It's been only twenty-four hours since RZA finished mastering the Wu-Tang Clan's third album, The W, and he's already giving the first sneak preview – on the sound system of his black Excursion, as it crawls through late-afternoon traffic in downtown Manhattan. The year 2000 found the Wu reclaiming their hip-hop crown. Mastermind RZA released one of his strongest works to date, the largely ignored Ghost Dog soundtrack. RZA also oversaw Ghostface Killah's dagger-sharp solo album, Supreme Clientele. And then there's The W, which hearkens back to the explosive group dynamic of the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut, 36 Chambers. In part, that's because it was recorded in a two-month period, while the group lived together, Monkees-style, in a house in Los Angeles.
"We were out there for, like, two months," says Wu rapper GZA. "When it comes to cooking, our egos are like our egos with MC'ing. It's like, 'Yo, your eggs ain't bangin'.' 'Yeah, well, I make the illest pancakes.' 'Y'all niggas don't know nothing about spaghetti.' It's a challenge like that."
With the new album – featuring (among other hot tracks) a duet between Snoop Dogg and the oft-incarcerated Ol' Dirty Bastard – and a January tour in the works, RZA hopes to remind the world, once again, whose kung fu is strongest.
Did you feel any pressure recording this album?
I don't know if I felt pressure or not. I try to put that stuff where I can't detect it. It hasn't been as easy these days as it was in the older days. In the older days, it was more like every MC would walk in, no matter who was playing, and they'd jump into the vibe of what was going on. Now everybody got a vibe of their own and is looking for someone to feel their vibe.
Did living in the same house help?
Yeah, it helped. Get the feeling back in. Get the arguments poppin' again. You got niggas bringing bitches in somebody else's room or something like that. You know how shit be. You got a bunch of men in the house, plus we had a few homeboys come through. So that definitely was a vibe-building situation. We recorded about thirty songs, so you don't get the full work we put together. What you're getting now is about forty percent of it, but we might go back to the rest of it later.
Was it hard doing this record without Dirty around?
Yeah. We recorded [the Snoop/ODB collaboration] a year ago and shit. It was hard to finish this album without him. He adds a special element to the game. He's like a live wire. That's a very important element. But you feel it on the album. You don't get the full shock of him, but you get a taste.
What was the best thing that happened to you this year?
[Long pause] Just living, man. Being here. It's been a fucked-up year for me, really, if you wanna be technical. It's been the worst year of my life. I lost my mother this year. Ain't much else I can say. But the best thing that happened to me was the revelation of life to myself. I'm here, and I know I gotta carry a lot on my shoulder. I'm like Atlas. You know the Greek god Atlas? They say he had to carry the whole world. I was definitely doing all of this shit, this album, under complete torture.
Did it help at all to throw yourself into work?
Naw, man, it was fucked up. But I'm practicing being a superhero. I meditate on being one. 'Cause I know I'm super, you know what I mean? But at the same time, I've had a taste of being human this year. It's a slap in your face when you see something out of your control, out of your ability.
How about the Ghost Dog soundtrack? Would you like to do more soundtrack work in the future?
Ghost Dog was a great album. I still got it in my CD player. I'm looking forward to doing more movie scores. I wanna direct a movie before I finish being an entertainer. I'm not planning on being an entertainer for the rest of my life. I'll probably do some more music for the next couple of years, and then I'll break into the film business. But this Wu album right here, it's definitely a triumph and shit. What I like about it is, it kinda takes me back to the first album, just with the obscurity of it, the unaffectedness of it. I wouldn't say this album is more spiritual. Spiritual is a hard word sometimes. I like to say mindful. But right now, man is deprived of soul. And this album, to me, gives a boost to the soul.
This story is from the December 14th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.