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.