like “can I say this in my voice on the album?” This is why I would rather expand more and write book and write novels. I’ve put so much work into rhymes, and when you’re on certain labels – and this was years ago – and you get the point where they’re not promoting you, pushing you, you feel like, you know, I got a lot of great work that never got the time of day, depending on who I was dealing with. So I wanna do more and more books, I wanna open up and throw more people on different things. I write so much, I write commercials, comedy, I just haven’t put anything out yet. I go in. Commercials are a no-brainer, they’re only 60 seconds, 30 seconds, not even a whole page, it’s just how you word it. But I wrote this commercial – na I don’t wanna throw that out in an interview.
HipHopCanada: Throw it out!
GZA: Well I wrote a commercial that’s about a lady writing a love letter and she’s sitting down and she’s writing, she’s like, “thank you, you’ve been so much support, what would I do without you, you’re the love of my life,” and then at the end of the letter she writes “love always.” And it’s a commercial for Always sanitary napkins. In my mind, things come to me and I go all over with it, but there’s a no-brainer when it’s something they would want.
HipHopCanada: I like your style, GZA.
GZA: Thank you. It took me like an hour to roll this but if you wanna smoke it….
Interview conducted by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Tyler Simpson for HipHopCanada