RZA on His New Movies and Recording With Paul Banks

'We went to the studio and we started writing songs and they sound very, very different than what I do,' he says

RZA of Wu Tang Clan performs in London.
Matt Kent/Redferns via Getty Images
RZA of Wu Tang Clan performs in London.
By |

In the last year, Wu-Tang Clan emcee and producer RZA has pursued a sizable number of projects. The rapper wrote, directed and starred in 2012's kung-fu film The Man With the Iron Fist, aided by Quentin Tarantino, recorded with Earl Sweatshirt, and had a role in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Meanwhile, the anniversary of Wu-Tang Clan’s pivotal 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) arrives next month and the group's performed a series of shows this year, including Bonnaroo, Coachella and Rock the Bells. But RZA ia a guy who can't slow down and is constantly looking forward. Rolling Stone recently spoke with the rapper backstage at L.A.'s Bedrocktoberfest about his upcoming projects, including his new movies, his Fox TV show Gang Related, recording with Interpol's Paul Banks, and more.

Where Does 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' Rank on Our 100 Best Albums of the Nineties?

You said onstage that your main goal is to express your art. Do you feel like all your creative endeavors come from this same place of expression?
Personally I do think it comes from the same place. A scientist could be a scientist of amphibians, a scientist could be an anthropologist, you could go into the study of fossils or microbiology. The scientific mind has a way of deciphering things, you know what I mean? I think an artist is the same. A musician is the same. At first I didn't know that. I didn't know that the artistic wavelength can be expressed from a low frequency to a high frequency. To me the highest form of art is moviemaking. Because in moviemaking there's collaborative, multiple moving pieces. Whereas music and rapping it's me. To between these two extremes I've found there's a similar wavelength.

Have you written your next movie?
I wrote two movies this year. One is social. It's called One Spoon of Chocolate. The tagline is "One spoon of chocolate can change a whole glass of milk." It's a racism struggle. It's a struggle between two guys and they realize their struggle is minute compared to the real struggle. That one I don't think I'll make as soon as the one I've just finished, which is called Sting of the Scorpion. It's basically another revisit of The Man With the Iron Fists saga. It's very different than the first one. The cool thing about writing film and working with Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino is that Quentin is our teacher and Eli is my classmate, but they've elevated me. I told Quentin my new story and he loved it.

Will you work with Quentin again on this new film?
For this one I don’t think I'll use him. I'll call him for a different one. This one I think I got it. Last one I needed him to godfather me. I kind of copied him a little bit, you know what I mean? He's my teacher – I'm not ashamed of that. But this one here it's not a copy. It's like "Here’s what I learned, let me digest it out to the world differently than he would do it."

At this point does it seem like the industry has accepted you as a filmmaker?
I have a really good camaraderie with actors and directors. People in the business respect my vision and they respect my ambition and they respect my tenacity. A lot of people go "Well how can you make a movie?" and they don’t realize the brainpower it takes, the 16-hour days you gotta put in, the punctuality. You can’t be on CPT – that's colored people time. You can't be on that shit making movies. And I've proven that I'm not a CPT-er. Not only that, I've proven that I understand the size of the storytelling. I've been accepted by a lot of peers I think. I'm really happy.

How's your TV series coming along?
It’s called Gang Related. It's on the Fox network. The best thing I can say about it is that usually a show like this would be on cable. Fox has been very edgy and very bold by putting this material on national TV. It's set right here in California between Northern California and Southern California. It's based around a lot of gang culture that's here. It really taps into that, whether it's the black gangs, the Korean gangs, the Mexican gangs, the Russian gangs.

When does it premiere?
It's midseason, so I think we’ll finish filming by January. We're filming 13 [episodes] right now.

Who do you play?
I'm playing a cop. My DJ spent 18 years as a cop in Red Hook. We grew up in high school together. He's my DJ now. I asked him so many questions about being a cop. He don't know he's my reference. Some days I copy this motherfucker. I was a criminal and he was a cop – he was a good cop and I was a good criminal – and he would come to my house and tell me these stories. And I'd have my stories and I'd pull out some weird ass fucking gun and he'd look at my gun and go "You know what kind of call I could get for this shit?" But also the TV show has hired great police to help us with the real shit. I'm learning a lot.

What are you working on musically?
Me and Paul Banks from Interpol, we're doing an album together. I love Paul. We're been working on it for six months now. He just left my house. He came and spent two weeks at my house - I have a guesthouse in my studio. Warner Bros, they gave us a deal. Musically that's what I’m doing. What I did tonight, that's a taste of it, me with a band.

How did this come about?
My manager came to me and said, "Who do you want to do an album with?" I said, "Well, Paul just has an energy about him. I think if we put our sandwich together it will be great." Me and Paul, we play chess together and just hang out. We went to the studio and we started writing songs and they sound very, very different than what I do, but very unique and very peculiar. But it won't be out for a while. It may take us a year to finish this album. That's where my heart is at musically.

Is there anything planned for Wu-Tang beyond the remaining reunion shows this year?
I can’t really speak on it. [The booking agency] will let me know. They know my schedule. Anything for Wu-Tang I’m always happy to do. Wu-Tang is forever.

How did you feel about Drake’s song “Wu-Tang Forever”?
I appreciate it. He sent me song because they couldn't clear the sample. So I did it myself, personally, for free. Free of charge. Because to me, that's what we meant when we said Wu-Tang is forever. We didn't think we were going to live forever. We meant that the energy of what we do would spread on in culture, generation by generation. And by Drake absorbing it and having that influence in his life and having it be a part of him, it proves what I'm saying. And I'm really proud that he chose that rap.