One on One with the RZA: A conversation with a lyrical shogunBy FinalCall.com News | Last updated: Feb 15, 2005 - 7:43:00 PM
It has been 11 years since the release of their debut album, Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), and Clan members are still a force to be reckoned with. It was an honor for Final Call Entertainment Contributor Damon Muhammad to have a brief discussion with the common denominator for the clansmen, the RZA—aka Divine Prince Rakeem—a producer extraordinaire and lyrical shogun.
Damon Muhammad (The Final Call FC): What was the vision that you had when the Wu Tang Clan was formed and where do you see the Clan going in the future?
RZA: The original vision I had was a five year vision. When we formed in ’92, I realized the talent that was inside of everybody and also the potential. The idea I had was to mix in the sword with the book. The first Wu Tang record was “Protect Ya Neck.” We were like, “yo, we’ll cut your head off.” My plan was, in five years, to take the group to the top of the hip hop game. Not only from how we rap, but also from the type of music that we were bringing to the world, as well as how we looked and how we dressed, our walk and our talk. We did that from 1992 to 1997.
When ’97 hit, Wu Tang was the number one hip hop group in the country. It was a premeditated plan executed with a conscious will. I explained to everybody, “In five years, we’ll be at the top and it can last seven years if we do it a certain way. After that, we could start our decline.” Your decline could either be a quick drop or, as when you walk up a mountain, it takes a long time. It also takes a long time to walk down because you are angling your way down; you’re not just falling down. Those are the basic principal ideas that we applied.
FC: Like the Wise Man of the East who writes the…
RZA: …the history ahead of time. The reasoning in everything that we did was according to mathematics. The original man wrote his history 25,000 years in advance. The mind is ahead of time. All you have to do is make sure that the matter or the physical world catches up with your mental world without being thrown off target. I was seriously applying mathematics to every step I was taking, god.
FC: You have been working on a project you call “The Cure” that has to be the most anticipated project for any Wu fan. We have heard evidence of this cure on songs like “The Night the Earth Cried,” “Where Ya At?” and recently “A Day to God is 1,000 Years” as well as “See the Joy.” How will this project affect the minds of listeners and do you think that the seed has germinated long enough to reveal that wisdom?
RZA: I think I was blessed to be able to speak certain words that planted seeds in a lot of peoples’ heads. I’ve been approached by doctors, by ministers, by hip hop people, by Whites, Blacks and Asians with a lot of respect for opening up their minds. They said my lyrics opened their minds. I met some Brothers who said that they were almost about ready to commit the worse crime and go to jail because there was nothing that they had in their lives that they could relate to the feelings that they had inside. And they heard this song I wrote called “Build Strong (Hold on and Build Strong).”
“…and get trapped up for living my life inside a lie / these problems surround me / a lot of things upset me / as my soul rejects me / enemy of my self physically enslaved / by the luxuries of this world so I behave / like a man inside the grave / whose life is lost / I want the promised gold but I can’t afford the cost / or could I, I heard of the prescribed laws / any effect is a result of the cause / of lies and delusions to myself I have lied / burning inside and wanting to open wide / and scream / the name of The Supreme / but I’m trapped in this world…”
A Brother said that song saved his life. I think the seed has germinated in Brothers whereas there’s a select group of people that definitely look forward to and listening for what I’m saying because it’s expanding their minds. I don’t look for it (The Cure) to be a big market success. The Cure is my experiences and my ingesting of knowledge and wisdom over the years and how I digest it to produce my lyrics.
The only reason why it’s taking me so long to expose it is that it’s not something that you can say and not live. I have improved myself a lot. All Praise is Due to Allah for that. I feel like when I get to a very low level of temptation, like 90 percent level (of resistance) where I can better fight off temptation, then I can live what I’m saying.
Sometimes, I go back and read the lyrics, and they put me back on point. Just like if you go back and read the great Teachings of Master Fard or Elijah Muhammad, they put you back on point. That’s how “The Cure” was written. That’s what it does for me and I’m quite sure that’s what it will do for many hip-hoppers.
FC: The universe has a circular motion, and our natures respond in a similar fashion. Hip hop is taking a turn back to its roots, just as an acorn falls from a tree to begin the process over. Is it time to “take it back to ’79—to the roots of hip hop culture?
RZA: I think it is back to ’79 right now. You could even say it’s in that 1984 stage. If you think about 1984 and you think of songs like “Jam On It” by Newcleus and the World Famous Supreme Team, most songs that were hip hop or rap were popular or commercialized rap. I think commercialized rap is at a high peak and I think that hip hop is definitely going to revert back.
I think around ’85, ’86 you started hearing Rakim and KRS ONE popping up on the scene. You started getting knowledge spoken through the hip hop music. Supreme Team was the first ones to really give us that, back in the day.
Hip hop has grown so big globally; it’s enough room for more than one flavor. Before, it was only enough room for maybe one flavor, but you have at least five or 10 different flavors right now. You’ve got some stations that play 24 hours of hip hop. They even have “an oldies but goodies” station for hip hop now. This means that you can have the negative, hardcore gangster rap, you can have the party rap and you can have the conscious rap existing all at the same time, because there’s a big market for hip hop now.
In every era, you’ll see that once the music expands, it takes the shape of all of the people involved in it. The only thing that we must worry about is losing the root of it. If we don’t lose the root, we’ll be good. The Original Man—we lost our root. The Master had to come and tell us that: “The Root of civilization is in Arabia at the Holy City (Mecca) which means where wisdom and knowledge of the Original Man was first started, when the Planet was found.” We had to be reminded of our roots.
FC: Many emcees that put knowledge and wisdom in hip hop don’t even seem as if they study the Lessons anymore. This has caused a decrease in the level of consciousness expressed in the culture. What do you think is the cause for them abandoning the knowledge that put them where they are and what keeps you on that path?
RZA: I think most of the Brothers traded one god for another. You can’t serve God and the devil. You have to make a choice. The Brothers who started with knowledge in their lyrics were inspired, but when they got money—money brings independence and independence brings freedom. A lot of Brothers don’t know their “12 jewels” and that freedom must operate under a law of justice.
The free will that a lot of these artists have is causing them to experiment with high explosives in the form of money, women, drugs and it’s getting them so far from the path physically that they have mentally left it alone, too.
Also, as Brothers get older, they build doubt. You have a lot of Brothers who don’t bear witness anymore because they are still waiting for the clouds to open. In our Lessons, it teaches you that one day the devil will be taken off our planet. Some Brothers said that it would be 1984. Some brothers say that in 1914 the devil expired. Here it is, almost 100 years later. So some are waiting for that day, not realizing that you have to take the devil off your planet first. Allah will take the devil off the planet Earth in His own good time.
When it didn’t happen, at least 20 percent of the Brothers I knew fell victim. They gave up. They still believed in the mystery god, waiting for someone else to do what they were supposed to have done. When it says that the devil expired, that means that he no longer has any power over you unless you give him that power back. That’s what happened. Brothers wound up giving their power back to him. Whether from lust for money, from the power that you get from money or impatience from looking for some mystical type of revelation to cure their earthly problems. You have to get rid of your myth about God.
Basically, Brothers may have had other temptations that took them away from their foundation. Once you take away the foundation, the whole house crumbles. You can’t point to too many Brothers and say that they’re having the success that they gave up for. There aren’t many of those rappers who can say that they have a million dollars still. They didn’t realize what they gave up. I realize that mathematics is the key to all things and I’ll never let that go.
FC: Thank you.