The intended premiere of a documentary charting the life and times of departed Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard turned into a peculiar farce last night when a cease and desist order prevented the screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from going ahead. The night also saw the Clan’s head honcho, RZA, telling the crowd via Skype broadcast that a new Wu-Tang Clan album was pending but being held back by Raekwon’s lack of involvement. This all took place on the date of Ol’ Dirty’s birthday, transforming what should have been a tender tribute in the rapper’s home borough into a surreal shambles.
Directed by Ol’ Dirty’s cousin, Stephon Turner, the worldwide premiere of the documentary ODB Dirty: Platinum Edition was ear-marked as the headliner of the NuHo Online Film Festival. The first one million fans who subsequently pre-ordered the DVD would also receive a free downloadable 24-track album of unreleased Wu-Tang songs titled New Wu Generation. The music was touted as including contributions from ODB, who passed away in 2004 from an accidental drug overdose.
The event began to fray from the start, with the post-screening question and answer session moved forward to begin the evening. It was billed as featuring official Wu-Tang Clan members Masta Killa and U-God, plus Cappadonna and Popa Wu, but Masta Killa and U-God never took their places on stage. (Cappadonna expressed his disappointment at the missing contributors as he told the theater, “I came out and no one else so it makes me sad.”) Against this backdrop, the laptop desktop of NuHo managing partner Chris Kanik was projected on a giant screen as many unsuccessful attempts were made to connect to RZA via Skype.
Nearly two-and-a-half hours after the 7 p.m. opening of the event, the crowd had become restless and many left their seats. On stage, some of ODB’s children and cousins were brought up to tell anecdotes; soon the forum was opened up to anyone in the crowd who had a tale about ODB. Popa Wu told one about a show in North Carolina where the small venue they were playing was empty, though the group noticed a ton of people at a nearby Holiday Inn. ODB disappeared from the venue only to come back later, riding on the front of a cop car with flashing lights going and trailed by a crowd from the Holiday Inn. He’d persuaded them to come to his show (and pay). “That’s how powerful that man was,” Popa Wu explained.
As an unannounced gentleman clad in a bright green basketball uniform took to the stage and began to tell a long-winded yarn, Kanik interrupted him and announced that the screening could not take place due to the estate of ODB filing a cease and desist order on the documentary. Visibly enraged at the news, Popa Wu screamed at Kanik and demanded that the documentary start. Someone behind the scenes took heed of his words and the documentary began with many wondering whether the cease and desist announcement was some sort of dramatic joke.
Two minutes into the premiere of ODB Dirty, however, RZA’s Skype avatar popped up in the middle of the projected footage with brilliantly hapless comic timing. The documentary was stopped as RZA announced, “I know you just all watched all the film.” Seemingly unable to view video of the audience at his end, the RZA told Kanik, “Where’s your technical skills at? Hit the video camera button, son.”
Still apparently unaware that the documentary screening had not taken place, RZA then revealed that a new Wu-Tang Clan album was being recorded, but that he was waiting for Raekwon to fully contribute to the project. “I’m feeling really inspired by what we’re doing,” he told the audience. “Now we’re showing another side of life, [it’s] different from just being a street thug, so with the songs we have to give inspiration to adults.” He added that once they’ve found financial success, mainstream rappers are “supposed to grow into class” and that the tenor of the new album concerns “how it is to be an adult in America.”
When Kanik finally explained to RZA that a cease and desist order had stopped the screening, the Wu-Tang Clan icon went into a stream-of-consciousness speech about the ambit of copyright law. It included his musings on people bringing lawsuits over hot cups of coffee and an anecdote about paying $30,000 to settle a case brought by a woman who tripped up backstage at the Park Hill Day festival in Staten Island. RZA concluded by suggesting that “a system of common sense law” be allowed to take place.
After Kanik again announced, “The estate doesn’t want the film to be played,” RZA pressed him for details, to which Kanik mentioned “the ex-wife,” seemingly referring to ODB’s widow Icelene Jones. With that, the auditorium emptied with those in attendance appearing to leave in either a state of anger or bemused humor. The event was akin to watching a reality TV show unfold in a stage-setting; it was an endearingly unscripted shambles. You could well imagine Ol’ Dirty Bastard himself being quite tickled by the occasion.