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Q&A: The RZA

Wu-Tang wiz talks about chess, the ‘burbs and the millennium

In New York, a week before the release of “Wu-Tang Forever,” the
Wu-Tang Clan is still running on Shaolin time. Along with a steady
stream of associates, collaborators and hangers-on, various MCs in
the nine-member group drift into RCA’s midtown Manhattan office
over the course of the afternoon to be interviewed about what
they’re calling immodestly, but not inaccurately, “the most
anticipated rap album ever.”

And if the double-disc “Wu-Tang Forever” sounds like a series
of star turns, that’s only because the group’s members have stayed
busy since their 1993 debut, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” —
Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Genius/GZA and Method
Man have all released solo albums. Busiest of all has been the
group’s unofficial creative leader and resident enigma, RZA, who
did production work on all five records, as well as a Gravediggaz
album and a forthcoming release from Killarmy. In his spare time,
he’s been running two record labels (his Razor Sharp Records and
the group’s Wu-Tang Records), helping to start the Wu-Wear
merchandise line and sculpting his group — which also includes
Masta Killah, U-God, Inspectah Deck and honorary member CappaDonna
— into “the driving force of hip-hop” and the most recognizable
brand this side of Sony. “It’s gonna be a Wu year,” he says,
leaning back in a chair in a conference room where Method Man is
being interviewed just a few yards away. “A Wu generation, shall I
say.”

Rollingstone.com: Since your 1993 debut, you’ve done
production work on five members’ solo albums. Was it tough to get
back to working as a group?

RZA: Every album is treated as a group album,
[but] the group album is guaranteed to be the most powerful. When
it was actually time to come as the Wu-Tang Clan, we knew that
everything that we experienced and learned [doing solo projects]
had to be put into one stew. It wasn’t harder. It was more greater,
if anything. More, more, more, more.

Compared to most hip-hop producers, it can be tough to
tell what you’re sampling. Is that intentional?

Yeah, ’cause I don’t [loop the samples]. I may sample a sound
— I may take a duh-duh-duh. But from that duh-duh-duh, I make a
symphony. Twenty percent of my records you’ll find a loop, like two
or three loops per album out of 13 or 15 songs. I’d rather keep it
like that.

Wu-Tang is set up as a group of equals, but you’re the
one who produces the group albums and solo projects. Doesn’t that
make you the leader?

They call me the abbot. When you go to Shaolin Temple, there’s
not a leader or manager, [there’s] just the abbot. They come to him
for guidance or uplift. If two parties are disputing, they would go
to the abbot to get a third party’s thoughts. So I’m the abbot.

If people put your album into a CD-ROM drive, they can
take a walk through a computer-generated mock-up Wu-Tang mansion.
What’s the real one like?

It’s like a big clubhouse. It’s big — like, 7,000 square feet
of living space, plus a basement with a studio. We got a pool
table, we got a weight room in there, we got five acres of wooded
land around it. We straight — that shit is nice. We call it a
mansion ’cause we from the projects. You would probably call it a
nice house, you know what I’m saying?

You guys are big chess fans. What did you think of the
recent match between chess champion Gary Kasparov and the computer
Deep Blue?

With a computer, you could just take the games [someone]
played and program them in and then program many variations. It’ll
have a stored memory. I think the only way to beat a computer is
the irrational way, and you might not even be able to do that,
’cause it’s going to have so many mathematical combinations of what
to do.

A few hip-hop artists have had second thoughts about
touring after what happened to Tupac and Biggie. Are you going to
go on tour?

Yeah, we’re touring. I didn’t even think about not touring.
Our tour starts June 6 — we go to Europe first. [In the U.S.]
we’re touring with Rage Against the Machine … They talk about a
lot of the stuff we talk about. They’re really conscious about a
lot of things going on in the world that they don’t agree with.
Look at all those antennas [points out the window], you know what
they’re transmitting right there? Brain control …They control
your emotions … Your stuck with some shit in your head, you’re
thinking, how the fuck did I dream that. It’s ’cause you’ve seen
[television commercials]. They do that shit to us seriously.

What kind of show can we expect?

Heart-pounding. We’re trying — no, we’re *going* to take this
to the next level, we’re going to show people our talent. It’s a
blessing to be where we are, but this is only a fraction of our
power, only 40 percent.

What’s going to happen when you turn it up to 100
percent?

The year 2000 is going to tell you.

Newswire

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