Exclusive: RZA explains why he's working with Kool G Rap and Rah Digga, why Ike is an icon, and going to the movies in '09.
Friday, RZA [click to read] exclusively spoke about to HipHopDX about his first venture of 2009. On January 27, RZA will release the second volume soundtrack to Afro Samurai, the series. With numerous projects on film and song coming from the franchise, RZA explained, "I didn't know it was going to be as big as it [is]. When I met the team of people that was working on Afro Samurai, I had a real good feeling about it. That's why I joined the team."
The Wu-Tang Clan frontman, who began his career releasing 1991's Ooh I Love You Rakeem on Tommy Boy Records, explained how these opportunities help the veteran revisit his roots. "I feel like Afro Samurai represented Hip Hop. Instead of me having him start where Hip Hop is now, I wanted him to be a cat that grows [with Hip Hop]. On the first [soundtrack], if you notice, I brought in Big Daddy Kane [click to read] to do a song, and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. Before I got to Hip Hop, those brothers were Hip Hop, very inspirational."
That train of thought went into play for the upcoming second volume. "For this second one, I went back and [said since I] had Big Daddy Kane last time, and I paired Big Daddy Kane up with GZA [click to read], how 'bout I pair Kool G Rap [click to read] up with somebody? He's one of the best emcees. So I put him with [Inspectah Deck] and myself [click to listen]. We brought in Rah Digga [click to listen] because season two is based on a female villain. So I needed a female emcee that's raw. Of course you've got great emcees like Foxy [Brown] and [Lil] Kim and them, but Rah Digga, Bahamadia - those kind of girls that are [supreme] lyricists without the curls." The soundtrack also features Killah Priest, 60 Sec Assassin and 9th Prince.
RZA, who frequently works with major labels and independents, said creativity was a driving force in his involvement. "It's real fun for me to go out there and have a chance to break bread with real artists I respect. Also, to have that creative freedom. One thing they gave me on Afro Samurai, which I demanded - and it costs us money to [be this way], is creative control. They gave it to us. It's one of the funnest projects I've been involved with in years."
Another drawing point to the producer, is how a soundtrack to the Japanese animation series may draw new listeners towards Hip Hop. Speaking from experience, RZA remembered, "My first movie score was to Ghost Dog [click to read]. I'll never forget being in France with [director] Jim Jarmusch, and seeing this lady - she had to be 50 years old. She was a fan of Jim Jarmusch; she definitely wasn't into Hip Hop. She appreciated the soundtrack, and was interested in the artists. I was blown away. Something about this music and the way it fits into the film hits their tastebuds. Ghost Dog turned out to be a real successful soundtrack for us."
In addition to his work on the soundtrack, RZA, who spawned Wu Chess and works in conjunction with the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, announced the first event of the year. February 28 will see the HHCF host an event in San Francisco, with venue details to be announced. "We are using to chess, martial arts and Hip Hop to help empower the youth. Me and Adisa [Banjoko] and a lot of very good people are involved in this. We're involved with all sorts of chess players, martial arts fighters, the GZA, we're using this platform to help inspire children to be critical thinkers. I'm real proud to be involved with it."
Having written songs about the sport and portrayed in film, RZA feels that causes like this one go much deeper than a love of the game. "Chess is a big part of Wu-Tang and a big part of our life. Now that I really study the game, it's becoming a more profound part of my life. I like to share that with people. People thought chess was a game for nerds...Hip Hop was just for the ghetto....martial arts was just for Orientals. Nah, all three of these artforms are universal. They have an underlying thread between them that's also similar, as far as their flowing potential."
Lastly, the man who sampled numerous Isaac Hayes compositions, as well as worked with the Stax Records icon on Wu-Tang's "I Can't Go To Sleep," spoke about his inspiration and friend, who passed away last year [click to read]. "Isaac Hayes was one of the best arrangers and musicians of the '70s era. In Hip Hop, we use music to express ourselves. I definitely wasn't the first to do it - Geto Boys, when they came out with the ["Hung Up On My Baby" sample] for 'My Mind Playin' Tricks On Me,' or we're all familiar with Kurtis Blow, when he came out with 'Ike's Mood.' But when I got involved with Hip Hop, I was an Isaac Hayes fan from being a deejay and searching for all his records. When I got a chance to sample beats and stuff like that, I found songs of his that was obscure, with different parts of it that you could take."
Specifically, RZA used a popularized Hip Hop sample to prove his point. "You take a song like 'Walk On By,' which is a gangster classic. That one song, you could make about 13 songs out of it. That's the power of his music creativity. He sung a song that was normally three minutes, sung by Dionne Warwick, and turn it into a 15 minute masterpiece. 'The Look Of Love,' another song [is another one]. That's another song sampled by Snoop [Dogg], Wu, and just generations of Hip Hop."
The Abbott of the Wu also spoke about Hayes' friendship and personal controversies. "I had the chance to personally work with Isaac Hayes. We became great friends actually. He was a great humanitarian. He helped build a school in Ghana. He was a philosopher. People would look at him as a Scientologist, but he was a man of wisdom. That was his choice of faiths, but his wisdom fit any category. Me personally, I was just proud to find some obscure things he did."
RZA stressed Hayes' significance through the sample behind the famed 1993 hit "C.R.E.A.M.," perhaps his most memorable song of his career - a song taken from an obscure single early in Hayes'. "When I first sampled ['As Long As I've Got You'] by The Charmels for 'C.R.E.A.M.,' he remembered the whole melody of it. He moved his fingers the way he did on the on the keyboard when he made it. It's been an honor for me to use his music and help bring it to younger generations." "There's giants in music. We respect James Brown, we respect Kurt Cobain, [Isaac Hayes] is a giant that needs to be respected. His music surpassed generations. Isaac Hayes' music still remains."
RZA said 2009 is largely focused on his directorial debut, The Man With The Iron Fist, reportedly a theatrical release, as well as other means of representing Hip Hop on "the silver screen."