To the adolescence of early ’90s hip-hop, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (stage name ‘RZA’) brought a maturity founded in the discipline and focus of the Shaolin monks he idolized. In 1993, the Staten Island crew released their debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” its raucous, nimble lyricism and spare and menacing beats the East Coast answer to West Coast hip-hop’s dominance at the time.
Those beats were fashioned by RZA, who borrowed from a mix of soul, funk, and kung-fu film clips and crafted them in the basement recording studio he’d later use to produce hit records for the Wu’s solo acts, from Method Man to his cousin, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Though he took turns on the mic, his prowess was in guiding the solo careers -- and crafting the beats -- for the members of the nine-man rap collective.
Those albums helped spread hip-hop’s gospel, but the Grammy award-winner continued to increase his range. As an actor, he’s had memorable parts in Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes,” “American Gangster,” and “Repo Men.” He composed film soundtracks for Quentin Tarantino and Jarmusch. He penned a book, “The Tao of Wu” on the Shaolin philosophy that guided his life and the Wu’s success.
"Back then, I was a shy kid, but that was the first album I actually danced to, grooved to."
Now RZA is in the director’s chair, shooting a martial arts flick starring Russell Crowe. The 42-year-old still makes records, though -- and these are some of the albums that continue to influence him.
Kanye West: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
“This showed the growth of an individual. It wasn’t just the opportunity to work with him (on the album), I had the chance to see how Kanye worked as an artist. Hip-hop has always been rogue, but he has a focus. I saw him perform the album at the Coachella Festival last year. It was the perfect hip-hop concert. I always wanted to do that, but I could never get anybody to agree. I’ve always had to ask nine guys. It’s easier when you’re solo.”
Funkadelic: “One Nation Under a Groove”
“I remember having a family reunion and “One Nation Under a Groove” was playing. Back then, I was a shy kid, but that was the first album I actually danced to, grooved to, had fun and felt free. Everybody should take a listen to it and enjoy the musical ideas he had. It wasn’t hip-hop, but a forerunner.”
Check out the February 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands January 10) for more of the article. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.
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