RZA opens up to syndicated entertainment columnist and host of the new ALLISON INTERVIEWS podcast, Allison Kugel, about his rise from felon to hip-hop icon and learning humility.
As founder and leader of the multi-platinum selling rap group, The Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, or Bobby, as he is known to close friends and colleagues, had a particular way of putting beats to razor-sharp lyrics that made you feel part of a song’s creative process. Fans feel RZA’s music, both from Wu-Tang and his solo and collaborative efforts, on a cellular level.
An urban-bred intellectual who expresses through a mic or camera lens, RZA is considered prophetic to his community and perhaps a unicorn to mainstream culture. With a penchant for Eastern philosophy RZA shares, “One thing I’m looking forward to doing in the near future… I’ve never been to India, and I have to check that one off,” referring to the top item on his bucket list.
On getting a second chance after a criminal past:
“I actually was an artist and a smart guy who got caught up in gangs and the streets, and ended up facing eight years in jail, but I won my trial. When I won my trial, I changed my life. I focused on study and making myself better, looking at my creativity, and I formed The Wu-Tang Clan. I became a success story, because I was given a second chance. I wasn’t bad. A lot of people are not bad, they just made a bad decision. [I wish] the criminal justice system could look at it that way. Most of the guys in the Wu were the same. We were all arrested felons or something like that, and we had a second chance.”
On fatherless manhood:
“I come from a single mother household and so does my whole crew. Seven of the nine members [of Wu-Tang Clan] are that.”
On being broke in the early days of Wu-Tang Clan:
“I started in a small apartment when I left my house. I was nineteen years old and my mother said the time had come to go. I started in a small apartment and Ghostface [Killah] was my roommate. We had another roommate, my cousin Rob. We lived there, three guys in a one bedroom, and we stayed there until we raised enough money to get a two bedroom (laugh). We kept going, and it even got to the point where one of us could move out and one of us still stayed, and that lasted until we hit it big. The point is, it’s okay to start at the bottom and struggle, but when there is no relief from the struggle, that is when it becomes insidious, evil, and oppressive.”
On choosing a pen over a gun:
“In the film (RZA’s directorial effort, the Netflix drama, Cutthroat City) the detective tells him, ‘A pen will get you further than a gun.’ I’m living proof. It was a pen that got me further than anytime I was trying to do something foolish with a gun.”
On learning humility:
“One thing I am learning is humility. Even though I may have appeared, on the surface, to have it, it was something that I think I lacked. I was pretty conceited, coming up. If you listen to my old music, ‘Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f— with…’ I acted like, ‘I’m the greatest and everybody else is beneath me (laughs).’ But it’s good to understand that there is a universe out there. You can be a sun, but there’s other suns. But I do think what I’m destined to teach, if anything, is that you can be a living example of your own ideas. Through my art, I’m able to inspire, and that’s the best thing. I think I was brought here to inspire.”