HHC: Can you tell us a few words about your first group: All In Together Now, that you had created with GZA and ODB. How did you sign with Tommy Boy? And why didn't you release anything under this moniker?

RZA: All In Together Now was never signed to no label. See, me, GZA and ODB had a crew called FOI: Force Of The Imperial Master, nahmean? We made a song, called ‘All In Together Now', which became famous on tapes throughout Brooklyn , Staten Island , New York, all the way down to Miami. I remember Biz Markie, when he was famous and I wasn't famous, and he was like: "Yo! I heard that shit! Your song with Ason Unique and the Specialist". I was the Scientist. So we never got signed as a group back then. We never had a serious record deal under that title.

HHC: After the disbanding of this group and before the creation of the Wu-Tang, you released in 1991, a single 'Ooh We Love You Rakeem' as Prince Rakeem. Can you tell us a little more about this? How do you get this opportunity?

RZA: Well, All in Together Now never really disbanded. We're cousins, so we always made tapes and demos together. But GZA had a man called Melquan, he's president of a record company called Jamaica Records. They call him Funky President Melquan. He had a group named Divine Force, with Sir Ibu. "It get Busy…" Ghostface did it over on his "Supreme Clientele" album, on 'Mighty Healthy'. When Ghost did it over, Sir Ibu, who was my buddy, came over and said: "Yo, I need money for that!". So I gave him 2500$. Motherfucker! (laughs) That's my nigga though. Anyway, back then, Melquan was making a good name in the underground. Remember the song 'Going Way Back' by Just Ice? At the end he says: "By the way I say peace to my brother Melquan…". His father had the label, Jamaica Records. He signed me and GZA on his label, but to manage us. That's how Melquan was able to go to Tommy Boy and secure a single deal for myself with an album option, and go to Cold Chillin' and secure a single deal and an album option for GZA. The GZA album option got picked up, he released the album called "Words From The Genius"; Tommy Boy put out 'Ooh We Love You Rakeem', but the album option never got picked up cause I went to jail.

HHC: You're always referring to the past with some kind of nostalgia. According to you, was this period THE Golden Era everybody seems to talk about? Do you think Hip Hop was doper back then?

RZA: It was rarer. Doper, I wouldn't know, because as tastes go on, tastes get better… You look at G3, it goes to G4, from G4 it goes to G5, but you gotta respect the first Apple Commodores computers, nahmean? You gotta respect Tomy, cause they made video games before Nintendo or Playstation. So I wouldn't say it was better, I just would say it was more rare. When I started emceein', you had 500 maybe 1000 rappers in the whole world. Now there's 1.000.000, nahmean? I speak of a time when samurais were few, a time when there wasn't as much commercialization of what we do. I would travel through America to visit my cousins, my family: Virginia, North Carolina … and nobody knew how to rap. When I rapped, everybody was like: "Ahhh...”. People were so impressed, nahmean? Now, all my cousins rap. All my little cousins, the next generation, that's what they do, they rap.

HHC: In your opinion, was Hip Hop a more creative form of art in these days?

RZA: I don't know if it was more creative. Because you know what, after knowledge comes wisdom. After wisdom comes understanding so I wouldn't say it was better, cause now Hip Hop's global, that's how I'm here on tour with you motherfuckers. How old are you?

Phara: 20

RZA: Ok, 20, that's a good example. That means you're born in 84: there was maybe 500 rappers. Now? 1 000 000. Like I said, I don't know if it's better or worse, cause time changes everything. But the corporations didn't have control over Hip Hop. Corporations just gained control over Hip Hop over the last 5 years and if there's a problem, THAT'S the problem: these corporations are made of people who don't listen to it, who don't give a fuck about it, don't care about it, all they see is dollar signs and they exploit it to the best of their abilities. That's the real problem.

HHC: In the Wu Tang Manual, you explain that you formed your group with a vision in mind and that to realize it, everyone in it the group had to adapt to it. You say yourself that it was like a dictatorship. Are you satisfied with the way it happened or in retrospect would you have organised things differently?

RZA: In the year 1992, I formed my company Wu-Tang Productions, and up to 1997, everything went according to plan. I promised everybody… I was like: "Yo, trust me, we will be n°1”, and in 1997, after the 5 years were over, we were n°1. There was nobody else… That's what I said, what I promised, and I delivered it, nahmean? So I think I did it proper. After that, after 1997, I didn't have a plan, it was whatever. I just recently got a new plan more for myself and those who want to get involved with it. But from 92 to 97, I had a real serious plan, I had inspiration and a vision; I lived it out, and it worked. It helped break out Hip Hop to a whole new realm of listeners, a whole new world. That was my duty, that was my plan, that was my job and I feel like I completed it.

On 1997, I personally tore Wu Tang Clan up. I won't forget this day, we were on the Rage Against The Machine tour bus. Everybody was becoming lazy, niggas even started not showin' up. I said "Yo! I did my shit! From this point on, do what the fuck you want. The Wu Mansion? Y'all turned that shit to a club house! From now on, The Wu Mansion is MY house. You wanna come and rock? I'll be there”, and niggas respected it. To me, it's like Mike Tyson: he got to the top of the world and shit, and he stopped trainin'. Fuck that, you must never stop trainin'. Well you can stop if you want, if you're happy, but if you wanna go further. All I did was promise to get'em to there, from this point, it's up to each of them. For that, Method Man's a good example: he took it to the movies and he went to the moon. So brothers had no success after that, nahmean? Cappadonna, see, he's drivin' a cab.

HHC: Oh he still drives a cab?

RZA: Well, he's aight, we take him on tour, he makes a couple hundred grands, so… He's my man, he's hustlin'…

HHC: There is a project that your fans have been yearning to hear since his announcement in 1998: "The Cure". Is there any hope for us to hear it in the coming months like the mixtape "Formula For The Cure" seemed to announce it.

RZA: This mixtape was actually done by one of my homeboys named Dreddy Kruger. He really believes in me, he believes in what I speak, but he did it without me, I almost had a fight with him: "What the fuck is that: The Formula For The Cure?”, "You gotta do The Cure!” , "Fuck that! You don't put my motherfuckin' name on those shit without talkin' to me first!”, "Yo God, blah blah blah…” (laughs). Dreddy's been down with us since 1989, he was a dancer for GZA, he's a real nigga and he went to put out CD-R of "The Formula For The Cure" for the fans, but I'm a type of man who lives up to his word. I said I'd do an album called The Cure: I wrote it already, 4-5 years ago, maybe longer, I almost recorded it. Trust me: it will be an album you can listen to, but it'll serve you better if you write it down.

HHC: Don't you think that this whole stuff about "Wu-Tang Forever" release date being constantly pushed back for over a year and this constant change of release dates or even cancellation of other Wu-Tang projects has really run of the nerves of your fans and that you've lost a lot of your momentum due to that problem?

RZA: Maybe, I don't know… You know, sometimes fans are like girls: they go for whoever's cute, whoever's got the biggest dick or the most money, whatevers' goin' on at the time. And some fans are real, true, loyal, they don't give a fuck about all that, they love you cause they love you. Some people who love Wu Tang never loved Hip Hop before Wu Tang. It's a pity they didn't know about all the great Hip Hop that was out there, and when Wu Tang put albums out, they went other ways and they said: “Oh shit, this is good too!” . So it's all good.

To me it's like: "Many shall come, few shall be chosen”. I know for an actual fact that the things I say or that my brothers say on the mic are valid for life. What we say, if you're smart you get it, if you're stupid, you learn about 3 years later. When the buildings came down in Manhattan, people were like "Ohhh…”. We been tellin' you this shit was gonna happen. Even Sunz of Man, Killarmy: an album called "Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars"… That's what's happenin' around the world, son… The people who's doin' the trouble are silent, but the world goes on. And people are dyin', people are losin'… AIDS, I could go on like this for hours, but I don't really wanna talk about this. But for the wise, it says in the Bible: when a wise man hears wisdom, he reacts. When a fool hears it, his acts are folly. If you wanna be a fool, help yourself, it's not my problem.

There's a chapter in the Bible, St Luke, XII, verse 47: "And the servant who knew his Lord's will but prepared not himself neither went according to his Lord's will shall be beaten with many strikes”. That means that a person who knew what time it was but didn't act like the time it was or didn't give a fuck about it, he's gonna get fucked up! Then the next verse says: "He who knew his Lord's will and went according to it and warned others…”, he's aight, he's cool. That's what I am. I warn people. Whenever I see and I feel things in my heart, I speak it.

HHC: Everybody knows about your love for Soul music, mostly Soul from the South. But there's a Funk compilation out now (ndlr: "Kings Of Funk", chez BBE), that you've compiled with Deep Funk specialist Keb Darge, so we'd like to know if you're as much as an avid collector for funky sounds than for soulful ballads?

RZA: The Soul samples I used probably became more famous than the others samples I used. But I love much music, nahmean? Funk, Reggae… I love Reggae, I love Jazz. Quincy Jones told me: "RZA, you're good… But you need to study Jazz” (laughs). And he gave me a book. Quentin Tarantino, he was like: "Yo, Spaghetti western soundtracks…”. He gave me a whole bunch of stuff. So I love much music, and I study as much as I can. From Leonard Bernstein to Henry Mancini to James Brown, no problem. If it's good it's good. You got many brands of Champagne , and they're all good to get drunk (laughs).

But this compilation you're mentionin', heard the show tonight? Heard this Sueside interlude? It was Jimmy Ponder, and it's on that compilation. It's different from the other Deep Funk compilations because it's not just Funk, it's Soul-Funk. Anybody who is a DJ or a producer can buy the CD and definitely appreciate it.

HHC: Tell us about your vinyl collection. Do you still dig in the crates?

RZA: Superduperly. I have boxes I haven't opened yet. I've bought vinyl from many countries. One time I spent 10 grand for records in Italy . I bought 8 boxes and I've only opened one. But from the one I opened, I sampled stuff for "The World According To RZA" and for "Iron Flag".

I love vinyl, you know? To me it has depth, warmth, it's he best way to really sample. CD's easier to carry, then you have these websites with thousands and thousands of stuff that you're lookin' for and they got it.

HHC: Do you think it has made things easier for some producers? That it has killed the fun to go hunting for these records?

RZA: I do think it has killed the fun. But fortunately for me, I've learned how to play piano, I've learned to play guitar, I already knew how to play drums. I make shit that you can't get nowhere else but for me, nahmean? (laughs). There's a song on the "Danny The Dog" soundtrack, which is called 'Baby Boy' where you can hear me play the piano and orchestrate my own vibes. It's very soulful but it also sounds like an opera. I'm at a level where I can sample and play some shit too.

HHC: Two compilations entitled "Shaolin Soul", made by a French guy, were released over here a few years ago. They gathered some of the original tracks that you sampled for the Wu albums (group or solo albums). Are you one of these producers who prefer to keep the mystery around the tracks they sample, or do you think that it's a good idea to put them out on the market at the disposal of the public and maybe help some soul or jazz artists being re-discovered ?

RZA: I think it was a good thing, it's a blessing for the artists. Look at Syl Johnson: you know who's Syl Johnson, right? You know I sampled him quite a lot. You know who's his daughter?

HHC: Err… No.

RZA: Syleena Johnson! And do you know who Syleena Johnson's singin' with Kanye West! She's makin' money there!

HHC: Yeah, obviously…

RZA: Syl Johnson would always call me: "Yo RZA, you gotta talk to my daughter”. His daughetr's first record was on GZA's album "Beneath The Surface": she sang on it and made a great job. But we didn't sign her or whatever. Now, she's getting' a lot of money cause she's on Kanye West's album.

As for Syl Johnson, when I sampled his music, he called me up, he's like: "Yo man, thank you man…”. I said : "Yo, I will use 10 more of your songs in the next 5 years. I wanna pay you 100.000 $ right now”. He's like "What?!” (laughs). I paid him… I used the songs… He's back in business and he's makin' 1.000.000 $ a year now. So it's a blessing to help other older brothers get their shit cause so many of them have been robbed, cheated of their publishing.

But "Shaolin Soul" has been put out without my fore consent. They got my consent but before that, that guy Emmanuel from Delabel had sold 300.000 copies, and then he called me and he was like: "You know…” (laughs). But because he made so much money, we were able to do "The World According To RZA": he gave me 1.000.000 $ to produce it. That's how I came to France, to Germany… So it's all good, because from one idea, hundreds of families got fed.

HHC: Let's talk about your productions. Do you feel limited by the prices of the samples at the present time? Raekwon said that he would have liked to work with you for his last album but that it was a real nightmare to clear all the samples, etc.

RZA: You know, I don't really have to sample no more. R.I.P ODB, he's got a brother named Ramsey Jones. On "Iron Flag", there's a track called 'Babies': that's ODB's brother playin' the music. Same thing on 'Birth Of A Prince” (sings) "See the joy…" That's Ramsey and his band. Same thing on Ghostface's 'Maxine'. On ODB's new album, there's a song called 'Back In The Air' with Ghostface, sounds just like a sample: it's Ramsey again. All I need to do if I need a guitar sound (imitates a guitar) I go "Wakah wakah wah…” and they play it. We can play it ourselves, there's no problem. But if you need samples, I got the hottest samples available. If you wanna pay 20-30 grand, we can do that too.

HHC: You've used many names or identities during your career. Does it affect your way of writin' or producin'? For example, do you sometimes tell yourself: "I'm in a Bobby Digital mindframe so I'm gonna flip this beat that way?".

RZA: Yes! And please forgive me, I don't wanna pat myself on the back, but I'm a person that reads and studies and… I've been drinkin' a little so don't take me too deeply, but there are many names to Allah plus one you don't know. And each name is an attribute that flexes his characteristics: the Benevolent, the Merciful, the All-Knower… And to me, my names be flexin' personalities of myself: Prince Rakeem, Bobby Digital, Bobby Steels, the RZA, the Rzarector… These are personalities of myself. I'm able to realize that. You do the same thing: you don't act the same with your mother, with your friends, with your girl, with your fuckin' boss. I'm able to recognize that and put a name on each of these motherfuckers. Me, today, you heard me as Bobby. I'm not Bobby, I'm Bobby to you, but I'm also the RZA! Nigga what! Every aspect of your personality, if you're wise, you're able to separate each one of them and put them to use at the best time for the best position. Peace, Wu Tang!

Interview by Phara & DJ Poom
Questions by Phara, DJ Poom, Finesse & Bachir
Photos by mARGe noire
May 2005

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