Monday, December 3, 2007

Rawkus & RZA

The somewhat reinvigorated Rawkus has put up a new, lengthy interview with the RZA. Virtually the entire interview applies to the very-nearly-here 8 Diagrams, so pardon the long excerpts. Even with GZA's contribution the other day, the times of group press conferences in anticipation of a new Wu album are sorely missed--emphasis on group. Pardoning the Ghost/Rae thing for a moment, why can't we hear more from Ins, U-God, Masta Killa, or Method Man? Nevertheless, some of RZA's responses here are the closest we've been allowed within the mechanics of the group as they recorded 8 Diagrams. The read is undoubtedly worth it. Notice that when RZA is first asked about Raekwon, he doesn't even directly address the situation. Not that he's avoiding anything, but it's yet another example of RZA handling himself very well in the public spotlight, as opposed to some others. At this point it's fair to say that the comments from Ghost & Rae have given fuel to those listeners put off by 8 Diagrams upon first listen--how much damage will their outbursts do against this album & the long term status of Wu-Tang? After all, RZA has directly stated that the reception of this album may dictate whether it's the last or not. If Ghost & Rae have taken future Wu music away from us, well, that's not great, to say the least.

FL: Is there a guiding theme for the new LP?

RZA: Yes, in my opinion. The first song on the album is called ‘Campfire’ and that sets the tone for the guiding theme. It’s called ‘8 Diagrams’ and straight away you hear the 8 precepts that he’s saying. What the intro is saying is what I feel we need in the world for men. It’s saying, ‘how can I be a good man?’

FL: Is it difficult to bring that into the Wu, with there being so many different competing elements?

RZA: It is kinda difficult sometimes. But as the producer of the group, and The Abbot – I didn’t make myself The Abbot, this was a title that was given to me by the other Wu-Tang members. So you gave me the title, you gave me the power, I’ll use it. But I’ll use it not just for my personal benefit, not just for their personal benefit, but for the benefit of what the Wu-Tang stands for. Wu-Tang is not just about us, it’s about the world. Somebody asked me the other day, ‘when you make solo albums and soundtracks and the Wu-Tang album, what’s the difference?’ On my solo album, it’s my duty to make sure I convey the solo artist’s feelings to the world. Doing movie scores or a soundtrack, I have to take that film and the director’s vision and make sure I satisfy their vision. But on a Wu-Tang album, that belongs to the world. That’s something I’ve learned myself and I didn’t learn that until 1998 and that’s when I went and did an album called ‘The World According to RZA’. In 1993, if you’d have asked me about hip-hop, it belonged to me. I didn’t care about anybody else – ‘Bring Da Ruckus’, ‘Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ to Fuck With’, ‘Protect Ya Neck’ – I wasn’t playing! But as I grew up, and I’m seeing black kids, white kids, Mexican kids, Indian kids, I’m seeing a rainbow coalition and realising it’s bigger than me. Some kids came up to me recently and they weren’t even around in 1997 for ‘Wu-Tang Forever’ but they got it and the guy was like, ‘Yo, I learned so much knowledge from that record. Just the references you make, that I cross-referenced.’ It helped enhance his own spirit and knowledge. That’s what it’s all about – Wu-Tang has become a source of information and not just about our ghetto and our roughness and our toughness and our personal entities, but a source of information for people to get their own thing and move on. So when I do Wu-Tang I don’t it for myself, I do it for the world.

FL: So do you think someone like Raekwon needs to remember that he’s only 1/8th of the group?

RZA: I just read a little book of interviews that the GZA did in Germany, and when I read it, he just says so many things that make sense. He says that when he does his own projects, he gets to go into his own world, but when he’s with the Wu, he’s 1 piece, and that’s better because no 1 member is stronger than the whole group. I was happy to hear that not just come from me.

FL: Are those tensions harder to control now, given that all the members have their own fanbases and degrees of stardom?

RZA: In a way it does but, really, Wu-Tang started with tension. Some of the guys were not as close to each other as they have become. Ghostface and Raekwon are considered to be Batman and Robin, but they were enemies in the neighbourhood. Ghost was my man and Rae was my man. There’s another guy, Oli ‘Power’ Grant who runs Wu-Wear, him and Rae were partners, and Ghost was the enemy. I’m talking about mortal enemies. But they were always real tight with me. My house was neutral – people would always put their guns on the table, to use a metaphor. And when they left, there’s no telling what would happen. Now recently Power was telling me I had to do something, as he was pretty upset about the Ghost comment. Me, I don’t like to get into it like that, but he said that it wasn’t time for the Uncle shit I’d been doing through the years, it’s time to say something and it’s important for people to know what’s been going on and where I stand at. And he told me, ‘14 years ago when you told me to swallow all that beef with me and Rae and Ghostface, I swallowed it, but the day you arranged a meeting between us, I had my gun’. He was ready not to swallow it until he saw me. I didn’t even know it was that close. Mind you, Ghost is a superhero – you’re not gonna catch Ghost. Ghost will beat 5 or 6 niggas by himself, I’ve seen him do it. He ain’t scared of nobody, never has been, never will be. The point I’m making is, it’s not like we started out without tension. People don’t know that U-God and Method Man had hand-to-hand fights until we had to throw them off the bus. You know, there was a lot of shit. Me and Ol’ Dirty fighting because he wanted to go to Def Jam but I’d done the deal with Elektra. I had the plan for what I saw was right.

FL: Well, in the early years, Wu-Tang was described as a dictatorship with a five year plan. After that, you took your hands off the reins. Do you regret doing that?

RZA: Well, I won’t say I regret it, because you can’t regret life, but I do see the difference. Right now I guess I’m putting the reins back on by having the final word on the Wu, and now I’ve got to face what Raekwon’s saying about not getting to voice an opinion. Well, you did have a chance to voice your opinion, you just had a time limit to voice your opinion. I’ll listen to what people have to say, but after a certain time the vote is in.

FL: What did you make of Raekwon calling you a ‘hip-hop hippie’?

RZA: Now I don’t like the word hippie. When he said it, I thought, ‘Hippie? I’m the most Hip-Hoppest nigger in the world!’ I stay hip-hop, I never even changed over to the other side of hip-hop, the bling side. I kept it hoodie and a pair of boots – you always see me like this, and I could throw on the best of the best. It offended me a little but, at the same time, Raekwon’s the slang master, so I ain’t taking it like he meant to shit on me because I know he’s so rich with his words.

FL: Does the glare of the internet, where there’s always a camera pointed at you and a way of disseminating it, make it harder to keep the Clan together?

RZA: It’s harder, I would say, because you can say something on film, and then change your mind 20 minutes later. That’s why you’ve got to be careful. Me and Raekwon had a conversation about the record – he gave me his opinion, gave me his vote. He didn’t give me a bad vote, he gave me a 7. I’ll take a 7 from Rae, because his 7 might mean the fans give me an 8 or 9, but I’ll go back and try to get an 8 from you. So I went back and I changed a few things. I put the song ‘Unpredictable’ back on there. I’d taken it off as it was a bit Bobby Digital and I didn’t think we needed a Wu song with me talking about my dick. So I had to go back in and make it more amicable. So I sent that version out and people said they liked it more. GZA gave it an 8. When I first asked him, I knew he was being kinda sarcastic, but he said, ‘I give it a 5 and a half’. I was like, ‘Whoa’, but I never argue with him ‘cause he’s my teacher. So I had to humble myself to that. I tried to tell everyone, ‘Don’t take one day on this shit, take two weeks. Listen to it, this is not a quick fix. This is not a hamburger, this is vegetables. I know you don’t like to eat your vegetables, but you’ve got to, to get the nutrients.’ So then he came back to me with an 8 after I re-did things.

FL: Do you feel the pressure of a ‘comeback’ album?

RZA: It’s a continuation. The Wu-Tang saga continues. It’s not a comeback because we’ve all been active in all forms of entertainment. Also, we did tours without records being out, and I’ve seen bigger crowds the last two years than I’ve seen in my life. When we toured with Rage Against the Machine this year – and they haven’t had an album out – you’re seeing 70,000 kids each night in New York. In San Francisco, it got so crazy the police had to come. We’re bigger than ever, with no record out. That shows how important we are, how it’s about more than us telling our drug stories, our life stories, our turmoils. It’s about us adding a little wisdom, a little spirituality, a little consciousness, a little brotherhood. We’ve always had brotherhood, with all our other crews. And sometimes the Clan members are mad about that, maybe it’s because of having 8 famous guys, you’ve got 100 famous guys. But one thing I explain to them is that we saved our neighbourhood. More than that. We saved our neighbourhood in Staten Island, we saved parts of Brooklyn where Dirty, Prodigal Sun and Killah Priest lived, we saved Ohio with Killarmy, we saved a lot of families. It all comes back down to that one kid who walked around Staten Island for months – and people thought I was crazy because I used to walk and think and talk. I always say walk. Jesus walked across the Middle East teaching people. You get so much inspiration and knowledge from walking and thinking. So I walked around Staten Island until I got an epiphany. It took me a while to get it, but once I got it, I had it. I knew what I wanted to do. I went to Ghost first and said ‘Wu-Tang Clan’. Then it started to spread and other neighbourhoods were hearing about us. Some people were acting like they weren’t with it, because they didn’t like the Chinese shit. Guys like Pop the Brown Hornet wanted to make it GP Wu, because they were the Gladiator Posse from Stapleton and Park Hill was called DED Posse – Dick ‘Em Down. I combined ‘em both to Wu-Tang but those two neighbourhoods stay at war, although I had ‘em at peace. There were some guys who were on that ghetto shit and weren’t fucking with the Wu. And then when we blew up, they were like, ‘Yeah, we’re Wu’. And they were, I was bringing everybody. But they went separate. Even Shyhiem. Shyhiem was my student, but he went with GP, and GP wasn’t pure in the heart like that so they disintegrated. Had they been pure, and realised I had a vision, they would have got further. That’s what I was trying to tell the Clan on this album – trust me. Right after the ‘American Gangster’ premiere, we had this meeting, and I think it’s the meeting that triggered Raekwon’s comments. This meeting felt pretty deep for me. I invited everybody to the premiere, the only ones that showed up were Method Man and Inspektah Deck. That hurt me. They gave me 20 tickets – they didn’t gave anybody else 20 tickets – because I wanted to bring the Wu. I felt disappointed because I felt it would be a real good look for all of us to come together. So we had a meeting, and everybody starts voicing their opinions. And I wanted their opinions, because I wanted to see if I could satisfy the crew. I said, ‘If y’all ain’t satisfied, it’s gonna fuck me up.’ Harsh words were going back and forth. I had to come hard. I said, ‘Y’all have been making records without me for 6 years, and the shit ain’t go nowhere. The shit didn’t sell nothing.’ And then they’re saying, ‘Your shit has been weak’. My shit has been weak? ‘Kill Bill’? I’ve been involved in a lot of good things. But I wasn’t gonna front, I said, ‘Without connecting with you, my stuff has never had the high standard that it’s been with Wu-Tang.’ But it’s not that they’re not dope MC’s, and I’m not a dope producer. When we’re apart, it’s cool, but when we’re together it’s great. We don’t know why it’s great. Who knows why peanut butter and jelly taste so good together? They weren’t made for each other, but put them together and kids go crazy. We have a special chemistry that we don’t even know, but the people accept it for what it is. I was telling Meth, come back and rock with the Wu. I checked out his solo shows, 2000 people here, 1500 people there. Raekwon show, 700 people, maybe a1000 there. I know they don’t need me and I don’t need them, but wouldn’t they rather be seeing 10,000 motherfuckers in front of them when they’re rapping? After all these years, you want to rap in front of 500 motherfuckers? When you do Wu, you get the opportunity to rap to the world. You might only get 5 lyrics out, but they’ll be remembered by the whole world. All of the solo albums we’ve got out, nobody knows the lyrics like that. I don’t even know their lyrics. This new album got me listening to their lyrics again, and I realise how dope they all are. I was trying to explain to them, sometimes we don’t realise what it is we’ve got, but we’ve got it and we should never, ever doubt it. But Raekwon walked out not convinced, I guess.

FL: How was it recording without ODB? Did you miss his spirit?

RZA: Oh, we definitely missed his spirit. I saw Meth got asked the same question in an interview, and he was like – I only ever saw him in the studio one time anyway. It was hard for me. When Dirty first came home from jail, after all the shit he’d been through, and I was working on the Masta Killa album, ‘No Said Date’, making a few beats, he heard that album and said, ‘Out of everybody in the crew, Masta Killa is the only one that’s still Wu-Tang’. He wasn’t tainted. And I told Masta Killa. He got his name because Masta Killa is the guy who wasn’t part of Shaolin, he came to Shaolin and went through all the training in 36 Chambers, and became the Masta Killa. He saw us as his teachers. So I said to him that he’d become the best student. And then Raekwon’s mouth was healing, and right about the time he did ‘State of Grace’, he was back. If you ask me, Rae’s the illest MC. To my ears, Rae is fucking up any rapper out there, but he went through a transitional phase because his voice had gone. Having Genius on a track like ‘Starters’, talking about women – he doesn’t usually do that – he got a little ODB in him.

FL: There must have been a lot of emotion in the studio recording ‘Life Changes’.

RZA: Oh yeah. A lot. Meth was the first to do his verse. But I never got a verse from Ghost, which I think would have been deep because he knew Dirty for years. Me, Dirty and Ghost was running around from 1989 to 1993. That was the team…

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