Following the experimental stylings of the Clans 8 Diagrams, the more traditional Wu sound found on Pro Tools is a welcomed return to the raw rhythms and intricate lyrics that defined Shaolins finest in the early to mid-90s.
HipHopDX spoke with the Wus current solo superhero from his hotel in Seattle during a recent tour stop and were blessed with some shockingly candid acknowledgements from the GZA, including that Wu-nemesis 50 Cents Get Rich Or Die Tryin is a classic, but 8 Diagrams was in fact the paper plate. And that current tension within the Clan is more than just mumblings from a couple disgruntled members.
Genius also spoke frankly on why he thinks Rick Ross should have started his career as C.O. Ross, what the real nature of Wu-Tangs relationship was with Tupac before his untimely death, and how young artists like Soulja Boy can fly to commercial heights while retaining their Clark Kent intellect.
HipHopDX: If you wanna sleep when you awake, then make ya bed. Do you think the majority of the Hip Hop community in 2008 are sleepwalking?
GZA: Yeah, I think so. If you wanna sleep - not be aware to things, ignorant to things - when you awake, then make ya bed. Like, clean that up. Now you awoke, do something about it.
DX: That track, 7 Pounds, is probably my favorite on the new album primarily because its the most energetic production on the album, which helps keep the listeners attention, keeping them from sleeping on what you got to say. Do you think the barrier these days for a master wordsmith such as yourself to be heard is just in the production, in the beats?
GZA: Well, its a barrier that the individual puts up themselves. Cause a lot of times people listen to the music, they dont really listen to lyrics. And sometimes people listen to lyrics first - such as myself and then beats. Or, a combination of both. So yeah, its a lot of people out there that dont really hear the lyrics. They hear a track, they like it. They hear a beat they dont like, then they dont like the track.
DX: Someone in the forums of Wu-Tang Corp referred to your last release, Grandmasters with DJ Muggs [click to read], as digital nyquil. Can you understand why a listener, especially a younger one unfamiliar with Wu, would have trouble vibin with 0% Finance and its rock-guitar chord beat without any changes and 104 bars of spittin without a chorus?
GZA: I dont think that anyone would have a problem listening to that song, or even understanding it. Its just a straight up story that climbs. It goes on and on. Of course its long, its 104 bars. But how many emcees can go 104 bars without being boring or corny? I mean, the story never gets boring, at any point. So, I dont see why they would have a problem with that. Unless they saying, Oh, hes losing me. I dont know where hes at now. Its too much going on. Im not that type of emcee. I dont even write like that, so.
DX: You think your listeners need to make a commitment when theyre listening to GZA?
GZA: Oh yeah, you definitely have to do that, man. Some things you just have towhen you get albums, or you get movies, some things you know you have to [absorb] in your own zone, ya know? Its like one of my cousins is doing a documentary on ODB. Hes been working on it for a minute. And he gave me this DVD two days ago. He wanted me to look at it. And he said, Yo, Im telling you, throw it on now. We was on the [tour] bus [with] everybody. And I said, Nah, this is the type of thing that I gotta zone in. Im gonna go in, either in my bunk or take it up to the room, and zone out. Some songs are like that. Some albums, depending on who you around, you wanna listen to by yourself, ya know?
DX: Yeah. And I cant see how anyone, of any age, couldnt dig a song like Alphabets [click to listen], but flippin the entire alphabet for a chorus doesnt seem like an undertaking an emcee of this generation would attempt. Why do you think that is? Is it their youth, is it their laziness?
GZA: No, its the laziness of not [making an effort to be] creative enough, or original. Theyll look at it and say, The alphabets? Even though most rap that you hear now is A-B-C shit anyway. But, they would look at me like, Its no way I can put alphabets in the hook and make it sound fly. Artists today dont know how to do that. They dont know how to be really, really hardcore and commercial at the same time. They dont know how to combine the two. Either you gotta be so thug and gully, or you have to be so soft and commercial. They dont know how to combine the two. Just to take a topic like Alphabets, I mean, its a simple topic. They would say, Alright, alphabets, thats the hook. But they wouldnt really know how to put it [together], a majority of em. They wouldnt get it.
DX: While were on the topic of the youth, is it just my interpretation, or is the whole aim of Pro Tools to speak to the youth about what they should be leary of in contemporary Hip Hop, and more importantly what they should be leery of in the streets, like on one of the albums gems, Path Of Destruction?
GZA: Well, yeah. I think every song in itself has its own message, but its whatever they get from it. I didnt really set a goal to reach a certain amount of people, or to reach a certain age group. I just did an album for people to hear young and old, white and black, anyone that has ears can listen. I did an album for myself that I felt, that I liked and enjoyed doing, and I put it out there for the people. And whatever they get from it, then theyll get from it. And Im pretty sure youll get something.
DX: Can you elaborate on why its titled Pro Tools, just to clarify?
GZA: Its just a program thats used to record. Its nothing in depth [behind the origins of the title]. Its no crazy story behind it. I was looking around the room in the studio one day and my eyes happened to focus on the manual or something to that effect, and I said, Pro Tools [click to read], thats the name of the album. And that was it. Thats how things come to me anyway the titles and all that. Usually, a title dont come [for] a song till after its done, with myself. Hooks dont come until the rhyme is finished, if I decide to put a hook. Everything is last minute, more on the spontaneous level.
DX: Now on that track I referenced, Path Of Destruction, you spit: Very caught up in his own drive for dominance/And to know that he would pay in the end was common sense. Do you really think that kids today in the streets have that common sense about how the game ends, or that theyre blinded by music that seems to suggest they can emerge unharmed to become a rap star?
GZA: Yeah, most of em dont have that common sense. And the majority of em are hoping [theyll become a rapper]. I mean, when I got into Hip Hop I got into it because it was a childhood passion of mine. It was something that I enjoyed doing. I didnt get into it to make money. I wasnt looking at it like most kids [today] look at it. They watch videos and stuff like that and they like, Yo, Ima be a rapper. Just like some kids look at the NBA. They look at that as, I wanna be a ball player and make a lot of money and get out. They dont think about anything else. And actually, I think the odds now in this day and time its easier to get into the NBA than to be successful in rap. And the odds of [making it to] the NBA is crazy too. [But] the odds in Hip Hop is even greater. So, to those that was on the outside looking in to know that he would pay in the end was common sense. Those that were wise knew, but for that individual he didnt know.
DX: Thats why I personally think the Rick Ross story [click to read], or the Plies situation [click to read], are important and need to be highlighted, because with each successive generation in Hip Hop the new youngest fans take these rappers made up personas too literally and think they can be Tony Montana until they decide to be a rapper.
GZA: Exactly. Its crazy.
DX: Any input on the exposes of late that have been popping up on these artists?
GZA: As far as the Rick Ross thing, Ive read a few interviews and I heard a little bit that was going on. I dont really be online like that, [but] I heard a couple interviews. Im hearing he was a C.O. Hes saying he wasnt. I hear theres all this evidence and proof that he was a C.O., but I dont know. But my whole thing is that I dont think whether you gangsta or youre just a straight up regular dude from the hood, or whatever you may be, its nothing wrong with being a C.O. Its a job. Its a decent job. And you on the inside working with inmates, so you Its just a job, ya know? I look at it like I wouldnt hide the fact if I was. It wouldnt make me less than who I am. If I am who I am, it wouldnt make me any less. I dont really know the situation on his story, but I mean being a C.O., if you are a C.O., its nothing to be ashamed of. I think my whole rap thing probably woulda been built around the C.O. [image]. I woulda been C.O. Ross. Everything woulda been jail related good and bad. I mean, thats just how I think. So I woulda marketed that.
DX: So if young fans shouldnt follow the lead of rappers promoting fabricated criminal backgrounds, whats so wrong with them following the lead of Soulja Boy?
GZA: I dont think anyone should follow the lead of anything, unless its something really, really positive [and] uplifting. Be yourself, man. You know when kids grow up your parents, grandparents and teachers always tell you to be somebody, but you already are somebody. You can be greater, but you are somebody already. And just to hear somebody say be somebody that means dont be you, be something else.
And I mean, whatever you like, you like, as far as music. If you like Soulja Boy [click to read], you like Soulja Boy, its music! So you dont really have to follow anything. You can listen to all the gangsta shit you want and still be an A student. You can not listen to gangsta shit at all and be a D student. Dont let the music influence you in a bad way, thats all. But we dont have to follow anything.
DX: But you know I asked to segue to whyd you take a shot at Soulja Boy [click to read] in that London performance last year?
GZA: I didnt take a shot at him, man. People gotta realize, I never took a shot. Bloggers is twisting things around. Im pretty sure youve seen the clip, right? [click to view] Did you actually think I took a shot at him?
DX: Theres like two different clips. Theres one where the audience is feeding you. And then theres another one where I thought you said something about Soulja Boy in reference to ringtones [click to view].
GZA: Yeah, I said, You got a hot ringtone. Someone in the crowd said, Screw Soulja Boy. I said, Okay, yeah Soulja Boy you got a hot ringtone. I got a son your age. Im not knockin you. Im not hatin on you, but I know a couple of cats that was 17 that was really, really doing something lyrically. Cause some people try to say, Well, given his age he dont have to be all that lyrical. Or, he gets a pass. And I knew a lot of 17 year-olds [who were lyrical]. Even at my age, at 17 I was just incredibly lyrically sharp. I mean, cmon, Nas was what 18 when he did Illmatic?
DX: Rakim was 18 when he wrote Eric B Is President.
GZA: Right! So cmon, dont try to use [youth] as an excuse, man. Its just a lot of kids out here with a lot of popcorn rap, thats all. And be willing to take the good [feedback] with the bad. I know everything written about me isnt always good. I go online and I gotta be able to handle it. You got people saying, Yo, screw GZA. He washed up. He bitter. He old. You know, whatever, whatever, I take the good and the bad. Its just an opinion.
DX: Now you know I gotta ask this too, in one of those performances from last year that one I think with the crowd exchange the shot at 50 Cent comes, and youre going at 50 again on Paper Plate [click to listen], but my question is why now? I mean, Fif first went at Wu like 10 years ago on How To Rob, but he hasnt really taken aim at any of yall recently.
GZA: Nah, its not even that; its not like Why now? Im not doing anything to try to get a rep off [this]. I built my rep already. It was just a song, man. Actually, the rhyme was written months ago. And I just happened to be in the studio one day at home and the beat was rockin and I decided to throw that dart on that beat and see how it sound. The engineer was like, Yo, where did that come from? Yo, you need to use that. Several people heard it and was like, Yo, you need to rock with that. So we rocked with it. It was no big deal. Its not like I waited years to try to get at him or anything. He never said anything personally about me. Hes said a couple of things about Wu [over the years]. As far as the [How To Rob] track, I never really took that a certain way. I just thought it was a track. He didnt mean any harm by it. I never thought he did. But, when I did [that] show and someone called him out and I added on to it, or I fed into it, I just spoke what I felt. I didnt think hes lyrical. Hes not, to me! [Id] still say it. Its no big deal. So thats all I said. And he had a response. He replied with some joking thing about my age or whatever. He didnt really say much. He didnt really come at me. I mean, this dude really be gettin at dudes, [but] he didnt really say much. So, I did a track, whatever.
DX: One last 50 question: Do you believe 50s Get Rich Or Die Tryin album [click to read] is disposable like a paper plate, that it wont last the test of time as a Hip Hop classic? Cause most people believe thats his classic, the 2003 album.
GZA: Yeah, I would say that too. I would say that is his classic. Everything else? Nah, garbage.
DX: You know there are critics who believe 8 Diagrams [click to read] was disposable like a paper plate. What is your impression of that album with 9 months of hindsight to view through?
GZA: Compared to Wu-Tang Forever [and Enter The] 36 Chambers, yeah I agree.
DX: Youre still able to stand outside of yourself as a fan and make that admission?
GZA: Of course, cause I know what I do as an individual, [and] Ive only increased lyrically. Im greater than Ive ever been on the mic, even at my age, Im getting better and better. Its amazing. And when I listen to my music sometimes I go in a zone [and] I listen to myself as a fan. I dont listen to it as GZA. I listen to it as a lyrical person just listening to another emcee. And then I judge it. And if I dont like something, I dont like it, ya know? 8 Diagrams wasnt all that. I agree, it wasnt all that. I wasnt really feeling that. There were a few songs on it I liked, but I wasnt like, Yeah, we bangin em.
DX: With the less than stellar critical and commercial response to the album, and all the reported group turmoil during the construction of the record, will there ever be another Wu-Tang group album?
GZA: I dont know, man. I cant say. Thats hard to say. Its a lot going on right now. Theres a lot of tension in the group, a lot of stuff in the air, so I cant really say. The one thing I must say though, when we on stage youd never know that is tension. I mean, youll have brothers that may not even speak to each other, [but] when they get on stage you would never know that because they be communicating with each other.
DX: Now Raekwon, he ended up being obviously the most vocal critic from within the crew of the more experimental sound on 8 Diagrams. I was just curious if you played Rae the RZA-produced Life Is A Movie from Pro Tools to make him eat his words about RZAs beatmaking abilities? [Laughs].
GZA: [Laughs]. I dont even know if Rae [click to read] heard Pro Tools yet. I dont know if hes heard that song. But I never wrote RZA [click to read] out. Never, and I still dont. I still think hes an incredible producer. You just have to bring the best out of each other. Sometimes you sharpen knives with knives or other sharp objects. RZA got it, [and] I know how to bring it out because I take time when I work, when I write. I take time, so if I hear a track and I know it has potential, Im gonna bring something out of it.
DX: So Raes proposed RZA-less Wu-Tang album, it aint happening?
GZA: Umprobably not. I dont know, [but] probably not. It all depends.
DX: While were talking about the group, I just gotta ask you about the recent reports regarding the album outlines Tupac had written in 1995 [click to read], shortly before he got out of prison, where he planned collabos with Meth and Rae and production from RZA. What was the relationship between Wu and Pac like before he passed?
GZA: I think I seen Pac one time. I met him once. I didnt really know him like that, but he had ran into RZA, and maybe a few other Clan members on different occasions. But as far as what I heard him speak about on tape or interviews, he had love for Wu. Wu was like one, if not the only [crew from the east coast], that he didnt even call out when he was talking about everybody else.
DX: Yeah, just yall and Duck Down I think were the only two.
DX: Any doubts that Pac was a real Wu fan, or just a skilled strategist who knew about the issues between Wu and Biggie and planned to capitalize on that friction?
GZA: Nah, hell no. Id cancel that [thought] out. He was a true fan, man. I believe that in my heart. You can tell the way the guy spoke. Dude spoke what he felt and what he meant, and he spoke from his heart. And if he didnt like shit, he would tell you he didnt like it. So Tupac to me wasnt the kind of person who gonna act like he love Wu and hes gonna ride the bandwagon because Wu was saying this about [Notorious B.I.G.]. Nah, he was a straight up dude.
DX: Even with all those east vs. west issues, I know there are a lot of heads that would love for Hip Hop to be more like it was in that mid-90s Big and Pac era. Even Meth had a quote recently where he was saying that [click to read]. Is that love of Hip Hop from that time evident on your current tour where youre just performing the Liquid Swords album?
GZA: Yeah, and the audience is still 16, 17, 18, 20s. I ran a survey last night: How many people in here are over 30? May have been about 20 [hands went up]. I said, How many people in here are over 25? May have been about another 30. And then I said, How many people in here are under 25? And then [almost] all the hands went up.