June 20th, 2008 | Interviews

Dan Monick

RZA (feat. Inspectah Deck) “You Can’t Stop Me”


RZA will release Bobby Digital’s Digi Snacks on Tuesday on Koch.

Who was the first person in Los Angeles to beat you in a game of chess?
My homeboy Harvey—an O.G. kid, an older dude. He’s a good player—a hard guy to beat! It took me about a month. I had to study. The GZA was beating me for a while, but I didn’t know he was studying! And his son Kareem—he digs me—he pulls me to the side like, ‘Hey, Ra, you know why my dad keeps beating you? He’s got a book he studies!’ So I started studying. I been studying for two years. It’s harder to learn chess as an adult because you’ve got a certain way of thinking. But with the guy from the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, I’ve been able to—maybe I started with a rating of 1100 and right now I’m closer to 1400. Which is still class C.
Did moving to L.A. have anything to do with working with Dr. Dre?
Actually, I had decided to be a composer—
Film scores?
Yeah, and I was going through a divorce and I needed to change my philosophy. I love the feeling and vibe out here. How I felt as a person when I woke up in the morning. I didn’t feel like ‘I’m RZA from New York!’ I was like a normal person for a while. So I decided to come out and give myself five years to start a new career. End up as a movie director. I’ve been living here for two-and-a-half years.
You’ve been keeping a low profile.
I’m out but I’m not paparazzi out. I’ve been acting in films already and been studying with Tarantino for six years. He’s a great teacher. He’s got films I never heard of. He introduced me to different directors, some of whom are extremely boring, but there’s a reason why, and some are extremely incredible. I’m out here to improve myself, improve my family and improve the image of hip-hop in film. In the early days, Samuel Jackson said he didn’t think hip-hop guys should be actors. ‘They’re not actors—they’re rappers!’ And I think he’s right. A lot of us didn’t have talent. But some of us do. We need to find the ones and not just take the name of the month. Look at someone like Mos Def who has talent—give him a chance! I think I did a good job because I try to do a good job. I thought back to what he said—I don’t wanna be another name on that list! Also the directors don’t know our culture. They don’t know how to make us look good. Look at Method Man. He’s in a lot of movies, but I’ve never seen him in the role that I know he could do. I know his talent, but—no disrespect—I’ve never seen a director capture it. Only in one scene—in Soul Plane where he’s got the parachute and the helmet and he’s about to jump off the plane. That’s typical Method Man! That thirty seconds there—he needs a movie like that. ‘Just be you.’
Are you trying to do in film what you did in music?
Exactly—it’s a whole different medium with whole different players, but if I make it, I’ll be proud of it. Maybe I could a few good movies that stand the test of time—I’ve got albums that stand the test of time and I wanna make some films like that! I’ve always had a visual mind! When I made an album, I wanted people to put it in the CD player and have a movie with me, but they couldn’t see the pictures. They had that in their own mind! Now with a movie—you do see with your eyes, but there are other things you can’t see. You can’t taste the film, can’t smell a film—only see and hear. But if it’s done right, like a good horror movie, it’ll last for weeks. When I first saw Evil Dead, I had nightmares for weeks. ‘Jack of spades! Queen of hearts!’ I remember watching that movie with Ol’ Dirty Bastard. I watched it first, and I told him, ‘I dare you to watch it!’ He watched it and I fell asleep and he stayed up and was scared to shit! That’s how you know—that’s a good fucking film! You might watch it now and still get shook!
Is that trailer for the new Bobby Digital album for a video or for a whole movie?
The video—I did a whole video for ‘You Can’t Stop Me.’ The album is Digi Snacks because it’s a snack pack of Bobby Digital’s world. Not only music and sounds, but also the comic background, the sci-fi background, the black-exploitation background. Look at the artwork—a girl with an afro, an Asian girl, Bobby sitting in the big king’s chair and then the villains—Raven, Hawk, Eagle and Crane, the four birds of prey that I use as my enemies. Bobby Digital’s life-long nemeses. That adds a comic element to it—as well as martial arts. I’m planning a comic book, a video game—I’m already talking to people. I want fans to be aware of these things.
You said in one interview that the more mathematics you put in an album, the less the media wants to support it. Is that why you’re presenting this as a ‘fun’ album?
Sort of. I don’t think I consciously wanted to tone it down the way I toned it down. I’m not touching on every subject. On 8 Diagrams, I got a song called ‘Sunshower’ thanking Allah, thanking God, speaking on it. In today’s climate, shit—some people think it’s anti-American to have respect for Allah and Muslims. But it’s not anti-American. Just in today’s society with the media exposure calling them ‘radical Islamics’ and all that shit—it makes it like we have to hold our breath on that. But to speak truth—my heart—I take that chance. As Bobby Digital I have more fun—I did a song with David Banner and it’s having fun, talking shit, not being so serious. It’s just entertainment. I still agree with KRS ONE—edutainment! Some of the songs are for entertainment purposes only—smile, laugh, dance, do whatever you want! ‘Love Is Digi Part 2’—drink a 40, bitches on your dick, fuck it, yo! Having fun! That’s one thing I forgot about MCing—being a member of Wu Tang, and not just a member—being the Abbot. I’d lead by example. Serious, focused—you never see me laughing. Then I did a few films and learned how to separate characters from myself. I can tell a joke! I did a show in London recently—just me by myself. In the middle of the set I told a joke—it took four minutes to deliver. I’ll give you the short version—there’s a black man, a white man and a Chinese man—
Is this about supplies?
No, no—they’re all sent to hell, and the devil says, ‘Whoever can put his dick in my hand and it doesn’t melt, I’ll set you free.’ The white man steps up, his dick melts—can’t set him free. Chinese man, his dick melts—can’t set him free. Black man puts his dick up in the devil’s hand and it don’t melt. ‘Why don’t it melt?’ ‘Milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand!’ I did the whole moving-around big-dick-small-dick on stage and the audience died laughing. They don’t expect that from RZA. They expect a song called ‘12 Jewels!’ As Bobby Digital—as a character, I take the opportunity to express different things.
Are you warming to the world as you age?
Yeah—guaranteed. As a kid, you don’t understand people. As a teenager, it’s all you. You don’t even care about your parents—you rebel! And as a man, you realize understanding, patience, you don’t be so rebellious—I agree with that. Going back to 8 Diagrams—you heard Raekwon say, ‘I want an album that’s punch-you-in-the-face music! I don’t wanna be hippies!’ I understand because I was part of the punch-in-the-face music—I said ‘Bring the ruckus!’ ‘Nothing to fuck with!’—that’s my shit! But we become more. I did an album with Raekwon that’s full of punch-in-the-face shit! My character there is Bobby Steels—even my lyrics is violent! But Wu Tang wasn’t the platform—as a man, I can find other platforms. But as a kid, I’d agree with him.
You said before that the plan was for Raekwon to pull in the thugs and GZA to get the nerdy college kids—who is Bobby Digital supposed to get?
I think I got the geeks.
How is that different than the nerds?
You can be a geek without being a nerd. In the old days, you had to be both. Now you can be a geek—be into computers and video games and comics—and still live in the projects! I never realized I was a geek until one day a lady from Germany who was hanging around Wu Tang said, ‘You know, RZA, you’re actually a geek. You read comics, you play video games, all these beat machines and computer shit—you’re a geek!’ And then the engineer said, ‘He’s a geek and I’m a geek, too!’ And he’s the last person to be a geek, but when there’s a new Reason or Logic 7, we geek for that! We’re geeks in our own way. So those people—comic book readers, people who have fantasies in mind, and then basic b-boys who love witty lyrics and not tough gangsta-money lyrics. And now that I act in movies, I’m attracting a lot of women. Movies do get the girls. I been cool with women my whole life—my first album was Ooh I Love You Rakeem—but now it’s a different thing! Grown women—could be a lawyer. A college professor.
What was her discipline?
Economics and finance.
Did she tell you to diversify your bonds?
She wanted to diversify a few things! But damn, this movie shit is really serious—in London, these real fucking pretty blondes—’We love you, we love your afro!’ Oh shit, that’s crazy!
What kind of actor would you want to be in twenty years?
My agent and lawyer think because of my respectable personality, I’m geared to be the next Morgan Freeman. A distinguished guy! The difference between Morgan Freeman and other actors—he played God in a movie and nobody felt offended he was God! He’s got a different kind of gentleman thing about him. I’m studying and trying my best to see what life brings. Maybe I’ll be a comedian at the end of the day! Look at Ice Cube—the most dangerous man in America—in the world!—at one point, and now he makes family comedies.
What do you think of that?
It’s beautiful. He’s got children and a family and he’s not seen as a threat, you know what I mean? One thing about being black and coming from the ghetto—we’re expected to raise our children like that. ‘What up, little nigga! Give that little nigga some beer!’ Teaching kids how to fight at the age of six—it’s expected of you! I’d rather raise a scientist—rather raise a nerd. Someone who helps society, not a threat to society. To me Ice Cube is playing a role and making people laugh—and it gives his children a better chance! Not ‘fuck America, fuck the police,’ all that—they aren’t going through those struggles, so they’ve got a different perspective. You know if something is wrong, you still stand up. Denzel did American Gangster—he killed many families as Frank Lucas—but his next role was The Great Debaters—dealing with civil rights. There’s a balance.
Is this why you’re working with Young Dirty?
He’s right here! Listen to the lyrics—that’s what we say! For the kids! Ghost’s lyrics—‘My seeds marry his seeds / that’s how we keep Wu Tang money all up in the family…’ But we ain’t doing it. Ol’ Dirty’s family, why do they not receive checks from every member? Not just me because I’m his cousin. But I’m living up to my word to the best of my ability. I can definitely help Ol’ Dirty’s son. I told Dirty when he was alive that I’d do it—we all told each other that! I got another brother the world don’t even know—Wise Allah. He died for the Wu and he helped us, and you never hear about him because he helped by doing negative things, but he helped and he lost his life. He got a son and I can’t be his father, but every once in a while I’ll kick him nice clothes, help them pay the rent, make his day a little better growing up in the ghetto—that’s what it’s all about! I’m from the ghetto! I’ll tell you a story from when I was young. I remember one day in the house. We had no food. And the energy check came—what Welfare sends you to help pay bills. $150. We were so hungry, and my mother came in with joy—‘The energy check!’ She went and got groceries and we ate good—Kool Aid was made—wow, $150 changed the whole household! And when I got famous and shit—I stopped doing it because I’m in California now, but for almost five years in a row, I’d go back to the same neighborhood and for twenty or thirty doors, I’d slip a hundred-dollar bill under the door.
Just random doors?
Yeah, and the family that got $100 had a meal no matter what! Someone ate good! You think maybe that don’t mean much—not even a pair of sneakers—but it puts food on the table. I get paid ten to fifteen thousand a day but I know how it feels. That’s what the Wu spirit was about at the beginning, and to be working with Young Dirty Bastard is to try and live out our true spiritual confessions to the world and ourselves. And if Young Dirty Bastard is on his feet and successful, he’s got thirteen brothers and sisters he could help! I’ve got eleven and they’ve all got a better chance for life because of me. Maybe he’ll be the one in his family to give them a chance at a better life.
What is it that made you build this giant thing that’s defined your life and so many other lives? What was different that didn’t let you just live an easy life?
When you’re in hell, yo—you see you and your people in hell, and then you get out of hell. I did it by platinum albums—started making money. One thing that happened—my mother called on tour and said some guy came to the house, like ‘Can I speak to Bobby?’ This is in winter and he was freezing cold, almost dead of frostbite—he’d walked thirty miles to find the house. And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’m nervous—is this a thief? Burglar? ‘Who’s in the house?’ ‘Some white guy—he says he’s a Wu Tang fan and he wants to speak to the Abbot.’ He says his father’s bad, he had a whole bad story, and she put me on the phone and I talked to him for fifteen or twenty minutes, and I guess that’s all he wanted. He ate his meal and left.
What did you say?
Too much to get into—basically encouragement. Words of wisdom. Whatever question he needed, I answered. This is like ’95. You see these things happening and you see how you influence the world—it made me go more into my studies to go farther and do better. So when Wu Tang were first getting famous and shit, a lot of us were getting girls, getting money, getting cars. I would get books and equipment. Build a studio. Why? Popa Wu told me. ‘We built a school in Harlem and it saved brothers’ lives. You ain’t going to build a school, but a studio—give brothers a place to go!’ Sometimes there would be twenty guys in there and the other Wu would be mad—they don’t know these niggas! But it saved that nigga from going to jail, saved him from getting shot—the same it saved them. In the old days—the story comes from different members. ‘I’d come to your house to hang out, and everybody was locked up but me because I was at your house making music!’ Meth told me the day I called him over to sign a contract saved his life—his friends went without him to the weed spot, and they were killed! Now in California, it’s the same thing—me and my buddy Shavo got a studio in the Valley. Shavo’s a white dude from System Of A Down, but he’s my buddy—he accepts my struggle like I accept his. He’s got niggas from Compton and Long Beach in the studio hanging out and doing music with us! One dude last year—Doc Doom from Black Knights—was coming to the studio every day and I wasn’t giving him money at first. I usually pay them at the end of the week—$1,000 or $500 that makes them feel like they got a job, and maybe they’ll end up on a soundtrack or something and maybe they won’t, but it helps pay rent. But I wouldn’t give him money because he was robbing niggas and smoking crack—I didn’t wanna put money in his hand. Then one day—‘I need money, I gotta pay bills.’ So boom—$1,000. Then I don’t see him for six fucking days. I’d told him he’d better be in the fucking studio Saturday. Sunday morning I find out—Doc Doom, six bullets, dead. But at the same time, he had a place to go where that wouldn’t have happened to him. So why do I do this? For me, I realized what made me go bad was nobody gave me a chance—nobody! I asked my sister to invest in the company in the beginning and she wouldn’t give me money. I realized all it takes is a chance! So I try and give people a chance. All it takes is one—you can change a nigga’s life! If you can give someone another day—another hour—on earth, that’s a great deed! Don’t get me twisted—it’s getting more serious and harder and I’m getting older. I got children, baby mothers—it’s harder to give time to the world. I’m telling brothers, ‘I’m not 25 years old—I got kids that need me more than you all need me—they have a right to me!’ As you get older, it gets like that. You can’t be a soldier in the field. Even police offiercs. When they’re older, what do they do? They tend the fucking office because they can’t walk the beat!
What was the hardest test Yan Ming gave you in China?
The hardest was no sex. So I just did more kung fu. Kung fu is the only thing that’s second in line to sex when it comes to body energy and all that shit—kung fu cures perversion! We had like sixty students and all these girls were pretty, and after the second week classmates started doing it with each other, and I’m out getting drunk with no women. I had to go train harder! That was my test—that’s what he wanted me to do! Back home, though—it was over!
The girl who took your virginity also taught you to play chess—which do you wish had happened sooner?
I think both were on time. Eleven is kind of too young to be devirginized. I would not suggest that to none of my children! I didn’t have the mind for that shit. But I grew up in a different time. You had to get shit early! By the time you were thirteen, you were basically on your own in this world. My brothers carried guns at 11 or 12. I’m not proud, but it’s true. Now I can’t imagine my eleven-year-old son with a fucking gun. I can imagine him with a joystick—that’s it!
Did you really make an actual Bobby Digital super-suit and super-car?
That was real! And Dirty was helping me! Me and Dirty were living together. 1998 in Battery Park, Manhattan, and Dirty—the feds were out to kill him. I had so much love for him and shit that I wanted to help protect him, and I had a feeling overcome me that I was a superhero—somebody to help the world! So I had my brother order a Level 4 fucking vehicle—what the president rides in. You can shoot it with an AK and it keeps moving. After he hit a deer, it didn’t even dent the car! The deer flew way in the air and not even a dent on the paint! It was a Suburban. I still got it. It weighs nine tons. It’s parked at my brother’s house in New Jersey. And the suit I built but one of my employees sold it to a drug dealer. Some drug dealer in Brooklyn got it. That’s funny! A $20,000 suit—Level 4 bulletproof and knife-proof. You couldn’t stab or shoot me. Head to toe. It had a few other toys I don’t like to talk about. I don’t wanna describe it too much—that nigga who got, he got it! I had a briefcase to go with it as well—to block bullets! We were just buggin’ out! We was getting high, too. Don’t get that twisted. We were partying hard. There’s a certain mentality.
When you’re a kid, you wonder why guys like Bill Gates don’t spend the money to become Batman for real. As someone who had the chance, why didn’t you do it?
I got children of my own, you know what I mean? Domestic problems at home. If you start coming home at night from helping all your fans and people and then you’ve got problems at the house, that will kill any man’s spirit. Say you’re Bobby Digital, you’re RZA, and your girl fornicates on you—you feel like shit. ‘Who the fuck? How the fuck?’ And say it’s some nigga who sells weed—‘I’m a millionaire and you’re fucking with a regular motherfucker?’ That takes a lot from your spirit. That slowed me down, and then the passing of my mother—the two big blows of the year 2000. It really kept me back a few years—I had to go and find myself again. I never told anybody that. You got an exclusive on that one! And I think that’s enough right there.