The W in Wu-Tang: A Conversation with RZA

They don’t call RZA “The Scientist” for nothing; the man possesses an extremely experimental mind.

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They don’t call RZA “The Scientist” for nothing; the man possesses an extremely experimental mind. Whether if it was being the first to utilize dialogues and soundtracks from old flicks into his beats during the beginning of his career, to directing and screenwriting actual Kung Fu movies a few years back, it’s still quite the understatement even to call the Wu-Tang founder one of the most hardworking, creative individuals of all time in our world of music. This time, the musician-director-author-businessman lets us a in little more on his current endeavor: Wu-Tang’s album distributional deal with speaker-making company, Boombotix, and North American clothing store chain, Zumiez. If you hadn’t already known, selected tracks from the groups new album, A Better Tomorrow, are included in the already sold-out Limited Edition Wu-Tang Boombot Rex 20th, straight out the box. We spoke to him one-on-one last Saturday after a screening of one of his favorite films, Five Deadly Venoms, at the Cinefamily Theater in Los Angeles. While we kicked back and enjoyed our drinks and Wu-Tang-design cakes, RZA detailed us on the specifics leading up to the deal, such as why he chose to work with the aforementioned companies, the processes in creating making of the album, and the disputes it caused within the group. Tune in below and get ready to digest a few wise words from the man himself.

How did the idea of the Wu-Tang portable speaker develop?

Well Boombotix had developed their own speaker and there were two companies reaching out to see if I’d be willing to license out Wu-Tang’s logo on a speaker. I did some research and this company of young guys kinda struck a nerve with me. I love a young company, when young people start doing things that are positive. I was inspired by what they were doing and I reached out to them. I told them I’m considering licensing my logo to you guys, but at the same time I got another idea. So I held on for a little while and I did some more research on it and I found out that not only was the speaker cool looking, but it was sonically great compared to a lot of other guys in the business. So then when I was finally ready to talk to them I told them, “Look… I like the speaker but what I want to do is I want to put the music inside the speaker.” That’s something that hasn’t been done and it’s a great way for a fan to have your music. You know? Just slap it on and just go. You don’t have to depend on your phone, it’s already charged up when you get it out the box. Even if you get a CD you got to put it in something. This is like out the box, hit play, and the party starts.

Why did you choose Zumiez as a retail outlet for this product?

Boombotix actually thought that Zumiez would be a great place to launch this idea. So we were up in Seattle and Boombotix set up a breakfast with the guys from Zumiez and we sat down and we talked about it. I agreed that their company and their stores are a great place. I thought it would be unique to have the Wu-Tang in there and to have the music in there. It gives another different kind of retail outlet for music. And it will attract music fans to a place they might not have gone to.

Can you talk a little about the decision to include 8 tracks off the new A Better Tomorrow album with the Wu-Tang Speaker?

I just thought of a unique way to get the record into the people’s hands. I wanted a fan to feel connected to his music. I know we can download it instantly, but even when you download music you need a much more expensive device than a bluetooth speaker to play it off of. I wanted them to feel personal about it. So I know it’s a unique, risky idea. The record label wasn’t 100 percent understanding what I was trying to do, but I think this model that we’re doing here with Boombotix… I think that this idea could help catalog music and future music.

You’ve also recently done another unorthodox move in creating a one-of-one Wu-Tang album, The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. In the current digital age, how important do you think it is to release music in new and interesting ways?

As artists we want you to appreciate what we’re doing. You show your appreciation not only by listening, because that’s the first way to show appreciation, but you show it by buying our product. When you buy our product, you allow us to do it again. Even a guitar costs money. It still costs money to make music. I want to say one last thing about the idea. I had a three level idea… So the single copy album was one, Boombotix was two, and there’s a third. I’m not going to tell you, but I’m letting you know there’s a third.

How disconnected do you think today’s generation is to the music?

I do feel like there’s a disconnection but I feel like with this speaker we can re-connect.

We’re approaching the release of the new Wu-Tang Clan album, A Better Tomorrow. An album that marks over 20 years of relevance in the music industry. It sounds like the group faced a lot of adversity to get this album released. That being said, what does this project mean to you?

This new album means a lot to me to be honest with you. Think about the internal adversity between me and my band just to get it done. Personally, I feel accomplished because against the odds I’ve achieved something that’s self-satisfying. On a business scale or on a music scale, I feel like this album is timely. Hip-hop is not saying nothin’ to the people right now. We tellin’ you to get drunk, let your girl shake her ass, you gonn’ fuck the bitch, and go go go… Now this is an album that gives you some insight. The W in that Wu-Tang for wisdom is utilized again.

What does the album title A Better Tommorow mean to you?

It’s something that I wish for. It’s something that I strive for. I strive to thrive. If today is good, I’m happy but I’m going to make tomorrow even better. And today has been good, it’s been a good day today (laughs). But tomorrow can be even better.

Can you discuss the concept of the album a little bit?

I changed the order of the album at the last minute. The original order of the album, which is how it kind of plays on the Boombotix. The concept is there’s a man that was in jail. He gets out after five years for a mistaken identity. Then, he goes back to his old neighborhood, 40th Street, and he hooks up with his old crew 40th Street Black. They’re heading now to the big Wu reunion. When they get to the reunion, it’s a great party, everyone’s happy, The O’Jays are singin’ and shit. Then some trouble happens and then it goes to “Ruckus in B Minor” and then he finds out why he was set up for the five years in jail and then the album took us to songs like “Cross Egos”, “Hold the Heater”, “Keep Watch” and then it gets to “Miracle”. And “Miracle” is the middle of the album, it still is the middle of the album, where we question all the violence. We question all the negativity and we question how the world itself has changed. And after Ghostface cries out for the miracle, the album starts getting more optimistic. By the time you get to a song like “A Better Tomorrow” and “Never Let Go”, you see the positive side of things.

Just listening to you describe it, it sounds very cinematic. Has being involved in the creation of movies changed your outlook on creating albums at all?

To be honest with you, that’s one of my biggest problems in the studio. The guys will be sayin’, “This ain’t no movie!” (laughs) “You fuckin’ tryin’ to direct?” Me and Inspectah Deck have the same zodiac sign, my birthday is on July 5th and his birthday is on July 6th. They say unalike repel. During this album, this guy, he was like always telling me, “You’re fuckin’ thinkin’ you is a director in the studio.” I said, “Yeah, motherfuckin’ right I’m a director. A producer is a fuckin’ director!” I know the difference and at the same time I know that it is the same. I didn’t know that back then, but I was always trying to make a movie through my music. There’s always been a storyline. That’s why, every album starts off with a story, starts off with a vibe. This one was actually written ahead of time and he was gettin’ upset with me. He was right to be gettin’ upset with me. He was like, “You tellin’ us what to rhyme about! You fuckin’ don’t tell us what to rhyme about. I’m a fuckin’ grown man!” (laughs) And he’s right about that, but I’m striving to make something here. I told Deck sometimes I go do work for people and they want what they fuckin’ want. Sometimes I know they paid for me to be me and I give them me. Sometimes they just want me to fulfill a vision they have and I got to submit to that vision if I’m taking on that job. Or I say no to the job. That’s how they got to look at our careers. Music is different, the game is different. I know they part of the band but I’m bringing them into this from their solo careers. I’m like, yo come join me one more time and lets celebrate our history. But let’s do it as a grown man, we don’t have to rap about how much guns we got, how many drugs we sold and all of our negative life that we lived because we’re years away from that. I think the fans will be very interested to hear what do a grown Inspectah Deck think about? What do a grown Method Man think about? We got some of that out of them. I had a song called “Image”, but the only one who finished it was Method Man. Nobody else wanted to do it. It’s like the image that your family has of you, what is that? After everything that you’ve been through, when you come home are we living up to the image that your son sees your father as? That your wife sees her husband as? That your mother sees her son as? I sampled an old song, written by Donny Hathaway and recorded by Aretha Franklin and the line says, “I know your image of me is what I’m supposed to be.” Method Man did it but nobody else did it, so the song is just sitting there inside of the studio. I told Meth that he could put it on his own album because people want to hear about it. You know you done traveled to over a 100 countries in the world. You done fucked a thousand bitches (laughs). Ate all kinds of food, smoked all kind of weed…You’re not the same person you used to be. I’m a end with this bro. We all headin’ somewhere, all of us, and you gonna get there kid… But it’s better to go with a map. And some time or another, another man could be that map for you… that’s all.

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Photographer
Aaron Miller
Interviewer
Aaron Miller

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