“It’s definitely good to be back in the game,” asserts Wu-Tang Clan’s de facto consiglieri, known to millions simply as ‘RZA’. The New York collective have kept us guessing since they slid off the radar in the aftermath of 2001’s Iron Flag, emerging only for sporadic live dates. Ultimately, only one of those would feature the entire Clan before Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s untimely death in late 2004.
The Wu-Tang saga resumed last summer when they reformed – like Voltron - for an extensive tour to precede the release of fifth LP 8 Diagrams. “The tour was real important for hip-hop,” nods RZA, “important for the Wu-Tang legacy, for the group to get on out there and touch the people. In the old days you’d get like three or four guys showing up, but everybody was there for this tour. I think, even if we never do it again, we did good already.”
However, the galvanised Wu were soon tested by an encumbrance of sample clearance problems and internal battles over money, the scheduling of the record and criticism of RZA’s production direction on 8 Diagrams – an issue made clear in the album’s disregard for stylistic continuity. Was the maestro shaken off course by the unrest that publicly emanated from the camp? “Nah, I definitely felt that the record was great, and I think those people who spoke negatively about it spoke prematurely. I think, right now, they’re taking their words back. That’s how music is though - we don’t understand some musicians ‘til they’re dead.”
Video: Wu-Tang Clan - Triumph
RZA’s multi-faceted approach has long intrigued hip-hop fans and critics alike. Since he started out as a young MC, he has regularly adopted a new moniker with which to record and perform: Bobby Digital has long been his alter ego of choice. “At one point I was called Prince Dynamite!” he laughs. “That was just a very egotistic feeling I had about myself, that I was explosive, anything I did was the best. I learned how to use each name depending on the situation,” he explains. “So when you look at a Gravediggaz album, you had the RZArector, where I was saying ‘I’m here to RZArect the mentally dead.’ But on a Bobby Digital album I’m the one who needs to be RZArected. A psychiatrist would probably call me a schizophrenic, but it’s all artistic expression. I learned to be the Robert De Niro of hip-hop.”
RZA recently took his role-playing muscle to the next level when, beyond cameos in Dave Chapelle comedy skits and oddball Jim Jarmusch flicks alongside cousin GZA, he scored a role next to Hollywood heavyweights Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. “I played a cop in my last film [Ridley Scott’s American Gangster]. I actually felt like a cop when I was doing it too. I was actually fucking ready to be a cop!”
With all of the above – and scoring the odd soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino - to juggle, RZA’s projects have become varied and many in recent times. Throw fatherhood into that mix and we have a very busy Abbott. “That’s the key to life, to reproduce yourself, have children and school them. That’s how the world becomes better,” he says, as his son imitates his words in the background.
Video: Gravediggaz - 1-800-Suicide
Spinning as many plates as this, RZA’s focus is derived from Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Hagakure – the treatise of samurai philosophy practiced by the protagonist in Ghost Dog (a film he just so happens to be screening at Triptych this month). “I learned martial arts principles as a young man, those principles are part of my daily life. I focus on whatever I’m hired to do. If I was hired to build you a brick house, I’ll make you a nice brick house. I’m not a mason, but if that was what I was hired to do, I would study the way to do it and do it to the best of my ability. Of course, it’s up to the consumer or the employer to say whether I’ve satisfied them or not, but fortunately I’ve been successful so far.”
With talk of upcoming roles alongside Ghost Dog’s Forrest Whittaker, and planned recording collaborations with Cannibal Ox Dr Dre and Shavo from System of a Down on the cards, it seems prudent to ask when we can expect to hear more from Bobby Digital after his upcoming live dates. There’s also the matter of addressing those rumours that RZA could be about to hang up the mic...
“I’m doing a Bobby Digital album that comes out in June, my last recording as a lyricist should be called The Cure. I’m going to keep making music, I make music every day, but as far as my words, coming to your ear, from my voice? I think after The Cure I’ll have done my job... It’s been ten years in the working.
Video: RZA (as Bobby Digital) - You Can't Stop Me Now
“My next endeavour is to do film,” he assuredly offers in parting, “because if a picture can say a thousand words, right, and a word provides a thousand pictures - a film has millions of frames. Everything I do is forged from my past, whether it’s writing scores, making albums - right now I want to direct a movie - all of these things I admired or loved as a child. That’s why the child you are makes you the man that you become. Therefore, all my creativity and all my art – 90% of it comes from my past, 10% of it comes from my future. That’s the part that y’all got to catch up to, so I’ll see you at the movies.”