GZA: The Extended Interview
The GZA, also known as The Genius, is one of the great veterans of hip hop. From his beginnings with RZA and ODB in the group All In Together Now in 1992, to his latest release in 2008, Pro Tools, he has become a highly respected force to be reckoned with in the hip hop industry. In 1995 his album Liquid Swords was named one of Source Magazine’s 100 greatest hip hop albums of all time. After all the hard work and time he has put into his music, he still constantly raises the bar for himself and everyone around him. Proving why he and the Wu Tang Clan are still as strong and dangerous as ever.
SLUG: Before Wu Tang Clan you, RZA, and ODB had the group All In Together Now. What inspired and influenced the coming together of that group?
GZA: HIP HOP!
SLUG: Do you feel that you are closer to the RZA more so than other members of the Wu because you two have more history and association with each other?
GZA: I don’t think so. We all close. The whole clan are close with each other. I don’t feel that I’m closer.
SLUG: After your solo Words from The Genius album what inspired you to eventually create, join and start the Wu Tang Clan?
GZA: It wasn’t my idea. It was RZA’s idea to start the Wu Tang Clan. I was on Cold Chillin’ and he was on Tommy Boy and unfortunately things didn’t work out for us in those places. So we decided to step off and RZA had an idea to form a clan and get some of them brothers from Staten Island and a couple of us from Brooklyn and just bring everybody together.
SLUG: How do you feel hip hop has changed since your beginnings?
GZA: It’s changed in many different ways. The beat, the tone, the vibe, is always going into different places and areas … the marketing behind it, and the money that’s involved. Now you have artists that have made hundreds of millions off hip hop. From when it started to now, dramatic change.
SLUG: Do you feel you have changed personally since the beginning of your music career?
GZA: Oh yeah, we grow, we learn. That’s one of the things an artist should track, you know. Even as a person you grow and develop. If you trying to learn and change, it’s more than likely for the better when you do.
SLUG: What would you like to see come out of hip hop in 2010?
GZA: I would like to see more artists grow and develop. I would like to see hip hop take a step up the ladder as far as the maturity level because hip hop in the masses is associated with immaturity, ignorance and stupidity. I would like to see growth of originality. It would be good if in 2010 the ten most played hip hop songs on the radio sound like ten different songs. There’s other things that would be great to see, more lyrical content, different subject matter. I mean the world is composed of billions of things, so many things to write and speak about.
SLUG: Who are you currently listening to?
GZA: Who am I listening to now? Can you hear this [turns up Barry White in the background for a few seconds]? R&B classics. Good music from the seventies. I don’t really listen to current radio much.
SLUG: Do you feel that hip hop has hope to progress in positive ways with albums like Pro Tools and Only Built for Cuban Links Part Two providing higher standards on what should be acclaimed as epic ground-breaking new albums?
GZA: It all depends on who’s listening. Pro Tools might not mean shit to the average crew that’s out there, because people look at things differently. Some people might look at an album from the sales it made, some might listen to the content of it, some may judge it by its music, some may not judge it at all. I mean, you have to go outside the box, but stay within yourself. Everything doesn’t have to be about the same thing. Stephen King may do horror flicks, but each time he’s doing something different.
He’s not going to do 15 Pet Sematary movies. I always say if rappers were in Hollywood, many of them would be outta the job. You got guys out there rhyming about big million dollar mansions saying this is my lifestyle. Dude, that wasn’t your lifestyle six, seven years ago. It doesn’t make a difference whether you live it or you don’t. I can write about stuff I don’t live, the person who wrote Harry Potter you think they lived all that shit?! I don’t have to physically own a Rolls Royce to talk about being in one. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with talking about cars or clothes, but shit, make it interesting.
SLUG: With the genre growing into so many different branches such as indie rap and hyphy, do you think evolution like that is positive or negative?
GZA: I think it’s positive and negative. It all depends on the method it’s given and the message that’s got. Hip hop was started to get kids off the streets, keep them outta gang violence. Then you flash forward thirty-something years later and you see all this violence in hip hop and you’re like, man it’s lost.
I’m not saying songs should be about go to school, get an education, learn to read, ‘cause it’s about delivery. Music should be delivered in a unique way. It should be clever. It should be fly. It should be hard. I think it should be gangsta. I can do songs that have only one profane word and it will sound just as hard as having a bunch of very profane words, because I can deliver it like that. And a lot of artists don’t realize this because they don’t control it—the environment controls them.
That’s why they always have to be in the mansion if they at home, they can’t be in a shack. I can be in a shack because I know I’ma get more out the rhyme. If I’m in a shack with no TV, no luxury, I’ma get more out the rhyme because it’s harder for me. If I’m sitting in a mansion eating outta silver spoon, it’s too easy, where’s the struggle? What’s the plot? Nowadays I see a lotta kids and they wanna rap because they wanna be rich. I don’t run into kids that say I just LOVE writing.
No, they be like ‘yo I can spit, yo bust this, what you think’ and then they bust some ol’ hood or they’ll talk some real thug shit. Talkin’ about how they got their block lock and they’ll shoot anybody that look at ‘em the wrong way. It’s like, ok well where’s your drive? Where’s the passion?
SLUG: On Raekwon’s newest album Only Built for Cuban Linx Part Two, it was originally thought that you were going to be heavily associated with that project, but you and the RZA are both featured minimally on that album. What changed that in the making of the album?
GZA: I dunno. I haven’t really heard Rae’s album yet. I heard it’s really good. But some of those songs were done years ago and we had went into the studio with the anticipation of doing a Wu Tang album at one time and it never materialized. I was originally on five or six songs, but I don’t think he used everything, and I can understand that.
SLUG: You’ve done some film work like Chappelle’s Show and Coffee and Cigarettes with Bill Murray. Are you looking to do more work in film?
GZA: Maybe, I’ll probably do a little bit of acting. I don’t know for sure, it’s not really my thing. But I wouldn’t turn it down if I was asked, ya know. Depending on the script, I’d probably go for it.
SLUG: How was working with a character like Bill Murray?
GZA: Oh that was fun. Incredible experience. I could of done a whole lot better.
SLUG: Your son Justice is currently venturing into the music industry, what are your hopes and motivations you would like to see come from him?
GZA: You know he is pretty well grounded and focused. You know he understands, he has love for the music. Otherwise he wouldn’t of tried to do a record. His drive is not like the average youth, because the average kid is fooled by what they see on TV. They like, ‘yo I want that chain and that car.’ Whatever they see they want. And it’s good to want, but understand how to get it, and understand there’s many ways to get, not just one way.
SLUG: Are there some projects that you and him are collaborating on together?
GZA: Sometimes we sit down and we write. He’s learned a lot. I think we’ll be doing some songs. I tell him he should learn music, so he should be playing instruments. Because that’s the best way if your gonna do music learn to read music. That way you can take it step further. You don’t have to just do hip hop. If you read music you can do anything. You can do opera you can do R&B,you can do score, you can do commercials, you can do all of that, and you can teach music. Which really steps it up cause that’s given back.
SLUG: With all the members of Wu growing into their lives do you think everyone’s kids will make the Wu Jr. Clan?
GZA: My son loves hip hop and he loves music, but you have to do what you wanna do. I mean, I love chess and my children play chess. I taught them at a young age to play, but they don’t like chess. I remember one time drilling ‘em and he’s looking at me and not saying it, but I can feel the vibe like, this is you dad this ain’t me.
At one point I used to pay them to play. Play a game of chess, whoever wins gets five dollars, but they don’t like the game so why force it? It’s just like if you a boxer, that don’t mean your son is gonna be a boxer, so why force it?
SLUG: What’s the next adventure for The Genius?
GZA: I’m just writing. I’m working on a couple of books and scripts, that’s takin’ a long time to do.
SLUG: As difficult as it is to get all the members of Wu Tang together, is there a chance in the future of a full Wu Tang Clan tour ever again?
GZA: Yes and albums next year.
Come check out GZA on Jan. 23 at the Urban Lounge and experience a true genius of hip hop.
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