I’m chilling. Today’s the Great Doctor’s day, so I’m just taking it easy.
You just did the soundtrack for Afro Samurai. What made you want to be a part of the project?
I saw the project when it was in its early stages. They showed me the storyboards and the graphics and I definitely wanted to be involved. I’m a big fan of animation and one of my favorite animations is Ninja Scroll. They were guaranteeing me it was going to be that level of graphics and that level of animation. Once they let me know that, I was like, Yeah, I definitely want to be involved. I was the No. 1 music guy involved. I did the score and the soundtrack to accompany it.
Do you get involved in the plot at all?
I wouldn’t say I got involved in the plot because the story was already determined. There were a few elements that they definitely asked my advice on. The director is a big fan of Wu-Tang as well. Just from being around me and hanging with me, you’ll see it on episode five when Afro Samurai does this hand movement they got from me. When I say “Peace,” it’s my own little kung-fu salute in my own way. You’ll see that on episode five and the director told me that was salute to me.
How would you rate Afro Samurai against Ninja Scroll and your all-time favorite kung-fu flicks?
I think Afro-Samurai definitely rates high in the animation world. It has a lot of unique characters and the fight sequences are good. It’s one of the biggest animations as well as far as Japanese animation. They also brought in the guy who did all the fight sequences from Ninja Scroll. There are thousands and thousands of movies out there, but this is definitely in the top 20 of the list.
Do you see any of yourself in Afro Samurai?
Definitely. When I first got into the project and we were talking in our little meetings, I got the story and read the script. I actually told the team that I was Afro Samurai. My father wasn’t killed, but in a way, the father of our way of life was killed and the struggle that I had to suffer as a poverty-stricken kid to being somebody was one thing. And we approach emceeing and beat-making like a samurai. That mentality applies to me. I always wanted to be the No. 1 MC and producer. At one point, people considered me the No. 1 beat-maker and producer. Coming up in my hood, I was the No. 1 MC. There are a lot of similarities in the mentality between me and Afro Samurai.
Honor is important to the samurai, and as an artist, you’ve never sacrificed your art for the dollar. How important is that honor to you?
Super-important. If you check out some of my older interviews when we first entered the hip-hop world, we talked about what was important to the Wu-Tang Clan. Those qualities were loyalty, brotherhood and honor. You have to honor and respect for yourself. That’s something that I strive to keep. Even as a swordsman and as a person that will challenge and has been challenged, it’s still in an honorable fashion.
I was playing chess the other day with one of my boys. He touched a piece and then moved another piece. He couldn’t move his king into a check but he had to. He decided to move another piece. I just looked at him and I didn’t say anything. Then it got to a situation where I touched a piece. I kind of hit it accidentally. But being an honorable man, I moved it and it cost me a situation. I told him, “That’s the difference between me and you. I got honor.” That’s something that I definitely live by. I have a lot of respect for my peers in this business and a lot of other artists and I think it has to do with how I carry myself and the kind of person I strive to be.
Have you ever been tempted to sacrifice your art for the dollar?
You know what? I could say temptation always comes only because now I’m involved in more factors of entertainment such as acting. Actors do all kinds of things. To be honest with you, to me, acting is something that may call for you to be something other than yourself.
Even when I first did the film Derailed and my character gets killed, I felt that at first I didn’t want to do the character and how would the audience react to see the RZA get killed? I had a problem with it and I had to talk to some people to ease my mind. I talked to Method Man about it because he’s an actor too and I asked him how I should take something like that. It’s about the craft. Method Man told me, “This is acting. It’s a character named Winston. It’s not you. Denzel Washington’s died in his movies. Don’t let acting confuse you with life.” His advice made me realize I could do it.
But then another role came up. This was a role where they wanted me to play a guy involved in a pedophile ring where he was capturing, kidnapping and selling children. It’s a John Malkovich movie. They really wanted me. They called me five times for it. I didn’t want that one on me. I love children too much and I have too much respect for children. I still want people to see it because it’s a scary movie, but I didn’t want my face remembered for that. I know my decision made a few people and agents angry. They told me the director went out on a limb for me. I told them, “I respect that, but I can’t do it.” There’s always a thin line when it comes to art.
As a producer and a beat-maker, I’ve been fortunate to guide my own path. When people come to me, they know what they’re coming for, so I don’t get too many people trying to pull me away from me. That’s a blessing. When they come for the RZA, they know what they’re coming for.
What made you put Kane and GZA together on “Cameo Afro”?
(laughs) I did it personally for myself. Those two men, we have a history together before we got signed and when Biz Mark was the man at Cold Chillin’. We had these tapes floating around and Kane was looking for GZA and GZA was looking for Kane for a battle. Kane thought I was GZA for that “All in together now” line. I told him that wasn’t me. Kane was mad about the “Cold Chillin’” line and “been doing brothers in since Kane did Abel.” Kane took that personally. It was a real fun night and a real, real cool thing and it was a real personal thing to me to get those two great MC’s together.
Also to me it also represents Afro Samurai. Afro Samurai is dealing with a black man in a slain world who happens to be No. 1 in his time period. The story is actually 10,000 years old, which you’ll learn later as the series progresses. I also wanted to go into the soul side of things. That’s why Big Daddy Kane is on a song with GZA called “Cameo Afro.” These are two dark-skinned brothers. I did it to symbolically show the depth of blackness and to let the world hear them together, whether they wanted to battle or however they wanted to do it. It’s now recorded history.
What was the studio like that night?
Doing that song, Kane is still a conceited dude. He’s still a very conceited MC. He did his verse in maybe an hour and he said, “I’m not leaving until you finish the verse, GZA. I’m not leaving, baby! What’s up?” He was there for three hours messing with him. Killah Priest was there and he’s a GZA student. It wasn’t nothing personal. It was all in good fun.
What made you put Q-Tip and Free Murder together on “Just A Lil’ Dude”?
It’s exactly the same thing. My original plan was to put Q-Tip and Posdnuos on the same track. Pos was with it but he was on the road and he wanted to do it by Pro Tools. I didn’t want to do this album by Pro Tools and I didn’t do it through Pro Tools. You had to come in the studio and be with me. I didn’t want to be sending verses back and forth. I appreciate that he was willing to do it like that, but I had to see everybody.
I’ve known Q-Tip since high school but we haven’t been able to do anything. Free Murder is that little dude. Q-Tip is also that little dude in one way but he’s also a big icon. I put them together and Q-Tip came in and did his thing. He did the hook and the verse. We zoned out and had a good time. As soon as we finished, he called Busta Rhymes and told him we finally did a song. He was excited about that. I told him I was going to get my little cousin Free Murder on that and he was like, Yo, all blessings. And then Free Murder blessed it.
Will you do more work with Q-Tip?
Yeah. I think we’re going to do more things together. We go back a few years. Him and Ol’ Dirty go back also. That’s who he was talking about in the song. They used to go to the school together and I was just a hooky player hanging out in their school. We used to battle back in the days and he remembered how we used to battle each other and how Ol’ Dirty would just battle and he would win no matter what. He would be like, You can’t fuck with me! He remembers the raps that Ol’ Dirty said. It was cool for us to get back in the circle and do a song together. When Tribe was popular and Wu-Tang hadn’t made a spark on the scene yet, I would come up with them and hang out with them and Prince Paul. Tip would hook me up and let me get into the concerts with me and would always make time to kick it with me about life. Then when Wu-Tang did get on, we still had a very friendly relationship but we never got a chance to work together. The Native Tongues and the X-Clan were the most afrocentric groups in hip-hop. I went back and I got some of that Native Tongues flavor for Afro Samurai.
Do you approach compiling a soundtrack differently from scoring a film?
The approach is somewhat similar. For Kill Bill, we had a big budget and we took songs and samples from anywhere. Afro Samurai was a non-sample process that we had to use as far as distorted noises and all that. On Afro Samurai, also what I did was I took music from the film and made it into hip-hop. You can hear it in notation in the series but then I made them into songs. There are some songs that are only available on the soundtrack like the Talib song. I made that song as the outro but Talib’s company was acting pretty funny. It’s a pretty similar approach. The only difference was that on Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino was in total control. He said that he trusted me but that it was his movie. Afro Samurai gave me total control. If I wanted to yodel, I could. That’s what I appreciate about this particular project. If people like it, it’s all me. If they don’t like it, the only one to blame is me also.
How are your production techniques changing over the years?
I like to say I have a digital orchestra. I have over 35 different keyboards and over 20 different modules from the MPC to the MV8. I used the MV8000 a lot on this particular soundtrack. I got so much equipment that I somewhat bounce around from different pieces. Before all I knew how to use was the ASR. Now I’m a wizard in software or hardware and I incorporate all of it. Before I wouldn’t do that. I would just stick to one machine. That’s not a bad thing, but when you’re a composer and you’re trying to have a different sound, it’s wise to use different machines. That’s what I did. I went from keyboards to drum machines.
But at the same time, having a chance to be around other composers and having a chance to understand music theory led me to writing good chord progressions that made musical sense. It’s not just hip-hop, it makes musical sense. If you listen to the theme that comes on when they’re fighting, that’s the main scale I used throughout the whole series, starting from different intervals and different modes. Now that I know the science of that, it makes a whole new world for me.
Are you going to work on music outside of hip-hop?
In all reality, I had a chance to speak at Carnegie Hall about two years ago. It was a real warm reception and I was real proud of myself. The only time I used to go through that door was as a kid when I was a messenger. Now I was in there talking about my music. After my speech, I told the people I wanted to play there one day. They told me, “The only way you can play here is three words: practice, practice, practice” and they sent me on my way.
I get home and week later a letter comes in the mail from Carnegie Hall. They told me they would love to have me play, but the way to play was written on the t-shirt they sent. The words were “practice, practice, practice.” I’ve been practicing. I don’t care if it takes five years. I could be maybe obsolete actively in hip-hop or maybe I’ll be in it. Who knows? But I will definitely have enough talent and skills put together that you can come check me out at Carnegie Hall. That’s my personal aspiration. Even if it takes ten years and I’m 46 years-old, it’s all good. Some people don’t get there till they’re 50 or 60. I am definitely looking forward to that.
Would that mean more to you than what you accomplished in hip-hop?
I wouldn’t say that. It means more than going platinum. I think what I accomplished in hip-hop wasn’t in my record sales. It was in my innovation. I think I opened up the minds of a lot of people and I’m grateful for that. One gift that I was given was to share. It would be a great add-on to my career. And this is a guy who started with two Technic turntables that you had to put nickels onto the needle. I’m very, very grateful. All praises due to the Most High and to my brothers and my family for all the years of supporting and inspiring me to do what I do. I’m not taking anything away from that. Playing at Carnegie Hall would be a crowing achievement. I have to play good though. I can’t have the audience booing and yelling, “Don’t ever come back!” But to play and to have your audience really appreciate it, that would be good.
What do the floods you’ve had in your basement symbolize in your career?
I have to go to the Bible on that one. A flood always means to start anew. You have to always start anew, regardless. That happened to me three times. That’s just my life. I already know that’s my life. After we finished Liquid Swords, it was another fucking flood. The masters to Liquid Swords and Cuban Linx got destroyed in that flood. That’s just my life. You’ll just get the oral translation. You know how some books aren’t written down and they’re just passed on orally? I might be one of those people where they talk about what the world saw. Killah Priest or Ghost and Method are witnesses to certain things, and if you don’t hear it from them, then you would never know. Certain things I guess are just left for the universe and for our own minds and you never see it again.
How is the Wu-Tang album coming?
It’s on. That’s all I’m going to say on that. I’m not going to talk too much about that. I can definitely say the switch is on. I can’t speak on that.
With Raekwon going to Aftermath, how is it working on Only Built for Cuban Linx 2 now that Dre is involved?
It’s the Doctor! Who has a better ear? And not just in hip-hop, but in music. This dude’s ear gives you that clarity and allows you to hear everything going on in the beat. For years I’ve studied him and haven’t found anyone who can top him. I’m not sure if the Doctor is going to mix my music because we haven’t gotten to that point yet, but if he mixes my music, you’re really going to hear it.
If you listen to Cuban Linx, which is really an incredible album, it may be 70% lower in volume and clarity because I’m more of a lo-fi guy. That’s always been my trademark. I don’t know what frequencies to move my snare to then. I just knew hip-hop. Doc has the magic ear for that. The new Jay-Z album is mixed by Dr. Dre. He made Just Blaze’s music sound crazy. Just Blaze is a dope producer, but I never heard his music sound like that. It doesn’t sound hollow. Everything that was in there, you can hear without it distorting. I think we have a crazy project. To tell you the truth, when things hit the fan, it’s going to be a great, great additive to hip-hop.
Are you working on a new Bobby Digital album?
Yeah. I took last year to do a lot of acting. I did a few good movies that will be out this year. I had all these rhymes sitting there. Some of them are very positive and some of them are very negative. I said to myself, “What am I going to do with these lyrics? Am I just going to throw them away?” Nah. You’ll definitely hear another Bobby Digital album. And if he still survives all these things that are making him die these days, maybe you’ll be able to hear the RZA’s spiritual album that I’ve been sitting on for years. I’ve been adding onto it as well.
I’ve been working on the Bobby Digital album for the past two weeks, just bugging out and going in with some crazy lyrics. You know how Bobby’s shit is. It’s crazy and it’s fun.
No offense to the homie, because I consider him a homie, and this is no disrespect to him, but I think Nas has it twisted saying, “Hip-hop is dead.” Even though he explained himself at the end of the album, even a statement like that is a very misleading statement. I don’t know how hip-hop could be dead when I already said, “Wu-Tang is forever.” Hip-hop will never die. I think this Bobby Digital album is an example that hip-hop will never die. This is something you can’t classify as anything other than hip-hop. Some of the hip-hop out now you can classify as dance music or booty music, but the stuff I do, there’s no other category for it. Some music that’s out there, maybe it isn’t hip-hop. Hip-hop is the category when there’s no other category for it. This Bobby Digital album doesn’t sound like nothing other than hip-hop. It’s going to be real fun. I promise you that. It may be offensive, but it’s going to be fun.
Does it bother you that everything urban is labeled as hip-hop?
Yeah, of course, but it’s always been like that so it doesn’t bother me to that degree. Remember when Gravediggaz came out and they called us “horrorcore”? That was hip-hop. There wasn’t any other name for that. The Gravediggaz were hip-hop. There was nothing else for it. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s made me aware that it’s been going on for years. How many things are called R&B when it’s really not? How many things were they calling soul when it wasn’t really soul? Now everybody goes cratedigging and you can find something labeled “Southern Soul” and they’re doing the Twist. Is that soul music? No, but it all gets lumped into soul music. Some of the rock music wasn’t rock and the rock guys didn’t like that. Then they had to go with metal. Then they didn’t like that and they had to go with alternative metal. It’s hard to label music anyway.
I think early hip-hop was self-explanatory, like KRS-One and Rakim. It wasn’t the samples that made it hip-hop. It was about the lyrics and the rhythm. When Hank Shocklee got finished with “Welcome to the Terrordome,” it didn’t sound nothing like James Brown. “Rebel Without a Pause” didn’t sound nothing like the JB’s when they got through with it.
How do you see yourself in relation to other legendary producers?
Self-praise don’t mean nothing. Hank Shocklee told me I was his favorite producer and MC. You know what that means coming from Hank Shocklee. Kane told me there was one man that I reminded him of and that was Marley Marl. To me, that’s a super-compliment.
Primo is only a couple of years older than me and when I first started in hip-hop, we had a little personal battle going on. He would be like, “You got that one. You got that one. But I got something else for you!” We used to go back and forth too. It’s all mutual respect between me and him. I’ll let the rest of the world say whether I did a good job or not. I’m not going to sit here and pat myself on the back for it. The only thing I’m going to pat myself on the back for is I believe my production style, whether I did it good or not, did open the minds a little further. I know I did open their minds.
You have to hear yourself in producers like Just Blaze and Kanye West.
It’s all respect. I’ve read many articles where Kanye and Just were giving it up to me. Even Pharrell gave it up to me. I don’t know what I gave him, but he said I was the master and that he learned a lot from me. I was like, Thanks, yo. It means something, but I’m not looking for the ego stroke. I’m proud of what they’re doing. Marley Marl told me I picked a few techniques off him, but I told him, “Marley, I had to pick a few techniques off you. You are my favorite producer.” If Mike Tyson is the best at boxing, you have to strive to be better than him. It goes like that every three or four years. Maybe somebody will come up and be better than Kanye West and my name will be pushed back further.
One producer who really influenced me a lot and people talk about, but not as much as they should, is Prince Paul. He was one of the first to sample Disney records and I sampled from whatever. He’s another great mind in production that was way ahead of his time. What he did is timeless. There’s a lot of us out there who do what we do. I’m proud that I was able to do what I do and raise the bar of production.
One thing that I can say that made me slightly different from producers before me and after me is that I was an MC first. I was a b-boy and did graffiti and then I was a producer. Therefore I have so much hip-hop in me, any beat I produced, you had to be able to rap to. A lot of producers weren’t MC’s. They made beats to dance to. I made beats to rhyme to, homie. By doing that, it made a whole bunch of flows come out. How many different flows did we introduce to the world because the music was being made by a musician? I think that had a lot to do with it. I think Kanye West’s success has a lot to do with that because he can make a beat that he can rhyme to. His beats are made for rhyming. They’re not made just for dancing.
What advice do you have for the up-and-coming hip-hop generation?
Try to make it within yourself first. If you’re doing hip-hop for money, then I think you should find another occupation. If you’re doing it for the love, keep building and the money will come to you.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Wu-Tang forever. Hip-hop will never be dead.