Dirty: One Word Can Change the World

posted August 26, 2009 02:08:00 PM CDT | 20 comments

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As far as eccentric artists go, Ol' Dirty Bastard was up there. From his trademark disheveled braids to his off-beat rhyme pattern to his antics, the Brooklyn-bred rapper was a very unique voice within the Wu, which had quite a few of those. In 2003, fresh off a two-year bid in New York's correctional system, Russell Jones inked with Roc-A-Fella and seemed ready to get back into the music game. However, it was never meant to be.

Up until now, ODB's story was never quite told in its entirety. A new documentary, Dirty, which premiered at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles this week as part of the Downtown Film Festival, aims to set the record straight. The film offers a glimpse into the life of of ODB as seen by those who knew him best, mostly family, Wu-Tang Clan members and his cohorts, Brooklyn Zu. The on-screen portrayal is unflinching reality - ODB's eccentricity and paranoia is presented parallel to his contributions to multi-platinum albums from the Wu and his two solo records, which went gold. 

His misdeeds were widely documented in the media, grabbing tabloid headlines and creating a media feeding frenzy not unlike that of Tupac Shakur and more recently, Lil Wayne [click to read]. But, in comparison to ODB, while Tupac was just as crazy, Wayne doesn't stack up at all. ODB makes Wayne seem one-dimensional in contrast. Every Hip Hop head knows the ODB stories: he has about a dozen kids by as many women, he's behind in child support, he's on drugs, he's been shot several times. Shoot, this writer once heard that ODB was spotted hollerin' at women outside the Foot Locker at the Beverly Center. The Rock the Bells documentary, which showed behind the scenes of the historic Wu reunion, didn't portray ODB in a positive light, either. He was holed up in his hotel room and had to be coerced out in the minutes leading up to Wu's set. Days after that show, he was found unconscious on a studio floor - dead at the age of 35. 

Despite his eccentricity and even questionable mental state, Ol' Dirty Bastard left a strong legacy in Hip Hop and pop music. Several moments in the documentary attest to that, perhaps nothing more ironic than the time ODB made an impromptu appearance during the Grammy Awards, telling an audience in front of him and millions watching on TV that "Wu-Tang is for the kids." That moment, however notorious, will forever be a part of Grammy history. Another anecdote that Hip Hop fans will recall is ODB cashing a welfare check in a limousine. Clearly, he was one of a kind. 

Dirty is never dull. The film is filled with jokes and off-color observations from the RZA [click to read], GZA [click to read], Method Man [click to read], Masta Killa, U-God [click to read], Ghostface Killah [click to read], Cappadonna, Mathematics, Inspectah Deck [click to read] and numerous Wu affiliates, including Killarmy and Sunz of Man [click to read]. On a more serious note, a number of friends and cousins from his Brooklyn neighborhood speak on how ODB would take to the streets alone at the height of Wu's popularity, and how that backfired when he was shot with .357 and .45 caliber guns. Even through that, ODB maintained his irreverency. ODB's mother recalls visiting him at the hospital after a shooting and his desire to sing with her. 

Dirty effectively straddles the fine line of paying homage to an artist while still examining his negative attributes. Although one of ODB's children, son Barson, makes an apperance, noticeably absent are his other children and their mothers, who would obviously have a different, perhaps more demeaning perspective of him. But this omission is understandable, since the mothers have most likely moved on and probably want to stay away from the public scrutiny that comes from being involved with someone as controversial as the Ol' Dirty Bastard

The film still stands strong without their voice. It goes a long way in examining the life and death of one of Hip Hop's beloved eccentrics. 

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