RZA: Twelve Jewelz

posted June 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 28 comments

It's hard enough to keep up with the nine original members of the Wu-Tang Clan and their Gambino aliases. But what happens when, after finally getting a beat on those 18 characters, the clansmen start entering chambers that you didn't even know existed? Think of it as W.E.B. DuBois' famous quote about "two warring ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder," with a Shaolin twist.

Take RZA, for instance. He was perfectly happy, chilling in his multi-million dollar home when the call came. Technically, the actual phone call to record another Bobby Digital album probably came from someone at Koch Records. But, the more you hear him talk about his varied interests, the more likely it is that some inner call to rhyme came from Robert Diggs, The Abbot or even Bobby Digital himself. Even with all of his accolades and the money that comes with them, RZA still sounds like he's in search of his true calling. Even if he doesn't reconcile all of the different aspects of his personality which battle within him on his Digi Snax album, it's going to be entertaining to listen to him try.

HipHopDX: Back in 1999, you said the Bobby Digital persona created too much of a contradiction inside you. Did you change your mind, or is this side of you like a werewolf during a full moon that needs to be let out every couple years?
RZA:
[Laughs] You could say that in one way. This one came about from two different methods actually. First, the people over at Koch came to me and were like, Hey Bobby, how about another record? I was in the middle of my Hollywood excursions and shit, and I kind of put that to the side for a minute. And then, after the 8 Diagrams [click to read] situation and how that turned out, I kind of had a little emcee vengeance in me. I figured I would just bung, bung it out like this and get that energy out through this medium.

DX: Now that the dust has settled, how do you feel about the good and the bad that went down with 8 Diagrams?
R:
As far as the good of it, I think its a good album. I mean, I still rock it to this day. Its been in my CD player for, what, almost seven months now? I still know it by heart. I think its a good album. Thats the good of it. If you like Wu-Tang and youve got the other records, its another one to put in that vein.

The bad of it is that we prematurely shot ourselves in the foot. I mean, thats my opinion, and everybodys got their own. But, I think we spoke against ourselves. Its like if youre in the ring, you gotta box, man. You cant complain about your glove being untied; you cant complain about nothingyou gotta just start swinging. I feel like we sabotaged ourselves, in all reality. We did two tours and didnt perform the music. The Raekwon incident [click to read] was big, nahmean? That was over a couple hundred thousand views, and it made Miss Infos website actually worth money now. People dont realize what they do when they do things like that. I wouldnt be surprised if in a year she had her own TV show. But, everyones got their own opinions, yo. I put a lot of hard work into that record and I appreciate how it sounds. Ive got a lot of fans and friends who appreciate it as well.

DX: True. It seems that the overall sound has changed, and thats not just limited to 8 Diagrams. Is it age, studying music theory or the live instruments that makes it seem mellower?
R:
Nah, its just music. If you take all my music and take all my shit and really check it without a biased thought in your mind, you wont see too much change. I dont think theres too much change, besides clarity due to the equipment being used. If were talking about 8 Diagrams, name a song, and Ill give you another one that you loved as much.

DX: Off 8 Diagrams?
R:
Yeah, name a song.

DX: Weak Spot.
R:
Okay, Weak Spot, thats classic Wu shit. From the drums, the Kung-fu samples, the weird noises, the emcees to the dropsthats classic Wu-Tang material. Thats obvious Wu-Tang, name another one.

DX: What about Heart Gently Weeps?
R:
Okay, take Heart Gently Weeps and compare it to Can It All Be So Simple. Take Babies off the Iron Flag album, cause Heart Gently Weeps is a live band. Go to [Ghostface Killah's] Bulletproof Wallets and get Maxine, because thats a live band too. You can even go back to Ol Dirtys [Return to the 36 Chambers] album and compare it to [Drunk Game" (Sweet Sugar Pie)"] Those elements have always been in my music in one way or another.

DX: Good point. Since were comparing old and new, can you talk about reworking Drama from the Words from the Genius album?
R:
Yeah, I like that idea and Im proud of that one. Im such a fan, because GZA is my big cousin and he taught me and schooled me about a lot of stuff in life growing up. Im proud to be able to cover a Hip Hop song like that and totally make a new song out of it.

DX: Being in this recession makes that line about no lights, no gas and much backed up rent even more relevant now than it was then. As you went back and looked at his lyrics did you bug out off of how nothings really changed?
R:
Yeah, because aint nothing changed, man. It only changed for a few of us. It changed for me. Ive got a two million dollar crib, with the waterfall running right now in the backyard. But it aint changed for my cousins. It changed for a few of my cousins, but Ive got hundreds of cousins. Ive got a sister stuck in the projects. So, nah it aint changed, man. Its only changed on TV, but in real life it remains the same.

Thats why Im disappointed with a lot of theseIm just disappointed with a lot of shit. I just want to say this real quick. Im just disappointed with the images on TV of everybody playing, blinging and chillin. You see the videos and shit and everybody will be going through the hood with all the diamonds and all the jewelry, but theyre in the grimiest hood. They film the video in the grimiest location, but they have the most beautiful cars, beautiful bitches and diamonds going on. Get the fuck outta here, man.

DX: Since youve been chilling with Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch, how much closer are you to controlling the images people see?
R:
I dont know if Ill ever be able to control the images people see, but Im striving to be a director and put some movies out.

DX: I phrased that one wrong. I mean how much closer are you to providing alternatives to the images out now?
R:
Oh yeah, I think Im very close to realizing that. I think that by the end of this year we will have shot my first movie if everything goes according to plan.

DX: What are you hoping to put out?
R:
The Man with the Iron Fist.

DX: There have been so many projects youve mentioned that have never seen the light of day. Theres the Bobby Digital movie, The Cure and The Z Chronicles
R:
Its funny you mention The Z Chronicles, because I was just watching that yesterday. Im thinking about doing something with that one, because I think people will like that one, man. I see you kind of know my history, so I can talk honestly with you.

Ive got all that shit, son. Its just sitting there, but Im not just throwing my shit out there like that. The funny thing about the Bobby Digital movie is that I watched it about two weeks ago. I showed it to Ol Dirtys son, Barson, who is 17-years-old now. Hes a grown boy now, but he had never seen it before. So I showed it to him, because his father is in it, and this is before [Ol Dirty Bastard] went to jail. He looks just like himhe looks just like Unique Ason, and he was so happy to see that shit. He loved that movie, and I love it too because I made it 10 years ago. I made it 10 years ago, but it was based in 1989, so that makes it even funnier. When you see it in retrospect, youre really like, Oh shit thats crazy, because of the quality.

But these were movies I did myself without a script. Its improvised and I basically wrote it without a script. I had money and I had the time, so I did what I did. And theres a philosophy: as I become more of a star, they become more and more valuable.

DX: Prior to the movies, you made some history in terms of how artists deal with labels. Now that the record industry as we know it is dead, will doing all these independent deals open up new lanes for you?
R:
I dont know. The music industry needs more than the independent route; it needs a new product. I provided one, and I thought of one. I talked to a few people at some labels about it, and I dont know if they heard me or not. Im just gonna keep it to myself from now on. But, Ive got an idea that would help boost the sales of the actual hard copies. Youve got to look at whats going on.

I told them ahead of time. In 1997 I said, Listen. Instead of making videos when we do our albums, because were spending a million dollars on our videos, give me the money and Ill do a whole movie for you. When niggas are in their cars, they can have my album and they can have my movie. They can just pay $20 for all this shit. Nobody listened. I said, Trust me. In five years, everybodys going to have TVs in their cars. They werent having it. I told them everything was going digital, and they didnt listen.

DX: Thats crazy. So now that everybody is calling themselves content providers instead of artists, how can you profit off of your actual music without making some ringtone shit?
R:
Thats a good question, baby. I just got off the phone with the label, and it basically went like this:

Yo, I hope yall shipped a couple hundred thousand units, man.

Oh, thats too many units to ship.

What do you mean?

It will mostly be downloads.

Ah, man. Some niggas still buy records, man. You still have a CD player in your ride, and you still gotta drive around bopping to your shit, right?

DX: Yeah, and even if you have an MP3 player in the car, the quality isnt always the same.
R:
Yo, in Africa they still have cassette players in their cars. Did you know that?

DX: Wow. I guess theres still a couple people holding on.
R:
Not a couple, homie. In some of these countries there are millions of them. We dont realize that the old shit we have here, theyll put it over there and sell it to niggas as new shit.

DX: It sounds like the underlying themes of these conversations you have with the executives is that you tell them something and they dont understand it until five or 10 years after the fact.
R:
[Laughs] Yeah.

DX: Since youre a fan of the five year plan, what are you working toward now?
R:
As far as my five year plan, Im keeping that to myself. But, its materializing. You see me in the films, now. You saw me studying with Mr. Tarantino for six years, and I want to be a movie director. When I hit that ripe age, and I think Im getting close to that age, in the next year or two its gonna be there. First, Im gonna make movies for entertainment purposes, of course. My style of Hip Hop was an invented style, and I think I can do the same with films. I think I can make films differently from those that we see now.

Some filmmakers are doing itjust like some producers were doing it when I was. They just didnt get a chance to crack out of the box. But, theres only a few of us. Tarantino was one of them, and thats why I studied him. Hes making movies that are entertaining, homiethose are the [movies] that take two bags of popcorn! Hes sending motherfuckers back to that concession stand.

DX: Between the You Cant Stop Me video, Afro Samurai and all the Bobby Digital artwork, theres a heavy comic book influence. Whats your favorite?
R:
Im a Silver Surfer fan, but I was a little disappointed with how they did him in the movie. Ill tell you a couple comics that I like that havent been turned into movies yet, like Rom the Spaceknight. I loved Rom. Do you know about that comic Rom the Spaceknight?

DX: Wasnt that the cat with the big cannon on his arm?
R:
Yeah, son. Yo, the story to that comic is serious, and that would be a crazy movie. Moon Knight, remember him?

DX: Nah, I havent heard of him.
R:
They only made 20 issues, so he didnt make it that far. That was one of my favorite comics that I used to love too. His fuckin costume was off the chain! And, Im a Spiderman buff too. I used to buy any Spiderman that came out. Then there was Sub-Mariner, IronmanI was into the old shit. Then when X-men came out I got into that. Im talking about the old X-Men and the new one.

I love buying comics, but I kind of stopped when Image came into the business. I slowly scaled down from there, and now I still buy a few novels. I bought the [Reginald] Hudlins Black Panther, and I still pick up a few here and there. Now my daughter, she has about a thousand Manga comics. She doesnt buy Marvel, Image or any of that. Its all Manga, and shes got over a thousand of them shits right now.

DX: I wont even front. I kind of purposely segued into comics because that 4th Chamber verse [click to read] about Camouflaged chameleon, ninjas scaling your building, has that comic book quality that makes it a favorite for us die-hard fans. But theres a lot of your rhymes, like Twelve Jewelz that are so complex I dont think a casual fan can appreciate everything youre talking about.
R:
Yeah, those arent just verses. Those can be written down and you just put it in your pocket as a scroll.

DX: There are a lot of obscure pop references and Five Percent knowledge in there. Could you break that first verse down?
R:
Lets go to Twelve Jewelz. It starts with The preexistence of the mathematical biochemical equation, and you almost gotta stop right there. The rhyme goes on with, Is the manifestation of rock, plant, air, fire and water/which are in its basic formation solid, liquid and gases, but the preexistence of the mathematical biochemical equationwhat is that? What is the mathematical, biochemical equation and what is its preexistence? Our bodies are the mathematical, biochemical equation. Its perfectly engineered. It took time to make this, yo.

DX: So its really a more complex version of that conversation at the beginning of Black Jesus, [click to read] where Ghostface is talking about everything that exists is already inside you?
R:
Yeah, right. Thats a great example. There are over 60,000 miles of veins in your body. Did you know that?

DX: No.
R:
That means you can wrap all the veins in your body around the Earth two-and-a-half times. So thats what I was getting at by the mathematical, biochemical equation. But, remember, I said the preexistence of it though. [Laughs] Now the preexistence is rock, plant, air, fire and water. The elements were made first, and then those elements were put together to make the body. First the 99 elements, thats like 99 names, those elements were here first. The sun is just two elementshydrogen and helium. From just those two elements alone, the whole fuckin solar system is nourished.

In that one sentence, I was trying to give brothers a sentence that, if they deciphered that lyric, it was a lesson. I learned that lesson from mathematics as well. If they could decipher that lyric, it explains life, creation and the meaning of life in that one song. It starts from gas, because we existed as gases first, then liquid, and then sold. The first atom moved out of darkness, so I was trying to take brothers back to that in their minds. Your mind knows about all this shit.

DX: What about the part with the broke Sudanese immigrant telling stories to the kids?
R:
Hes an immigrant from Sudan, and Sudan is one of the ripest places on Earth. Thats where we were captured from, and it was a beautiful land. But this man was from the new colony of Sudan, and he knows certain things about history, astronomy, Deuteronomy, and books of The Bible, but he doesnt understand the basic principles of economy in our world. Thats what you need to understand in this world. Thats why I told him, A wise man dont play the rules of a fool/the first thing a man must obtain is his twelve jewels. He obtains his knowledge first, and then his wisdom.

DX: When theres that much in a 16-bar verse, then that probably creates the need for a Bobby Digital, which comes with the less complex stuff.
R:
Yeah, thats where I go back to having fun just rhyming. I started as an emcee, and I never wrote rhymes about sex, driving cars, imaginary stuff, lifes tales or things that happened in my life. As I started getting knowledge of self and knowledge of different things, I wrote lyrics so I would never forget what I learned. I dont know if you heard Birth of a Prince, where I have a song called See the Joy" [click to read].

DX: Yeah, its like the last song on the album, right?
R:
Right. When I wrote the sperm-cell rhyme, I wrote some of those rhymes so I dont forget. I could be in my science class, and the teacher would be teaching me a science lesson, but Id write a rhyme out of it like, Mitosis, meiosis, or something.

DX: When youre still dropping rhymes from high school, how do you find time to balance it with all the other stuff?
R:
The sad part about it is that I feel like I didnt do nothing. How about that?

DX: How so?
R:
I feel like Im not doing what Im supposed to yet. I feel likeOkay, I come from the ghetto. We were a poor, starving familyI had 11 brothers and sisters. It was all kinds of hell, and Im not talking about that to brag about it or anything. I had to get out of there, and I wanted my family out of there. We got out of there, and all praises are due to Allah for getting out of there. All praises due to Allah for everything, you know that. But, I got out of there from entertainment, so I feel that Im not really being utilized properly in this world.

If I was somebody in power and I knew the RZA existed, I would call him to my aid. I would have him as one of my people to talk to, because I see he has an analytical way of thinking. If I was somebody in power, Id be like, Yo, lets hire him. Even if I was in the scientific community, or a professor at a college I would invite somebody like me to come. I have the analogies to make things make since to the common man, because I started as a common man. I was blessed to study, and I had a greed for knowledge. I engulfed that stuff, and at the same time I have an analytical mind. Maybe its genetic, because I cant really trace that.

Im grateful and gracious and Im proud. Im gonna keep doing what Im doingmaking movies and new music and whatever I do. They pay me to do that, yo. I need money, and I definitely need money now, because Ive got a lot of shit I have to keep up.

DX: I think you might be underestimating the influence of quality entertainment. If you were to give it to us straight, like that Twelve Jewelz verse with no explanation, nobody would understand that.
R:
Yeah, I guess so. I mean, Im not taking anything away from what I did, I just feel like theyre not utilizing me properly. Im a grown man now, and in two years Ill be prophet age. Its just like how the Prophet Muhammad didnt reach prophethood until the age of 40. Im 38 now, and in two years Ill be a real grown man. I think thats when true manhood starts. Im stepping toward that. Someone is supposed to invite me in to be a part of something to help in any direction they want to go in. Im well-studied in many subjects. Anyway, thats a whole different conversation.

DX: I think a good way to put a bow on it is to go grab this Digi Snax albumbe entertained, pick the jewels out of there, and RZA gets another check too... [Laughs]
R:
[Laughs] Exactly. Thats funny though, because to be honest with youand Ill be honest with you because I havent really told anyone else this and Ive been doing interviews all day. Im hired to do this. I didnt make the album and go shop for a deal. The label called and literally asked, How about another Bobby Digital album? I didnt want to do it at first because I was chillin and making money doing whatever Im doing. But, after 8 Diagrams I was like, Alright, fuck it. I might as well. That was like a bad taste in my mouth and I had that emcee vengeance in me, so I figured I might as well do that.

The time I spent from January all the way up until September is part of Bobby Digital. Basically, the money Im making for that is paying me for this year. I give myself a quota that I have to make every year, and this is helping to reach that quota. But, I wouldve taken that same amount of money from the scientific community. Id have taken it from the philosophic community if they wouldve approached me.

DX: It just so happened that it came from Koch, so maybe this is meant to be for right now.
R:
Exactly, it just came from Koch, right? [Laughs]

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