Rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard (born Russell Jones) died at a New York recording studio on Saturday, two days short of his thirty-sixth birthday. Jones had complained of chest pains before collapsing in the studio, and an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.
One of the stars of the nine-member Wu-Tang Clan, Jones became as known for his misadventures with the law and perpetual name changes as his musical pursuits in recent years – he was alternately known as Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt, Osirus and Joe Banannas.
“Russell inspired all of us with his spirit, wit, and tremendous heart,” read a statement from his Roc-A-Fella Records label. “The world has lost a great talent, but we mourn the loss of our friend.”
A statement on Wu-Tang Clan’s official Web site read simply, “R.I.P. Ol’ Dirty Bastard. We will miss you, but never forget you.” Word of Jones’ death traveled quickly and Sunday at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, Big Boi of OutKast gave tribute to the rapper from the stage, saying, “Rest in peace, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. We love you.”
After completing a two-year prison sentence for a drug-possession charge last year, Jones signed to Roc-A-Fella and had been working on fourth solo album, with sessions including a collaboration with Macy Gray. He previous releases were 1995’s Return to the 36 Chambers, produced by his Wu-Tang mate RZA; 1999’s critically lauded Nigga Please, featuring the offbeat hit “Got Your Money,” a duet with Kelis; and 2002’s aptly titled The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones, cobbled together in between jail and rehab stints.
Always the wild card in the Wu-Tang mix, Jones’ record of increasingly erratic behavior began with an unscripted appearance at the Grammys in 1998, where the disappointed rapper ran up to the podium during a live broadcast of Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech to complain that Wu-Tang didn’t win the rap Grammy and that he’d bought his expensive new suit for nothing.
That interruption soon seemed quaint in comparison with what followed. In the span of two years, Jones was shot during a robbery at his house, accused of stealing a pair of sneakers from a Virginia store, wanted for failure to appear in court on several warrants, arrested for failure to pay child support payments, arrested twice for making terrorist threats and stopped for multiple traffic violations. He also fled a drug treatment center, was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of a controlled substance, and made a famous appearance at the Wu-Tang Clan’s 2000 show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York while on the run from the law.
“I feel good,” Jones told Rolling Stone last year upon his prison release. “I’m happy my eyes are open. I’m all right physically and mentally . . . The first thing I wanted to do was give my mother a hug.”
Jones is survived by his mother and a reported thirteen children.