From a cultural standpoint, RZA’s timing over the past year could not have been worse. On March 14th, 2020, the rapper/music producer/film director was all set to premiere Cut Throat City, his third feature, at South by Southwest. Instead, lockdowns began and the film was pushed back multiple times, only to see it head to Netflix release last month after a limited theatrical release.
There was some vindication, though, as the story of four New Orleans friends who go on a crime spree in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina found an audience on the streaming service and quickly became one of the service’s most-watched films.
“It was a bummer that we couldn’t get the full theatrical release,” RZA says on the latest episode of the Rolling Stone Interview: Special Edition video series. “Seeing that it found its home on Netflix and people responded well to it and made it to Number One is a great joy.”
Filmed on location in the city’s Ninth Ward and beyond, the screenplay started circulating around 2012. “During that period of time, some people still didn’t have lights or hot water,” he says. “Forget what the government did on the day of; it’s the long-term effect on the community that people forget about it or don’t see.
“In the midst of all that destruction, there’s probably great sunny days but there’s still people who had aspirations and those aspirations were washed away. [When that happens], the aspirations turn into desperation. That part of the story takes place every day in poor communities. That part of the story resonated with me because it’s still happening today.”
Over the past year — and despite an admitted increase in the frequency of alcohol consumption — the perpetually busy multihyphenate has found the positives to a slowed-down lifestyle in lockdown. “I got many longer mornings … during quarantine and talk for an hour or two [with my wife],” he says. “Three or four times a week, I’m watching Monk, Columbo and Matlock. [Laughs]
“I was blessed to be the camel that has so much stored in the hump,” he adds. “It wasn’t about putting more into me, it was about getting more out of me,” he says. “I really have time to not ingest, but to digest and me and my wife had a chance to rekindle and pay attention to [things] that was passing by fast because of work.”
In the wide-ranging interview, RZA also discusses watching the entire Frank Sinatra filmography in quarantine (“He never chose a bad script”), Jay-Z and LL Cool J’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations (” ‘Momma Said Knock You Out’ is a rock & roll song”) and what to expect from the upcoming second season of Wu-Tang: An American Saga. But of course, he finds time to opine on the state of humanity and the optimism that can arise from the country going through one of its biggest collective challenges in modern memory.
“What makes the people great,” he says, “is they are following all the precepts of humanity and making sure that every citizen in our country has knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice and equality; food, clothing and shelter; love, peace and happiness.”