Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bobby Got the Juice Now

There is a long, insightful RZA interview now available from Juice Magazine. The rag is German but a translation has been put up at The Wu-Tang Mountain blog. RZA comments a lot on the making of 8 Diagrams along with varieties of Wu-Tang history, including past disagreements with fellow Clansmen & his plan for ODB when he was released from jail. It is probably the most candid RZA has been perhaps ever, but at least for the 8 Diagrams media push.

Q: How could you persuade the other members to record another Wu album?

A: In january I called all of them and asked if they were ready to do another album. They all said yes, but of course that didn’t mean that they were really doing it. But maybe the others were waiting for me to be ready to do another album. Anyway, when I was ready I did make the calls, and there was no resistance. Ghost was the last. I couldn’t find him untill I heard he’s doing a show in New York. I was in the studio, because I had already started without him. I went to the show, surprised him on stage and we did a song together. Backstage I asked him: “I’m already in the studio. are you in or not?”, and he answered: “Yo, I’ll be in the studio tomorrow”. So like that we were reunited again.

Q: How did you get through the starting phase? There were rumors about money and ego’s, the usual stuff.

A: To be honest: nobody has seen a dollar, there was no advance. Of course we had to take care of our business too, and that really cause me headaches. But we had already recorded quite a bit when it came to that. Since 36 Chambers we never did an album without advance money. For Wu Forever everybody got 200,000$, just to get them in the studio. For 8 Diagrams nobody got one cent in advance, instead we talked about it later. I’m very proud that it went down that way, because our managers and lawyers had warned us not to do it. Nevertheless everybody came to the studio and support the project - against the managers’ advice. If somebody complained it was at least not about money. All they cared about was the music. And that was the right way.

Q: How did it feel to work together after all these years? How would you describe the atmosphere?

A: In the beginning it was like a big birthday party. But soon it came to a point where it was impossible to ignore the tension. There are many open wounds, many things that were never discussed openly. Especially the rumors that we had heard about each other, e.g. things that one member has had supposedly said about another one. This tension could be felt in the studio, that is undeniable. So sometimes we got into arguments that didnt have anything to do with music. But then someone always said: “Fuck that shit, put the beat back on”.

Q: One of the many positive surprises on the album is U-God - the General you have had the biggest personal conflicts with…

A: U-God has surprised me as well. He had agreed on doing the album, when I called him. But during the first two weeks he didnt show up in the studio. I tried to call him to see what’s up. when he finally came… Okay, I gotta go back a little bit to explain that. The brothers had heard my beats during the last couple of years, and the kind of beats that I am doing nowadays. Some liked them whereas others didnt. As is usually the case within the Wu, people were talking shit. Some liked my beats, but others said “Fuck RZA, he’s on some hollywood orchestra shit”. Ok, back to U-God… I hadn’t seen him in a while, and the last time we had had a very loud argument. So he comes in the door, we hug each other half-heartedly and he’s asking me right away “What do you got for me?”. I told him to relax and roll up a blunt first. Then I dropped the beats and watched his reaction. After a while I started to realize that he was excited about my shit: “You’re on fire, nigga! the others said you’re doin’ something else now, but thats not true. this shit is dope!” And this from the guy that hardly ever speaks to me. He’s really the last guy to kiss my ass. U-God is the kind of guy who tells me and you straight to your face: “Go and fuck your mother”. So when he said that to me I realize: It’s a wrap!

Q: Also his work on the album is remarkable!

A: True! His voice, his flow, everything has improved. Many of us have probably had their best days or at least been up to full potential, but U-God is still getting a lot better. His rhymes are not complex, but simple and straight to the point. In combination with his voice this is just the right thing for now. During the recording I noticed that he told others to relax and not be so stiff in the booth. As they were discussing these things, I realized that we are on the right way. U-God really woke up during the last two years. He has recognized his mistakes and understands all that now.

Q: There were two things that struck me when I heard the new tracks. For one it’s the raw sound that is highly reminiscent of 36 Chambers. The other thing is the intensity of the raps. It seems like everybody is really hungry again. How did you make sure that - after all these years - they are still taking it that serious?

A: I’m really happy that you feel that way. I think it’s the result of a combination of reasons. We had to understand who we are and what we can do best. Wu-Tang has made many millions over the years, all of us have earned a lot of money, and this comes with a different lifestyle. The problems I have had as an adolescent have vanished. But the fact that I have made a lot of money, doesn’t mean I’m not hungry anymore. This year we have all earned a lot less than we did in our prime time. And right here is where hunger comes in again. The talent was always there, but now this hunger is back in effect.

Q: But I do have the impression that there is more to it than justmoney…

A: True indeed. There are other rappers who live off the stuff that we created. Listen to the radio: Pop songs are termed hip hop. You look at these rappers that look like clowns. They are not even part of this culture and try to tell me what’s right or wrong for hip hop? Fuck them, we got to step up. And this is exactly what we did.

Q: How do you notice this? You mentioned U-God has motivated others in the booth by his critical remarks…

A: Exactly, people are arguing again. Don’t say this, don’t say that, change that line - the communication is working much better. That didnt happen on the last few albums. On the first two albums I had full control. I told them what to change, what could be improved, because I oversaw everything. Then something happened that I can’t really understand to this day: The Wu-Tang clan turned into some kind of democracy. We didn’t criticize or insult each other again. Everybody was so soft and sensitive that nobody opened his mouth anymore. Luckily, that was different with 8 Diagrams.

Q: Method Man is another example. He seems to be having fun on the mic again!

A: Look at him! Meth is rhymin’ again. Why didn’t he do that on his album? To really understand Meth you should have seen him back in the days. He was a 100 kg giant, and he made people wet their pants: Everybody was afraid of him! When we were still hustling, it was him who had the biggest gun that I had ever seen in my life. We were doing our thing on the block, grindin’, you know how it goes. Everybody had their little gun, and sometimes would draw the gun, show it around thinking we are cool. So Meth is pulling his gat out, and the thing was seriously half a meter long. Man, this guy was crazy. Those are the kind of people you have to love. He was a hard dude, always in fights because nobody could push him around. Back then they were afraid of him. Now, he’s loved by everybody. Fuck that. On the album Meth is like he’s best: his voice, his flow, his delivery - everything sounds very intimidating.

Q: Is Cappadonna now an official member of The Clan?

A: Yes, Cappadonna is now an integral part of The Clan. He’s with us for many years now, but he has missed the beginning of The Clan because he was in jail. So he never signed a contract that would have made him an official member of The Clan. So back when I was still running Razor Sharp Records, I gave him a contract to give him a home. However, he never saw Wu-Tang Clan royalties. Now he’s an official member, even in legal terms. But for our fans he was part of the clan for the longest time anyway.

Q: What do the others think about another member joining The Clan at this stage?

A: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I do not have to ask the others for their opinion, because it was a business decision that did not affect their income. So we have never talked about it. Maybe this is a good thing, because it would have seriously hurt me if somebody had said no to him. I don’t want to hear if somebody does not love somebody that I love. What would anybody have against him anyways? He’s close to us for a long time, and he never said a bad word about any of the others.

Q: Apart from you. He blamed it on you that he had to drive a cab in baltimore for half a year because he allegedly never got his royalties.

A: Yes, he did do that. But even though this bullshit has been between us, he has apologized by now and admitted that it had been a lie. He was talking out of anger and that was wrong. Because he had never disrespected me like that before, I have accepted his apology. I could have decided otherwise, but an instinct told me to turn the other cheek. And this was the right decision.

Q: This kind of confirms my impression that you are still controlling The Clan, after you had drawn back more and more after from the careers of the individual members after the first wave of solo albums.

A: True. In the early days, the business was completely in my hand. I woned everything, even the names of the different mc’s. But it was the right way like that. I made sure everybody became a millionaire, that everybody can eat and has a good start into his solo career. Exactly like it was planned from the beginning. Then, in 2000, I did something that many people didn’t understand. Nevertheless it was still a right decision as well. I gave all the members their names and contracts back. They were allowed to use the Wu logo, and got back their publishing rights. The only thing that has remained under my control is the Wu-Tang Clan (brand). This will be forever mine, because it’s my baby, my idea. After that Meth signed a 500,000 dollar contract without me, and I didn’t go there and ask for my 25 percent. Ghost signed to Def Jam, Masta Killa did his thing, all the members have continued their solo careers. I haven’t seen any money, and that was my conscious decision. I am an honorable man.

Q: How much were you hurt by the allegations during the last couple of years? Apart from U-God and Cappadonna there were a few more coming from the extended Wu family. Moreover, the disputes are often publicly discussed, instead of keeping them internal. Even though in previous interviews all members have claimed that this is a usual thing happening in families, that it is normal to quarrel and that this is not a big problem, does it still hurt?

A: It still hurts me a lot. People from your family are the only ones that can really hurt you. But still they can say whatever they want, because that doesn’t mean its automatically true. How do you think it feels if your wife and children ask you “Did you hear what U-God said about you? What’s up with Reakwon? Does he really mean this or that?” I cannot really understand it. I mean, you visit me at home, hold my child in your arms, and then you hear a shitty rumor and you turn your back on me immediately, instead of just calling me? Stuff like this is always so unnecessary.

Q: And what do you think about the things that ODB’s mum said about you? That you don’t care for her, that she can’t reach neither you nor GZA and that both of you never call back? That ODB never really got his money from you? Due to the family relation this must hurt a lot!

A: I was very angry, but at the same time devastated, when she said that. I don’t understand why she is saying this. From all the people in the clan I was the one she could rely on the most, even more than her own son. It was me who created ODB in the first place. When I hear her talking like that, it really disappoints me a lot. You know, his mom raised me too. ODB’s family was the only family I knew in which both mum and dad were at home. I have learned from ODB’s dad what it means to be a father. His parents made breakfast for their children every morning and then send them to school. At my home there was only my mother and ten brothers and sisters. That’s why it hurts me a lot to hear her talk like that. But I still believe that she’s got love for me. I think when you got money problems you always need someone to blame it on. My brother Divine and me control our business, and we just can’t comply with every financial request if it’s completely out of proportions/unrelated to our business (…this is a bit unclear in the interview). I don’t wanna drag Cherry in the mud, so please dont get me wrong. But Dirty was Dirty. He told me specifically: “Don’t give my mother any money.”

Q: This seems to be really touching you. But I can’t change the topic right now, because I want to continue talking about ODB…

A: Of course this touches me. But we don’t have to change the topic, because nobody is asking me stuff like this. So since were at it, let me tell you what really went down there. We had a plan for Dirty. A plan to bring him back to his old shape and form after his release from jail. Nobody knows how close me and dirty really were. I have visited him a few times, a couple fo times actually, once Meth was with me too. And that was very hard. The journey to upstate new york takes eight hours, then you go to the procedure, make your visit, and then you go back for another eight hours - constanly thinking about what you just saw. That was always very heart-wrenching. It really is not a thing that you want to do in life. But I did it nevertheless, repeatedly. There was this one day where it hurt me so much that I decided to get ODB out of jail - at any cost. This may sound silly, but I was dead serious. I went there with my homies and a few cars and I was determines to risk my family, my life and my carrer to free ODB.

Q: What did the plan look like that you had for Dirty?

A: When Dirty got released from jail, I was in europe. The plan was to send him to my crib in Manhattan right from jail. It was a big apartment, with a studio, and I even got him weights and stuff like that, so that he could work out and recover. He should have stayed 60 to 100 days in the apartment, without talking to anybody and definitely not do any tracks until he’s back in full effect. He promised me to stick to that plan. So I come back from europe and what do I see? Press conference: ODB just signed to Roc-A-Fella. come on, man. I was so mad. His family and friends were happy, but I was hurt. I had looked out for him for the last couple of years, and then this? He knew he would have gotten everything he needs. For his second album he should have gotten an advance of 500,000$, but I had negotiated again, and got 500,000 for him, 500,000 for me and another 500,000 for the album. This should make clear that when I promised him to look out for him, this does include his family as well. Just call his widow and ask her who from The Clan looks out for her the most? My name is gonna be the first. I took his son to the Rock The Bells tour. He had his fun, got a lot of pussy, and money that he could bring back home.

Q: You told me a few months back that you would love to have ODB on the album. Did that work out?

A: No, that didn’t work out. I had thought it would be a great idea. However, I’m still working on his career as an artist. there are still a few things coming.

Q: How much did you miss Dirty during the recordings? Even though he hasn’t really been present during the recording of the last two albums, this time it probably felt quite different.

A: For me it was probably the worst. When we have studio time for 100 days, Meth is gonna be there around 40 days. Raekwon 60 and Ghost maybe 30. But i got all 100. Dirty came and went anyways, whatever he felt like. So I guess for the others it’s a little bit different than for me. But Dirty is only missing physically. His spirit is so strong that it will be captured on the album.

Q: During the last 13 years you have gone through a remarkable change as a producer: From the raw 36 Chambers sound to the first wave of solo albums, from your experimental Bobby Digital projects to soundtracks to movies like Ghost Dog, Blade Trinity and Kill Bill.

A: I have really changed a lot. In my early days I was more of a dj than a producer. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t have any idea of music theory. In 1996, I went to an equipment store to buy a new device. The clerk didn’t like me a lot. He told me I’m not a musician but only a electronic producer. I told him that is nonsense because a sampler or turntables are instruments too. But I could have said whatever I wanted, this guy wouldn’t have taken me serious and looked down on me. So I left the store angry and made it my goal to prove it to this guy. That I want to learn to understand and write music, so that eventually I can be called a real musician. And this is exaclty what has happened. Today I play piano and the guitar. I can write songs. Nowadays I’m more than a producer, I am a real musician.

Q: Did you translate this motivation already for Wu Forever?

A: Yes, because I didn’t want to wait with it. On Mystery Of Chessboxin’ I play the keys. But if you ask me, why I played it like that and not any other way, then I can’t asnwer you. Then I was approaching music intuitively, because I lacked the formal knowledge. But if you listen to songs like Triumph or It’s Yourz, I produced those songs exactly like a musician would. So even then I was progressing.

Q: How did moving to L.A. influence you in this aspect?

A: I came to L.A. in 2000 and soon got introduced to a lot of composers, like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, and went with them to the studio. Through the scoring, I got the chance to work with orchestras. This helped me a lot to comprehend what I am doing, and completed my transformation from producer to musician. There is producers that don’t even know their own music. Some say Diddy is a great producer, but Diddy is not the one who is pressing buttons in the studio. He produces with his ear. Nowadays I can work with every software, every keyboard and every sampler. I’m an electronic genius (laughs).

Q: How much did these experiences help you to reinvent the old Wu sound? After all these years and experiences that you have made outside of the world of hip hop, how hard is it to create something that is raw enough for the fans and mc’s yet still musically complex enough to be a personal challenge?

A: There have been a lot of problems actually. Sometimes a rapper would say that’s “hollywood shit”, while another rapper just thought it was just right. If this happens you got a problem of course. But I got hip hop in my blood, so 8 Diagrams won’t be overproduced! It will be raw, but will still make sense musically. This project is about the consolidation of our musical experiences, our personal experiences, as well as our good and bat times. In combination all this will be symbolized by the Wu-Tang Clan, come together in the form of 8 Diagrams and blow up.

Q: How much artisitcal freedom do you have for this project, from SRC/Universal and Steve Rifkind personally?

A: Steve is perfect for this. I cannot imagine to have done this album with anyone else. He is a friend, but also the right person for this record. He has Akon, one of the top artists right now. But when we met to discuss the album, he only said “Keep it raw”. Hip hop needs more execs like Steve, who allow the music to breathe and let the artists really be artists. Only this way music can grow. Take the song Money by Pink Floyd. It was a single but here has never been a video. It wasn’t played on the radio either, and I think it was weak in the charts. Nevertheless, over the years it became a cult song. Everyone knows it, but it was never a hit. Just like our song Bring Da Ruckus, which became very popular over the years but was never played on the radio. Without an exec like Steve that song would never have been possible. On Loud he did not have us, but also Mobb Deep, Xzibit, Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat… Steve believed in all these acts and kept it real. Big Pun was the first Latino who would platinum with his debut. He was not easy to market, but you just couldnt ignore his lyrics. And Steve pushed him.

Q: Btw, lyrics. What happened? Especially with respect to The Clan, that is not only raw but lyrically outstanding….

A: The people stopped listening. The clubs have taken over the radio. There has been a time where everything was (more or less) strictly separated. Nowadays many artitst have club singles that are also played on the radio. (Sings) “To The Window, To The Wall…” When hip hop became more popular, around 88/89, the mc was deemed “cooler” than the dj. Before that you didn’t have the Furious Five, but Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five. The dj was the most important element. In the early 90’s something happened that changed everything: now there was a dat player. Suddenly the mc only needed a mic, and the dj was superfluous. But at the end of the 90’s dj’s took over again. They were controlling the clubs and radio stations. Now you had albums by Kay Slay, Funkmaster Flex or Dj Khaled. Nowadays its the dj who gets the record deal. This is bad for lyricists, because they are now in the background. But the Wu-Tang Clan brought back lyrics once before, in the early 90’s. And the people still want to hear lyrics.

Q: In the long run, are you planning to stay in Hollywood or come back to the east coast?

A: I didn’t come to L.A. because of the scoring, but to study movies in general. And Hollywood is the Mecca for that. I became a student of Quentin Tarantino, and with the movie Grindhouse I think my studies are completed. I have worked with Hollywoods elite, and in a few years I want to make a hip hop movie. 8 Mile was already pretty good, but personally I was missing a bit more pure hip hop. I want to bring the culture to the big screen. But my time in L.A. is really over now. I think that I will come back to the east coast already next year. When I have finished the movies, I can also imagine to spend some time in Europe.

Q: Why would you want to go to Europe and where would you go?

A: I would continue my medical studies, and therefore go to Geneva, Switzerland. But before it comes to that, I would like to earn my recognition in the chess world. I’m planning to become a grandmaster. It takes years and many people think it’s just a Wu-Tang gimmick. But for me it’s no gimmick. Based on my current standings it will not take more than two years to get this title. A few weeks ago I have played a real grandmaster in a tournament in Hawaii. I lost, but something is telling me that it was set up (laughs). But I will do it anyways. Then I would be a grandmaster in chess, a master of music and an educated man, who has travelled the world. And I am proud to be able to say that as a black man. I want tO prove that all people are equal and can achieve everything they want. All I want to be is a good man.

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