RZA is one of the more fascinating figures in American culture. Rapper and member of the iconic hip hop collective known as the Wu-Tang Clan, actor, author, and filmmaker, his most impressive work of all may be as a record producer.
And on top of all that, he’s just a really interesting dude. Check out the way he answers a pretty broad question in an interview (“What are the most important rules that you live by?”) with passionate specificity:
- The most important rule is just keeping it 100 percent with myself, preparing myself for what’s in front of me and making sure that I complete my goals. First you set your goal, right? Identify what it is, envision it and then I prepare. If my goal was simply to climb a tree, I’m gonna study a tree-climbing book, understand the tools and equipment that I need to do it, understand that if I gotta go up, you know, that may be easy. But what about coming back down, right?
If you’re ever of a mind, sample a book called The Tao of Wu (by “The RZA”), which digs into his personal philosophy, a combination of deep humanism and compassion matched with an aggressive attitude and hustler’s spirit that came out of his growing up in the projects in Staten Island, New York (neighborhoods that would later get mythologized by the Wu-Tang Clan as the “slums of Shaolin”).
If you’re down for a mixture of Buddhist philosophy and spiritualism, hardcore underground hip hop influence, and samurai culture, you’re just starting to get an inkling of what RZA brings to the table.
And then he shows up for character arcs on shows like Californication and you’re like, what?
RZA and Wu-Tang are back in the news recently on a number of fronts. They were given a street sign and honored with a Wu-Tang Clan Day in Staten Islandfor one, and later this year there will be “a 10-part scripted series co-written by RZA detailing the clan’s history and formation” that will be released on Hulu.
And if that’s not enough, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a four-hour documentary miniseries now available on Showtime, is here to remind us of even more of the RZA and Wu-Tang legacy. For example, there’s the part where the large and rambunctious Wu-Tang crew were given the ability to go off and do solo projects while still maintaining allegiance to the Wu-Tang collective. Method Man recalls:
- We had labels that would usually be competing against each other actually working with each other, for our cause. Insane. Unheard of. RZA had the plan, but who knew? And, uh, I guess I got lucky. I guess we all did.
This move set the table for hip hop masterpieces such as GZA’s (not to be confused with RZA) Liquid Swords.
If you’re into hip hop music at all and you haven’t given it a listen in some time, get your ears in front of Wu-Tang’s debut album from 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), right now. It’s a shockingly good album and still sounds fresh and rambunctious as ever. It’s somehow raw, rocking, groovy, jarring, and ear pleasing all at the same time, the lyrics at turns unsettling and hilarious, weird and weirdly profound. And if you had to pick an album that was The Most NYC Album Ever, you could do worse than this one.
When I was discussing Wu-Tang with my man Dave recently, he also advised including the greatness that is Wu-Tang Forever.
I must also include this work of pure ebullient genius, a Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles mash-up, called Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers. I don’t know how this masterwork entered our plane of existence, but I think it’s best to not question such things.
This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.