As the mastermind behind Wu-Tang Clan, rapper, producer, director, and actor Robert “RZA” Diggs changed pop music in general and hip-hop in particular with the release of his group’s seminal 1993 debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Over the course of a single album, RZA radically reinvented hip-hop with a homemade mythology and defiantly new sound that brilliantly fused black crime fiction, gangsta rap, martial arts, and Nation Of Islam ideology. RZA went on to produce a string of instant-classic solo albums from Wu-Tang Clan brethren like Raekwon (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx), Method Man (Tical), and Ghostface Killah (Ironman). After the 1997 Wu-Tang Clan album Wu-Tang Forever, RZA stepped back from producing every Wu-Tang solo album, and focused on his own solo career and building the Wu-Tang empire. He has continued to produce and rap for the Wu-Tang Clan while branching out into film as a sought-after composer (Kill Bill and Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai) and increasingly as an actor, with attention-grabbing supporting turns in American Gangster, Coffee And Cigarettes, Funny People, and Derailed. In 2005, RZA added “author” to his overflowing résumé with The Wu-Tang Manual. He recently released his second book, The Tao Of Wu, a stream-of-consciousness meditation on spirituality and faith. The A.V. Club recently spoke with the hip-hop legend about his spiritual path, whether homosexuality is genetic, his love of Richard Jeni and the Farrelly brothers, and internal schisms within The Clan.
The A.V. Club: How did the book come about?
RZA: A few years ago, I thought about writing a book such as this, a book based on wisdom and life. I talked with some publishers about it, and Riverhead was a company that wanted to do a book with me. Our plan was to do The Wu-Tang Manual first, then come back with a book that would be based more in wisdom. So we did The Wu-Tang Manual and had some success with it. Now we’re back with the book we always wanted to write. It was my agent’s advice that we start with the Manual first, to get me established as an author and have people understand that I really wanted to write.
AVC: The Tao Of Wu is a little more esoteric than The Wu-Tang Manual.
RZA: The Wu-Tang Manual was putting together different things, different ideas. It was an entry into this world: the things I think about, the things that got me to be who I am, whatever I am. For the people, for those who look at the path of me and say, “Wow, he went upon a path that is not a path to follow.” So this book really puts you further upon a path. The Wu-Tang Manual introduced you to it, gave you some Wu-Tang folklore, gave you some stuff about the Wu-Tang Clan, for any fan that would enjoy it. But for this, even if you’re not a fan, this is definitely a book of wisdom that’ll get you on your way.
AVC: How did you develop an interest in spirituality?
RZA: It first started from growing up, going to church with my uncle, my mom. But then getting a taste of mathematics really opened up my mind to the world. It gave me the chance to really expand myself. I think mathematics brought me into this. What we call “spirituality.” I like to also use the word “mindfulness.” So it brought me to this mindfulness where I’m looking at life, and then from there, I came across many books of spirituality through the Tao, through Buddhism, through Confucianism, also through reading on Hinduism, and always Christianity. All these different ways of seeing spirituality, I realized, had a common path. And by going through all these different walks, I think it’s really built up a certain kind of intrinsic nature inside myself that allows me to maybe even reflect it back to others, so they can get it without having to go through the same thorn-picking I had to go through.
AVC: You talk about what these major faiths have in common, a core that they share.
RZA: Yeah. I think one thing most of them have in common is, they all realize that everything manifests from one. That’s whether you’re dealing with science, religion, Bible, whatever. They all realize it all came from one, and then from one, you got many. So, for instance, Hindus have many different gods, but it all started from one, and everything was the offspring of the particular entity. The Egyptians got all these different gods. No, there’s still one chief, and all the others are different expressions of the one. Then, if you think about Christianity, you’ve got three gods. You know, the Holy Ghost, Jesus, and God. But you realize that that’s still one, just a different expression of the one. Then in Islam, they say Allah, that’s it, that’s one. But then with the word “Allah” we get “all,” you know what I mean? And then you have the 99 attributes to describe him. So they all get into this same point of, really, there’s a oneness, there’s a father to this creation. And then science says the father is a tadpole microorganism that grew into a man. That’s proven every day with a sperm cell. So even that is one sperm cell, there’s one sperm cell that penetrates the egg. The rest of them don’t, even though millions try. So they all lead to oneness, and I know that there’s many ways of getting that expression. People got their own traditions and languages of it. That’s why you can say “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “God” and be saying the same thing from three different cultures.
AVC: Different names for the same thing?
RZA: Exactly. In French, look at the number one. You’ve got o-n-e, then you’ve got u-n, then in Spanish it’s u-n-o. And then ichi in Japan, but it’s all about one. When they show you with their finger, it’s still one, but the language is describing it different.
AVC: You talk a lot about the concept of knowledge of self.
RZA: The knowledge of self is the most important thing, because how are you going to know God if you don’t know yourself? How are you going to know anything if you don’t know yourself? The word “knowledge” itself, we like to break it down into two different words, “know” and “ledge.” You’ve got to know the ledge. Know the limitation of things. Know where they go, know where they start from. We say knowledge is the basic foundation of the universe. Everything is first based on something being known. Then, when it’s known, then it can be manifested. They say that the true self is the self, is your soul, and that this soul is basically a water drop from the ocean. So if it’s a water drop from the ocean, the most high is this ocean, and this is one ocean, and we’re all just those drops of water that come from this ocean, that still get drawn up by the sun, and then it’s still back to that same ocean. Therefore, we’re always the same. We are all the same. There’s only one soul. There’s only one ocean. Everything else is a different expression of it. You know, that makes sense in a lot of ways.
Now, this ain’t obvious, what is your self? Find your true self. The old question, asked in many ages, “Who am I?” Once you figure out who am I, and you know who am I, then you have that knowledge of self. You realize that “Okay, wow, this universe is really built for me, because when I close my eyes and pass away, this universe won’t even exist for me.” If you don’t know yourself, you don’t know your nature. If you don’t know your nature, you don’t know where to exist. Let’s take an example of, if you know your nature, you know that you could live on water, or you could live on land. You could live in the cold, you could live in the warm. By knowing your nature, knowing yourself, you know what to be and how to live. And that only comes from knowledge of self, knowing yourself. A fish has got to know it’s a fish in order to know it can’t survive on dry land. Animals are given instinctive knowledge of themselves, but man loses himself. He doesn’t know. That’s why he’s got the zodiac signs to represent himself. He doesn’t truly know his whole self. Over the years, we lose ourselves over and over and over, either through fabrication, propaganda, or just dismissal. Being asleep, or falling from our grace. But when you don’t even know who you are, what you are, and where you belong, then how are you supposed to do what you’re supposed to do?
AVC: A lot of your teachings seem rooted in Five Percent ideology.
RZA: There is a misconception of what Five Percent means to me: 5 percent of the entire population of the planet, who have knowledge of themselves, and are able to live a righteous life, to live accordingly to their nature. Then you got 10 percent of the people who know this as well, but they use their knowledge to blood-suck the 85 percent. So that’s why I consider myself to be part of the Five Percent. I’m not here to blood-suck the people, because I know what time it is. It’s like a magician knows the magic trick, but the audience doesn’t know, so therefore they’re fooled by his illusion. I’m a person that knows the magician’s trick, and is showing you how it is done, so you don’t get trapped into the illusion. 85 percent of the people would go for the illusion. Five percent would go, “No, the rabbit didn’t come out of his hat. If it did, he put it in the hat.” So that’s what it means by being part of the 5 percent, it means… knowing Islam through the 5 percent. Nation Of Gods And Earths, that’s what they’re actually called. Through that Nation, we were given mathematics, and we were given teachings that were taught by honorable Prophet Elijah Muhammad. It was based on Islam, and it was considered Muslim lessons. And with any Muslim lesson, they had a lot of mentions of different things, different lessons and questions that were to enhance a man, and give a black man knowledge of himself in the world because he had no knowledge of himself. He thought that his own history was going back to slavery, and then from slavery back to a jungle life. He didn’t know that he was the father of civilization, not just this limited mind space that we had, especially growing up in the ’80s. I guess it’s a little different now with the Internet and information being available, but in the ’80s, you would have no clue of nothing but what you saw on 10 channels on TV.
Now, you know, you’ve got hundreds of channels and more ways of things, but the true image of us was totally lost. And I can speak on that, as a man myself, because I didn’t know of no greatness of myself. So anyway, the lesson is that those teachings gave us that information. Over the years, I’ve checked that information as much as I can, and come to find out that information was actually correct. If it was correct, and scientifically correct, and historically correct, it was good for me. So that was a good foundation for me. But that was only 120 questions and answers. And through those 120 questions and answers, that’s enough to get a man started on the path of wisdom. So I always give respect to it. And I will say the one thing that definitely did calculate properly for me was the mathematics that I learned from the brothers, because it makes sense every day, no matter how I look at it, I can’t get around it. I try to get around it, I keep trying to find one plus one is not two, somehow. I can’t. People can talk about string theory, parallel realities, different dimensions, it’s still one plus one is two, baby.
AVC: In the book, you talk about discovering mathematics from GZA in 1980, where it seems like folklore, passed from one person to the other. It wasn’t something you could read online.
RZA: Right, it wasn’t online, it was something that was passed. At that time, they weren’t even writing it down like that. The good brother would teach you verbally, like good old kung fu. You have to learn it from a master, you couldn’t get it from a book. But it was written down, though, it popped up through lessons and Xerox copies of it circulating throughout the city, but it was weird. Blood culture, you know? They become Bloods or Crips, and they join gangs. And they all have the same precepts of knowledge that were given back in the ’80s. I think it was a real street thing in the ’70s and ’80s, that brothers were given street knowledge. It was a real great thing. And now we don’t got that. Now, street violence is being more advocated than street knowledge. So it’s been reversed.
AVC: There are a lot of lessons, parables, and messages in the book. Which do you think is most important?
RZA: Hmm. I don’t know, I think each lesson should resonate with the person who needs it. Each lesson is like medicine. It’s a form of prayer to me, to read, to study. I’ve got a lot of examples of me being up shit creek, and different people may be in different situations where they may be 9 years old and up shit creek, and this information will help. Maybe 20 years old, maybe it’ll help you. So I don’t have a favorite, I think overall I just show many, many different chambers of a struggle, and making it through the struggle. And find a lesson within your struggle. People don’t find lessons in their struggle.
One of the greatest things that ever taught me a super lesson was when I seen a baby come out of my woman’s womb. The head and body—you know, a baby’s born inside a woman’s stomach, you know all that. But to watch this thing come out and fight for life, yo, and to see the woman’s risking her life at the same time this thing is fighting for life, you know what I mean? And to see this war that could end with both lives being lost, or both lives being made. To see it happen, to see the vagina open to the size it does, to see everything that comes out, and all these different things of that moment, it gave me an enlightenment of life itself. It sparked my whole mind to a whole other level of living. And if I never would have seen it, I never would have understood life to this degree. I never would have appreciated life as much as I did from other animals after. I started appreciating other animals’ lives. Because they birth them, too. There’s a war. Even the chickens, who hatch eggs, who walk around with the chicks following them for the first few weeks, it’s like… yo, life is important to life.
AVC: There are lessons you can only learn from experience.
RZA: That’s right. From experience, you should be able to learn from anything, because experience is the best teacher. But in our day and time, what we need is wisdom, because wisdom overcomes experience, because experience is wisdom, but there’s a level of wisdom that overcomes the experience, and that’s the experience that’s already lived by others. There’s no need for me to get shot like Malcolm X. He did that for us already. I’m not trying to repeat the histories. I already learned from what they did, whether in college, or through gangster movies and saying, “I’m not going to end up with these same results. I’m going to learn from other men’s experience.” And this is why we’ve got Bibles and Korans, and Bhagavad Gitas, and books like that. Because we’re getting other people’s experiences. So we’re getting access to this mind, so that our bodies can benefit from it.
AVC: In the book, you talk a lot about being a student of life. You’ve been doing a lot of acting lately. What’s the best acting advice you’ve been given?
RZA: Wow. I got some good advice from some actors. You know who actually gave me the best advice? Giancarlo Esposito. I have a problem moving, because I’m hip-hop, so I’ve got to set a rhythm. Even right now, as I’m talking to you, my feet are tapping. It’s just something that, I don’t know, it’s a habit. It’s part of me being a musician, right? And I told him about it and shit, and I went to a few casting calls, and they told me to be still. I said “When I be still, I’ll still be moving my toes, but you just can’t see it.” He said, “Well, look. If you’re going to move something in acting, move your eyes. When you feel that motion, make it your eyes that make the motion, and tell it with your eyes.” And the movie I did with him, called Gospel Hill, I think is one of my better things, actually. It wasn’t a big, popular movie, but in two of my scenes in that movie, I really felt confident as an actor, and in a character that actually wasn’t me, even though you’re supposed to always draw from yourself. That’s another good advice they told me, that when you’re acting, no matter what situation you are in, you must always draw from your own emotion. It could be an emotion you’ve never had before, though, so how are you going to draw from it? But with the other advice that he gave me, which was let the eyes tell it, whether they’re telling the truth or not, try to let the eyes tell the story or make the motion. That added a lot to me.
AVC: You were great in Funny People.
RZA: Well, by the time I got to Funny People, I already had a few experiences, so I knew I could turn it on and turn it off, so I was kind of confident. But I was definitely under a lot of pressure, because of the comedians that were around, and hoping I could be funny in a movie called Funny People. And not even knowing the whole result of the movie. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to turn out, I didn’t go all the way through the whole script. I never read the end of stories or movies that I’m in, because I want to see it. I want to be surprised. I never even saw the end of Kill Bill. I was working on Kill Bill for months, and never knew the ending until I saw the ending. I didn’t ever tell Quentin. I told him after, “You know I never read the ending, right?”
Anyway, it was a good experience on Funny People. I learned a lot. I had a real fun time working with Seth [Rogen] and Judd [Apatow] and them. And it was just another great lesson for me, actually, to pick up another piece of knowledge, and to have myself actually associated with some great people like that.
AVC: It seems like most of your movies are dramas or action.
RZA: Right. Well, they’ve got me doing another small scene now in the new Todd Phillips film, called Due Date. And so I’m going to do that, too, and maybe put another comedy scene… try to pull another joke off this.
AVC: You’re a big fan of comedy. What’s making you laugh these days?
RZA: Oh, I love comedy. There’s so much funny shit, depending on where you at. In a hotel room, like I was last week, me and my wife, I was dying laughing at fucking Heartbreak Kid. It was stupid. That movie is funny as shit. But the Farrellys are always funny. There’s Something About Mary was a masterpiece, and we discovered that movie in a hotel room as well. I remember Ghostface called my room, “Yo, you gotta see this movie, There’s Something About Mary, this is funny as shit, I know you love comedy.” I watched it, and he was right, it was funny as shit. Most of my 20s, I would say, where the Improv was on TV, before Comedy Network took off, all these things would have improv on. I’m a fiend for improv. I still buy all the comedy DVDs and watch all the stand-ups. Earthquake and Aries Spears are good out there. Richard Jeni’s one of my favorites. He’s a funny motherfucker, yo. He’s the first one that said, “Did you ever watch The Jetsons late at night and look at Judy and go, ‘Man, Judy Jetson’s kind of hot’?” [Laughs.] “What about Wilma Flintstone? Would you fuck her?” It’s like, these are fucking cartoon characters, but there hasn’t been a day that you haven’t looked at one of these motherfuckers and thought about what you could fucking do to her. He’s a funny dude.
AVC: What’s your upcoming film The Man With The Iron Fist like?
RZA: I’m just going to say that I’m looking to make a real good movie for us, yo. I want to make something that… They said the album, 36 Chambers, by Wu-Tang, was new, different, and they said it helped propel the hip-hop community. I would love to do that somehow on film. I would love to make the same mark or impact, and I’m striving to do it with this film as my first serious directorial debut. And I’m going to tell you that we put a lot of time into the script, a lot of energy into it, a lot of people were supporting me on it, and if the energy comes out right, it should be a classic film to have in your library.
AVC: When did you start working on it?
RZA: I started writing it a few years ago. Right before Quentin did Grindhouse, I started writing it. And I was talking to Eli Roth about it. We all took a vacation to Iceland for New Year’s and shit. That’s some boys-being-boys shit. So we’re on our way to Iceland, and I just start talking about the film and shit, about the idea of it before it was fully written, and everybody kind of dug it, thought it was fun, thought it’d be real nice and shit. And I wrote a few scripts since then, but then Eli Roth came back to me after I had a few films under my belt, to say “I graduated from the school and I’m going to make my own movie now.” Eli came to me and was like, “Yo, I would love to help you make this Iron Fist movie. I just love it, I think the story is unique. I think it’ll be great for the genre.” So he re-inspired me to go back to it, and then I rewrote it again and showed it to a few people, other partners, and they all loved it, and they said, “Let’s polish it a little bit.” Then Eli personally helped me polish it up, which really helped me a lot, because he’s a smart guy, smart writer, and boom, there we are. We got it done, complete, circulating through the system, and it should be all cracking up pretty soon.
AVC: What’s the premise?
RZA: I don’t think I want to really describe it, I think I just want to say that we’re striving to do what I did in hip-hop for film. It’s striving to bring the originality and excitement that I brought to hip-hop to the silver screen. I don’t want to give the movie away. You know, it’s action, it’s a certain genre, but I think I’ve got a certain twist of originality and a certain way of filming, a certain way of seeing scenes, that only a few people in Hollywood see. And definitely only a few people of my generation see. So I don’t know if that gives you any information or not.
AVC: You’re also involved in the upcoming remake of The Last Dragon.
RZA: Yeah, Sony owns the rights to it, and we—me, Sam Jackson—both signed on as producers and potential actors in it, so that’s something that we’re waiting for them to get together. We got [original Last Dragon producer] Berry Gordy, his family’s involved with it as well. There’s been a new script out already, but to me, they didn’t nail it, so I sent the writer some books he should read, and I gave him a few pages. I’m not the writer, but I helped him out, gave him five pages of information, sent him some books so he could really make a story that’d resonate with today’s times for The Last Dragon. But I want to keep the martial-art integrity, parts that the first one may have lost, because the other guy was in love with Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee is still the master, still the greatest, but maybe his popularity in cinema is not the same as it was in the ’80s, because in the ’80s, you were still getting Bruce Lee releases. They Call Me Bruce?, Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave, and all these movies. Every year, a Bruce Lee movie would come out. There hasn’t been nothing about Bruce Lee in years. But The Last Dragon lives on as a cult classic, as an urban movie now, so we’ve got to find a way to incorporate martial arts in a way that still has a strong integrity, because The Last Dragon, Bruce Lee brought the integrity to it. So what can we bring to it in our day? I sent the writer a lot of books on things that are happening now in the martial-art world, a few true stories that he may not have known about that happened in the 1940s and ’50s, right before Bruce Lee migrated to America and brought some secrets through some other people that were doing a few secret things in the martial-art world, and their books have been published in the last 20 years. So I just gave him a lot of advice like that.
AVC: You don’t think Bruce Lee is timeless?
RZA: Bruce Lee is definitely timeless, but at the same time, the integrity of his martial art may not be as widely known now as it was then. Because Bruce Lee wasn’t only a good martial artist, he’s a good actor. Someone might say he’s a good-looking guy as well. He looks good on the screen, he’s great on the screen. So that’s one thing about him. To me, I consider Bruce Lee what the Koran would call a “minor prophet.” I think he’s a prophet, actually, because his wisdom, and the things he said, if you ever hear interviews or read some of his books, you could see that he really was on a special level.
[pagebreak]AVC: The Wu-Tang Manual is credited to you and Chris Norris. What role did Norris play in writing the book?
RZA: He’s a student of philosophy, a very smart guy, with a very vast amount of information on philosophy and all the different philosophers, as well as some history. So what he would do, he’d fact-check it for me, and if he found something that helped explain what I was saying, because me, writing as a hip-hop person, sometimes it makes it so everything I write may not translate to everybody. So he’ll find something that relates to what I said, that was said by somebody else in a different way. So he’ll find a common denominator of something that I’m saying with other great writers and other great people, and add it in as a sidebar, or he’ll add it into the paragraph. So he basically, definitely transcribed the book and did a great help for me. His knowledge of philosophy has helped confirm certain things that I say, without knowing that somebody else said it. If I knew somebody else said it, I say that I got it from Marcus Garvey or somebody. I might just say something and not know that I got it from somebody. But I’ll say things that I didn’t hear nobody say, or I don’t know where I heard it from, and it’ll be from a philosopher. I never read Nietzsche, but I always hear about Nietzsche, but I’m not a Nietzsche reader. He’ll go, “Well, Tesla also thought…” I say, “Well, Tesla. I didn’t know about Tesla ’til Jim Jarmusch told me about Tesla.” And so I was saying things that Tesla was saying, but I don’t know that Tesla said it. We’re on the same wavelength. That’s what I mean, when I said in the book about how I thought every cell had certain knowledge. The cells, I think knowledge is contained within the genetics, even. I think scientists will find that. I don’t think there’s a gay gene, though. They may argue that down, but I don’t think that, because that’s a preference.
AVC: You don’t think people are born gay?
RZA: I don’t think they’re genetically born. I think you can be born gay, but not because of your genetics, I think because of your subconscious more than your genetics. I think genetically, we’re made to reproduce. We can’t survive this route. Genetically, that’s the way to go. Genetically, we have to reproduce, but subconsciously, and preferentially, yeah, you can be born with that, yo. I was telling my little cousin, who he thinks he may be gay, so he was talking to me about it. And I said, “Your situation could be this.” I don’t want to say he was born like that, because he didn’t show these traits as a baby, but now he’s growing up and growing into it. I said, “Your father’s not around. And your father wasn’t around when your mother was pregnant, so your mother already is lusting for your father. She’s lusting for a man. She’s needing help, she’s crying, and subconsciously you’re getting this into you. And now your father’s not around, you’re also looking for a man’s comfort.”
The same dynamic helps explain why women are promiscuous. They’re looking for the comfort of that man, because they didn’t get it from home, from their parents. I don’t mean just sexual comfort. Love is mistranslated into sex, because sex is not an expression of love. Sex is an expression of physical activity. It can be an expression of love between two people in love, but it’s a carnal expression, yo. Dogs do it. Everybody do it. It’s a reproductive thing. It’s made to be good. It’s made for you to have to do it in order for your race to survive. Whether you like it or not, sex is going to be implanted within your genes.
Now, you can come from fucking, fucking, and fucking apples. Niggas in jail fuck fruit or Vaseline socks and shit, you know what I mean? And they still reach climaxes, because the body is yearning for it regardless, but to confuse sex and love, and to confuse sexual preference with love, I think, is a misconception. And I would go back to saying “Look in the Bible.” A man loving a man—nothing wrong with a man loving a man. It says David loved Jonathan with the love of a man and a woman. That means he loved him so much, as if these niggas was dating. That’s how much he loved him. That was his motherfucking man. I love my Wu-Tang brothers like that. But I don’t want to fuck none of them. Because I love them don’t mean I want to fuck them. But being that when we love a woman we express it through sex, I think that when we express it through same-sex, it’s more of a subconscious thing than a genetic thing. I don’t think it’s genetic. That’s just me. I’m not the scientist to prove it, but this is how I evaluate it so far, because it brings me something new to the table.
AVC: This is your second book. What was the most important thing you learned about the book process the first time around?
RZA: The first time around was a little more difficult. I learned one thing. The funniest thing I learned is this: We always argue about what the Bible says. We argue about what people say in their books, this and that. It’s like, “You know, the New Testament was written 70 years after Jesus died,” and all this shit, so we don’t know what’s actual, what’s factual. I would say that even me being alive, in this day, living and breathing, even my book has errors in it. So I can imagine how many errors there must be in those thousand-year-old books that we’re having. Because if my book, which comes out next week, has typographical errors in it, or sentence errors in it… I talk fast, and some things are mis-transcribed. And when I fix it, they still are mis-transcribed, just different things happen. Some of the numbers in the first book were wrong, they had to put another piece of paper in the second one to make sure that the numbers were right, because if the numbers are wrong, then when you try to go prove the fact that I’m making, you’re going to disprove it, because the number was wrong.
I tried to explain that to my publisher that everything I say has to be accurate, because I’m basing on accuracy, and if you make a mistake in my writing, it’s going to really discredit my facts. But my book right now still has at least a 5 percent margin for error in it. And that’s what I learned. That’s just because it’s going from one hand to another, this person to this person, this typesetter, this publisher, this page to this paragraph. And it’s also a commercial product. For me, it’s a book of my life and of wisdom, but for the book company, it’s a commercial product. All those things factor in, and I learned from the first book, “Okay, on this book, it’s your first one, it’s going to be the one where that happens.” So when it happened again on the second one, I realized, “This is a book process.” Even though I make my albums, and you play it from your players, when it’s finally done, there’s always something that’s a little bit off, like, “Yo, oh well, we had to do that because of this, or we had to do that because of that, or we had to cut it.” It’s always something. And the fan will never know.
So it is what it is. I’m proud to be writing books. I’m proud of people reading it. I’ll honestly say this to you, and you can quote me on this, that one of my proudest moments for me as an artist is being told by somebody that they read my book. That feels stronger than them buying my music. Even though I’m all about music, it’s just different for me. I expect you to buy my music. I don’t expect you to buy my book. So whoever takes the time to do that, they really feel proud for me, because they know that I’m pouring out something about me, something real about me.
AVC: You’re giving of yourself.
RZA: Yeah, I’m giving it to them. It was hard to do it. The funny thing about this new book, and this is something I’ll share with you, you can write about it or you can throw it away, or keep it to yourself. Chris was pretty cunning in getting a lot of shit out of me. I told him, “Listen, stop asking me questions about myself, I just want to give you the lessons.” And he kept coming and coming, and he drew it all out of me, and when I first read the book, I said, “I don’t want to sell this book to people, because I don’t want nobody knowing these things about me. I don’t want people knowing me like this.” And then the second time I read it, I was like, “You know what? Shit, it’s the facts. It’s the truth. And if a nigga can’t learn from this, he can’t learn, so let me just go ahead and teach.” So I think it took a fact of life for this book to be published, and for people to hear these things about me. And I’m glad he did keep some things in private. I tried to take out certain things, but the publisher was like, “Nah, let’s keep it.” Having to defend myself against a case of violence as a youth. Just going through that shit, it’s a bad memory for me, yo. And then I read about it, and it feels bad. It feels like, “Man, I don’t want people knowing that I had to be a violent guy, I had to have guns, I had to deal drugs, I had to have certain things.” But I did. And it happened, and it’s real.
AVC: You can kind of look at them as paths to get to where you are now.
RZA: I respect that. I guess it’s like my first movie kiss, when you see me for the first time kiss on a movie screen, I’m going to look at it funny, because it’s exposing my physical love side. When you watch all my videos, you never see me in bed with a woman yet, so I’ve got a scene coming up that’s going to be like that, I’m going to feel nervous about that. It’s part of your job, it’s part of your art.
AVC: In the book, you talk about Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead.
RZA: For me, watching those movies just made me relate it to people for real. And especially Dawn Of The Dead, when they were in the mall. To me, that was a glimpse of America’s future, because people walk around these malls with every store full of shit you don’t need. And you’re looking, and you’re looking, and you’re buying, and you’re looking, and some people go every day to the mall, and they walk around, and it becomes a social place. And they’re basically zombies, because there’s nothing there that’s going to really fill the joy they’re looking for. They’re all looking for joy, excitement, and fulfillment. That’s life. We wake up in the morning, you’re looking for food. Your body says, “Put food in me. Put this in me. Hook me up with this.” And then, when you can’t read your urges, or you don’t know your own nature, you don’t know what your body’s yearning for. So then you’re up in these places, like Dawn Of The Dead, they’re up in there, basically dead, walking dead, zombies, to what’s really going on in the world. Fools. They’re chasing something that’s an illusion, and that’s how I saw the movie.
I saw Night Of The Living Dead like that, too. And in Night Of The Living Dead, they had a black man come in and represent the hero, like many black men came in throughout the ’60s and ’70s. It was pivotal for this country, but they ended up with a bullet in their head. Even though their plight saved the white man, the white man still shot him in his head. Martin Luther King, he changed the old world by integrating the people, even though the South thought it was bad for the South, it was better for the country, because by integrating the people, it increases the production of the job market. It caused the moneys to cross-pollinate, because at one point, actually, according to the history, when the blacks had been segregated, they kept all the business segregated, and therefore all their culture and all their dollars. They say there were more black businesses than there are now. There were more black millionaires than there are now, because it was segregated. But when it opened up, it caused the money to flow. Now you can go into somewhere like Soul Fixins, and there’s a white guy in the kitchen. You go into a pizzeria, and you’ve got Mexicans making pizza. But it still helps the culture and the society, regardless. Are Italians going to get mad? No. Chinese food is always in the black neighborhoods. Understand, these different things happened with the people, but they always ended up with a hole in the head. That’s how the movie felt to me.
AVC: Notorious was a big hit, and there’s a Tupac movie in the works as well. Have there been talks about an Ol’ Dirty Bastard biopic?
RZA: We have talked about it. His estate is pretty confused, like any estate is in our country. The estate is kind of confused on what to do, and all the rights and all that shit, but it’s definitely been talked about. There’s also been talk about a Wu-Tang Clan movie. So we’ll see what life brings. In my opinion, I’d rather see an ODB pic than a Wu-Tang Clan pic, because Wu-Tang is still alive, and may be active for a few more years. But an ODB pic, just to really describe his life, would be good. Right now, there is a documentary that’s done that’s pretty good. It ain’t a knock out of the park, but it’s pretty good, it gives a nice piece of him. Then you start with that, and we can build more awareness about his life, and build more interest in people seeing a movie about it.
AVC: Before the last Wu-Tang album, there was talk that some of the members didn’t like the direction you were going musically. Have those differences been ironed out?
RZA: It’s been worked out in the sense that there’s no personal bickering with each other. But it worked out creatively this way: The same people that were bickering about it, an album came out called Chamber Music, and the whole record was live bands and musicians and guitars, and all that shit. And the people that were complaining most about rapping over that kind of music got the most lyrics on that album, which were Raekwon and Ghostface. So by them being on the album like that, it kind of contradicts what they’re saying. Then you see the new Jay-Z video, what’s in there? Him with a band. And it made No. 1 album in the country. I always knew that hip-hop had to go that route. I was trying to tell the Wu-Tang earlier, to survive, we’ve got to incorporate live music. Hip-hop is growing, it’s not just a sampler, it’s not just a drum machine. Now you’ve got musicians that grew up with it, and they can play, they can feel it, they can vibe with it. It’s real now. It’s a real form of music. It’s not a passing fad. Niggas holding their mics and holding their dicks in the air are not going to survive walking back and forth. But with a band on, a drum, a guitar player, the same energy that rock ’n’ roll brings, that soul brings, and all music brings, it adds to hip-hop, you know what I mean? But what we’re supposed to do with it, incorporate the DJ and the drum machine into the band. That’s what I was trying to do with 8 Diagrams, that was my plan, but it got stopped short by my crew. They didn’t see the vision. Since then, Ghostface has been on tour with a band. So it’s kind of funny.
AVC: It seems like they’ve come around to your way of thinking.
RZA: Listen, this is not the first time this has happened with us. We were supposed to do the first album, and I had a song where the chorus went, “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with!” And some of the guys were like, “Nah, I think you’re yelling too hard and shit.” That’s when I was doing Gravediggaz, and I was kind of angry, yo. I was a mean young motherfucker, and my energy was explosive, man, there wasn’t nothing laidback about me. I was telling everybody in the crew, “You’ve got to add drama, nigga. Bring that aggression to your flow.” And some others didn’t agree with it, but I was right. They didn’t agree with it a year earlier, but then as we started recording the album, and the first album had success, you listen to a lot of albums after that, you’ll hear the aggression. But then, as time went on, everybody has calmed back down to the slow-speaking style again, the 50 Cent style. That’s always been part of hip-hop, it’s always been one of our styles, but I have a knack for knowing what time to use what style. That’s one thing I feel like I have a knack for, like right now, Ghost, I think, took my advice. I said, “Yo, we should do a love album.” I told him this four years ago, we should do a love album. I was going to produce it, he was going to rap on it, and we’d make it strictly about love. Just bring love. Everybody keeps bringing violence, let’s bring love. He wasn’t feeling it then, but now he has an R&B album where he’s bringing songs more sympathetic and shit.
AVC: Whenever something is new, it’s a little scary.
RZA: People don’t like to take risks, but you’ve got to. If I seek my wife’s opinion, I’ll say, “Okay, honey, what do you think, yellow or green?” “Well, go with the green, honey.” Okay, I asked her for an opinion because I’m choosing her to lead that way, so I’m going to wear that green. I’m going to take that chance, because I asked for that advice. Some people don’t do that, they don’t take the risk, they don’t want to dive in, but I’ve been blessed with foresight on a lot of things. And I’ve called the number right a lot of times. I’ve made some bad decisions too, but it’s been one out of 10 on the bad ones. But I’ll say this to you, you can have 10 great decisions back to back, you make one bad decision, everybody gets scared on the one after that. That’s my situation with the Wu-Tang, is that a few decisions were bad. People remember the bad, they don’t remember the good. Think back on all the days in your life, you remember the bad times and shit.
AVC: What would you say would be a bad decision?
RZA: Okay, this is one decision that I get hell for. People thought that “Gravel Pit” was a bad decision. Now, I don’t think “Gravel Pit” was a bad decision, it was our first top 40 record as the Wu-Tang Clan. It was during the period where top 40 was important, and during the period that the European scene was really coming strong, and our sales were equal in Europe and America, and I wrote the song for Aaliyah, who we lost before she could do it. But it was written originally for Aaliyah, who was my favorite artist, and I felt every single she made was great. And when we put the record out, it made top 40, but it didn’t play in New York. New York wouldn’t play the record. And that’s our hometown, so you didn’t hear it on the radio in New York. When it came time to perform it, the Clan wouldn’t perform it, they didn’t want to, and everybody started knocking the record back. Even though we had a million-dollar video, a top 40 record, and a platinum album off it, they thought it was a bad decision. And so that was that.
So then when we came back with “Pinky Ring,” they thought that was a bad decision, because they thought that since we have nine rappers, we have to keep doing the nine-rappers thing. I said, “Well, the reason why I put nine rappers on the first single is so they could see the Clan united.” We do that one first, then we come back with “Ya’ll Been Warned,” and other songs that break them down. But being that they didn’t agree to that, I didn’t get the participation I needed. So they took that as a bad decision. And the third bad decision was this: We did a song called “I Can’t Go To Sleep.” At that time, the reggae influence wasn’t dominant, and we had a song called “One Blood Under W,” which was supposed to be a single. But when I took the single to the record company to make it a single, I couldn’t convince them, because it was only featuring Masta Killa, who they felt had no star power. But “I Can’t Go To Sleep” had the RZA, Ghostface, Isaac Hayes. And it was Black History Month coming up, and I already cut a deal with BET for airplay, to represent our culture. And so when I decided to do “I Can’t Go To Sleep” and we didn’t do “One Blood,” and other artists came out with reggae songs with reggae hooks and made success, it really took Masta Killa off beat. It made a few of the Wu guys feel out of place; they felt like “I Can’t Go To Sleep” was soft compared to “One Blood,” and that we took the soft route. We’re Wu-Tang, we should have taken the hard route. So those type of things are examples of shit. I don’t know if those are serious or not, but they were serious to the crew. It wasn’t serious to me. If we would have supported “Gravel Pit,” which was a top 40 song, it could have made it to the top, No. 1 maybe. It was a big video, a big song, a big hook.
AVC: It’s a great song.
RZA: Listen, to this day, what’s so funny, they didn’t know how great it was, right? Because we didn’t tour for a while, Wu-Tang had stopped touring and making albums, and everybody wasn’t onboard. Then we started going on tour in the last four years—we’ve been touring as Wu-Tang Clan hard, like we’re supposed to have been touring when we were fucking famous. We’re still famous, but you know what I mean. We were climbing and we stopped touring. So there it is. Then if we tour, when you play that song, the whole crowd goes crazy. I remember the first time… I told the DJ to play “Gravel Pit” as an encore for me. He says, “Man, nobody’s going to perform that.” I said, “I’ll rap over this shit.” The crowd went, “Aaaaah.” The response was so big, other members got it as part of their set. And especially in Europe, the response is big. Any state except New York. It doesn’t work in New York, because in New York it wasn’t played.
There’s another song called “You Can’t Stop Me Now,” which was my single last year. I wrote it for 8 Diagrams, and the other guys didn’t want to put it on the record. It’s another one of those guitar songs, where they said, “Take it off, it’s too soft.” And then we did a tour last year, and everybody goes up there, does their songs and shit, so now I’ve got to choose a song to do. I’ll do “You Can’t Stop Me Now.” They’re like, “You’re going to do that shit?” I’ll be like, “Yeah. Fuck it. I love that song.” And so I go do it, and the whole audience is singing with me, and I remember Rae pulled me to the side and said, “Yo, I didn’t know they knew this shit like that.” I said, “I got half a million hits on my song, yo. This song would have been big if all of us would have stayed on it. It’s just me on it, so it’s good, but it would have been bigger if you was on it, my nigga, and if Meth was on it, it would have been bigger, you know?” So those types of things always happen with us.