Wu-Tang Clan rapper GZA has been known as the Genius since the early days of his career – but in recent months, the name has been particularly apt, as he has spent much of his free time chatting with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and giving lectures at Harvard and New York University. The emcee also recently completed work on Dark Matter, a new album inspired in part by his interest in quantum physics, which will hit stores later this year.
Rolling Stone caught up with the rapper to discuss the new record, his university visits, his interest in writing for television and the low chances of hearing a new Wu-Tang Clan album any time in the foreseeable future.
You've been pretty busy on the lecture circuit recently. What have you been talking about?
It's just about music, Wu-Tang, whatever they ask. Lately, they had a little outline about what they wanted to hear me speak about: the globalization of hip-hop, lyrics, Wu-Tang's early years, my affiliation with Wu. Everything is hip-hop, it's all about hip-hop, but there are some specific things they wanted me to touch on.
So how did you start doing these?
It all started with Harvard several months ago. I don't know exactly how it unfolded. Y'know, the schools have been calling, and I have been going.
So when you say "the globalization of hip-hop," what do you mean by that?
Y'know, how hip-hop has gone mainstream all over the world. The globalization. Japan, Europe, Africa. It started here in New York, but it's all over the place right now.
You have a new album, Dark Matter, that is coming out. I understand that you put another record on hold to start on this. What made this record more urgent?
I didn't make it urgent. I just pick and choose. I mean, it would probably be urgent in the sense that I decided to do this before. Plus, the other needed more of a setup and different type of approach. I mean I had several different ideas and concepts in my head. It's just a journey of the universe. Dark matter, dark energy.
So this is about astronomy and physics?
Yes. And not necessarily so in that sense. It's just a beautiful story – planets, black holes, comets.
How did you get interested in this subject?
I've been interested in it for years. I mean, if you think about it, if you go back to Legend of the Liquid Sword – I put that out in 2002. I had a song on there, a verse where I say:
Why U-N-I-verse run like clock works forever?
Words pulled together, sudden change in the weather
The nature and the scale of events don't make sense
A story with no warnin' you're drawn in, environments
Gravity that's gone mad, clouds of dust and debris
Moving at colossal speeds, they crush an emcee
Since this rap region is heavily packed with stars
Internal mirror in the telescope, noticed the Czar
From far away, they blink as the lightnin' strolled
Great distance of space between precise globes
So I've been rhyming about this stuff – it's not anything new to me.
Did your visit to MIT have much impact on your writing for this record?
The thing at MIT didn't really have anything to do with it. This was just something that added to it. I mean, I never went to a university and linked up with, you know, quantum and astrophysicists and things of that nature. But it's not like this is what sparked the idea for me to want to do this album.
It was an interesting experience. I went to MIT and met with Penny Chisholm, a marine biologist. She was looking at viruses, bacteria, all kind of stuff. It was actually new for me to be up in there. It was a great experience. I went over to Harvard and spoke to David Kaiser, who is a quantum physicist. I met with him today and a few other quantum physicists. We sat down, we had lunch. I just had a chance to meet several professors, students. You know, scientists.
What else do you have coming up on the horizon, aside from Dark Matter?
I'm just working. I'm constantly writing. I'm always out. I have been running several months now. I've been on the road. I was just in Europe for a month. I did 31 shows in 29 days in 14 countries. I spent New Year's in Australia. I toured out there for about two weeks alone. Then I came back and linked back up with Wu-Tang. I was on the road with them for a month or so. I'm writing, doing pilots. Working on a script or two, and some ideas.
What was the pilot thing?
It was an idea by an actor/writer/friend that I know from L.A.. He had this idea going on he wanted to do this pilot for, this television series. But that fell through and they wanted to attach me to it and be a part of that. But I've been working on stuff aside from that.
What kind of stuff do you want to do for TV?
I'll do anything. Just like I can write anything lyrically. I don't really want to throw ideas out, because once stuff is in the air, people subconsciously take your idea and run with it.
You said you were touring with the Wu-Tang Clan, is there anything coming up with them, as far as another Wu-Tang record?
I have no idea. There's been talk. But I don't know what going on, you know? I can't say.
Is it too hard to get you all on the same page?
I mean, we haven't been on the same page in years.
Do you feel bad about that?
Nah. It is what it is. Sometimes that match burns out. So, no, I don't feel bad about it. It's good. I'm grateful for everything we have done throughout our careers and if there's nothing else to put out, then there's nothing to put out. I'm constantly writing and working. It doesn't stop there.