A Word With RZA
By Thomas Fawcett,
12:25PM, Wed. Jun. 11, 2008
RZA answers the phone emphatically in his Houston hotel room. After spending much of Monday playing phone tag – let’s call it shadowboxing – with the Wu-Tang producer and swordsman, Bump & Hustle finally connected when he touched down in Texas. Playing the role of alter-ego Bobby Digital, RZA performs tonight at Emo’s in support of Digi Snax (Koch), due out June 24. He promises it will be “a good motherfuckin’ time.”
Bump & Hustle: What sort of adventures has our superhero Bobby Digital gotten into since the release of Digital Bullet?
RZA: Digi Snax sums it all up. The character still struggles within himself but still saves the lives of others, you know. The character is growing. I’ve been using this character in more than one medium, not only in music, but we’re working on the comic book, a feature film for the character, a video game for the character. Digi Snax is the way we’re introducing this character back into the game in a way that’s gonna be a continuation. I put a lot of time and effort into this to make it crack for us. I just think about the first song on the album, “Long Time Coming,” and I think that sums it up a little bit. It’s speaks to the fact that a man sometimes feels that he’s at the end of his rope, on his dying day, but it ain’t his dying day it’s a rebirth, the beginning of a new day. And that’s how I feel about Bobby Digital. He went through trials and tribulations, the character was in limbo for a minute, but now he’s back out the gate. And guess what? He’s hittin’ jackpot. A hundred mil to the bank!
B&H: That’s what’s up. I’m really feeling the single “You Can’t Stop Me Now.” Does the rest of the album have a similar sound?
RZA: There’s a wide range of sounds on this album, every song has its own thing. “You Can’t Stop Me Now” kind of reminds me of the classic Wu sound mixed with this acoustic sound. There’s a few other songs on there that sound like classic Wu but there’s a few other songs on there that are going to sound like totally individual ideas that haven’t been released by me. Then you’ll hear some classic Bobby Digital sounds, so I really did a mix of sound clashes.
B&H: You’ve been collaborating with Stone Mecca on the new album and touring with them as well. Are you incorporating more live instrumentation in your production these days?
RZA: I still use our digital orchestra but I add instrumentation to it. So, for instance, on a song like “Drama,” it’s all digital but at the end of the song you hear an analog guitar come in and play a soul force. So I love to mix those two worlds together just like in the old days when we would sample stuff and then play on top of the samples. So now we create music digitally but still play on top of it as if it was a sample.
B&H: Speaking of samples, you mine a lot of 1970s Southern soul for your source material. Can you name five artists you sample but that you also love listening to in the headphones?
RZA: Oh, man. I love Isaac Hayes, no doubt, David Porter, no doubt, knawmean? I’m a big fan of Syl Johnson, no doubt, Ann Peebles, no doubt. The great Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, really the list is never gonna end.
B&H: As a producer, is it hard for you to let someone else control the boards?
RZA: As a producer it’s hard but not as an MC and that’s what I had to be on this record as well. That’s what I had to realize, that I’m the MC of the record. So when me and David Banner hooked up – we hooked up on the humble, just kickin’ it, choppin’ it up abut music, whatever – he said, ‘Let me produce you.’ As a producer of other MCs I knew how to take that role. I knew how to be quiet and just do whatever he wanted me to do.
B&H: I heard you were supporting Hillary Clinton for president. What are your thoughts on Barack Obama capturing the Democratic nomination?
RZA: There was a rumor I was supporting Hillary Clinton but I’m definitely supporting change more than anything. When Hillary was running and Barack was still unknown I thought Hillary and the Clinton family did well in the country for my people. I talk to my family and they had more money, more jobs, and more opportunities during the Clinton administration, so the chance to get that family back in the White House seemed like it would be more helpful to my family. After watching Barack Obama this last year, seeing him speak and seeing the dynamic of him, I’m blown away like the rest of us. I appreciate what he stands for and how he’s standing for it. My ideal situation would be for these two people to bond together so they could change the face of America and, in turn, the face of the world and have America live up to the principles that it speaks on. We have a lot of principles in this country but we don’t practice those principles.
B&H: Alright, totally switching gears, if you had to give up watching either sci-fi or kung-fu movies, which would it be and why?
RZA: I’d give up sci-fi before kung-fu [laughs]. I love sci-fi but kung-fu has helped me not only personally but physically. Everything is kung-fu, really. Even sci-fi is kung-fu, knawmean? I would give up sci-fi before kung-fu because kung-fu is a foundation for so many other things in my life.
B&H: On 8 Diagrams your production was a little more guitar-heavy and Raekwon said you were on some 'hip-hop hippie shit.' What were you listening to during the making of that album and where was your mind at?
RZA: I was listening to all kinds of music. I listen to all kinds of music every day, knawmean? Over the last couple of years I’ve been listening to and studying more rock music and shit like that 'cause my buddy Shavo [Odadjian, of System of a Down] was really into that. So I’ve definitely been listening to more rock but I keep Marvin Gaye in my CD player. On that Wu album I was listening to breakbeats, all the classic breakbeats from New York. It wasn’t like I wasn’t in tune to what was going on in hip-hop, I just wanted to make an album that would stand the test of time in a nourishing way, not just a way to party and feel good, but to feel spiritually good and shit. That album has a really spiritual undertone to it.
B&H: Your former Gravediggaz collaborator Prince Paul is now making hip-hop for babies. Does that make you feel old?
RZA: [Laughs] Nah, to tell you the truth I don’t feel old at all. I feel more vibrant than I’ve ever felt in my life. As far as the hip-hop world, I still don’t feel old because there’s no other me, knawmean? I feel like it’s old when there’s 20 other motherfuckers that can do what you can do. Nobody can do what the fuck I do, or nobody has the range of creativity that I’ve showed, which I’ve proven as a producer, proven as an MC, proven as a businessman. I’ve proven it taking it to other genres, moving it to the silver screen, and soundtracks and still proven that my talent is viable and valuable, knawmean? I feel proud to be who I am and shit. When I was younger – around 25, 26, 27, 28 - I thought rappers shouldn’t go past 30, knawmean? But as I’m living my life I’m saying, ‘Damn, how come I keep getting better at what I do? How come everything is getting greater and greater?’ It must mean that I have a ways to go and I might not be recording records. I took a look at some of the greatest records of the world and started checking the producers. Michael Jackson’s Thriller produced by Quincy Jones. Quincy was over 40 years old when he made that record, yo. He already had hit records under his belt, had scored about 25 movies by then, he was a wealthy man, he had done so many things by then but he still didn’t peak until – boom - he produced that record. So sometimes you have to realize that the strength of your youth is one strength, the strength of your talent is one strength, but your strength as a man is totally another strength and you hope you live to see the day that strength manifests itself. I feel like I’m really approaching that.
B&H: Has the Wu empire played out like you originally envisioned it would?
RZA: The first five years played out just like I called it. After that it went away from what I had desired. It hasn’t 100 percent accurately played out like I wanted but it became an empire of the people. There are hundreds of families, even thousands of families, that have benefited from Wu-Tang that aren’t even physically related. Take all the hundreds of websites and all the entities that are Wu-Tang spinoffs. Take all the shows of each individual member that’s still on tour to this day. Even today you may have up to five Wu-Tang shows going on around the country and around the world with five different promoters and five different cities making the money off of it, five different clubs making money off of it, five different places selling more alcohol off of it. It’s become an empire of the people. I think that governments of the world should invest in me, invest in Wu-Tang, because we have enriched economic commodity in America alone. Look at a movie like Iron Man ten years after we did Ironman [Ghostface Killah’s 1996 debut]. The Iron Man comic book never sold a million fucking copies, knawmean? The Ironman album did. Now it’s the top movie in the country. Or you see Ghostrider, who didn’t really sell a lot of comics, didn’t make it past 200 issues. But here it is, Johnny Blaze [Method Man] sells 2 million records, even 3 million records. He popularized that name. The name was started by Marvel, I’m not taking that from Marvel, I’m saying we help America grow economically. Even now, go to Blockbuster and you’ll find Five Deadly Venoms. It didn’t exist before, you had to travel five to 20 neighborhoods to find that shit. We increase the economy for so many different things and shit. It’s what the Wu empire has wound up doing. If all of that would have been self-contained for ourselves we would be at billionaire status already. Being that it ain’t, we basically fed the world, which is a beautiful thing. I’m not disappointed in that. It’s a great thing to be able to feed so many families and cause such economic growth.
B&H: Are you surprised Ghostface has had the most sustained success over time as opposed to somebody like Method Man, who may have more commercial appeal?
RZA: Well, I wouldn’t measure it like that. Ghostface has had consistent critically acclaimed albums but even all his albums together haven’t sold as much as Method Man in reality. What happened is that Ghostface had those critically acclaimed albums on Def Jam and not one of those critically acclaimed albums went gold. When Ghostface was with Razor Sharp Records his first album went 1.2 million and his second album went close to a million as well. That was on Razor Sharp and that label is nowhere in comparison with the strength of Def Jam. He gets on Def Jam and he can’t go gold even with critically acclaimed product. He’s one of the best MCs in the world. How can one of the best MCs in the world not go gold when these other MCs without the same abilities as him do it? Like Rick Ross. He’s a good artist and shit, he has a good album out now, but he doesn’t have the MC abilities of Ghostface and he already outsold the last release of Ghost in his first week. That bothers me. Method Man is a celebrity, he’s a movie star. His movies have made $16 million. So I wouldn’t compare it like that but I would say Ghostface has surprised a lot of people by being one of the best MCs ever. At the beginning people didn’t know he was such an MC threat. I knew it because he was my partner, he was my roommate, we lived together for years. So I knew his potential but nobody knew that this nigga was gonna turn out to be one of the best MCs ever to touch the mic. If not the best, yo, he’s definitely in the top five on my list, knawmean?
B&H:What can heads here in Austin expect from the Bobby Digital live show?
RZA: You can expect that energy. You come to my show and we’re gonna have a good motherfuckin’ time, I promise you that. Prepare to sweat, baby, prepare to sweat.