Tuesday, August 2, 2011


The Wu-Tang Clan are touring Australia this week, so I've exhumed this GZA interview from the old djleonsmith.com archives for your reading pleasure. (P.S. Someone bring the Wu to Bada Bing this Thursday night. Hey, RZA loves it!)

You're well known for your tracks like "Fame" and "Publicity", where you take one topic and flip it on its head for a whole track. Do you sit down with the intent to write a track like that, or does it happen when you don't expect it?
The idea kinda pops in my head. If you go back to "Labels", it was something that popped in my head, but it was sparked from something I heard. When it came to doing "Publicity", it was an idea that was sparked from someone else. It might have been me just talking to someone and they say, "Hey, you know what, you should do that like 'Labels'". Because after I did "Labels", I didn't want to do another song like that. I just felt like, what can I do another song like that about. Then I had the idea for the magazine thing...when I did "Publicity", it was originally a line that was part of someone else's rhyme. I looked at it and though, you know, that's dope, let me flip that. With "Fame", it was something I said, and my producer said, "You know what, you should make that the continuation to 'Labels' and 'Publicity'".

When did you first realise you had an exceptional talent for rhyming?
Umm...at a very early age, maybe at the age of 11, back in the '70s. I realised it because I outshined a lot of other MCs who were involved in the artform. I would outshine those in school, in the parks, that's when I realised I had a special gift.

You're considered a very intellectual MC, where did your knowledge come from?
Many different things, books, TV. Just basic information. I was explaining to another writer, my knowledge comes from life itself. I'm fascinated by life. I usually watch the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel and the History Channel, and I get a lot of stuff from there. Those shows have great narration. I read a lot of books and scripts as well. I learn from there, I take little words that I don't know and I look them up, you know, when I write a rhyme I carefully craft my words. Writing is an evolutionary process for me. I write rhymes like you would write a script or a novel. Every word is considered and then re-considered. I know a lot of lot of rappers don't write like that - no words are considered. They just think, they put it down, and that's it. I usually do about six drafts for every rhyme.

I guess you prefer writing over freestyling then.
Exactly. I don't like to freestyle at all. I will, and I can, but...I won't say it's nothing creative, but, you know, when someone starts freestlying and it's comparable to the rhymes I write, then I'm all for freestyling. Until then, there's nothing interesting about it. I could do that all day: "Here I am, sitting on the phone, doing this interview, sitting all alone, in my house...". Big fuckin' deal! You understand? There's nothing creative, there's nothing fly, nothing interesting about that.

You come across as a very serious person. What do you do for fun?
I'm always having fun. I know I might come across as serious if you listen to my songs, but if you know me, I'm not that serious. I still have a lot of youth in me, I play games, I play chess. I'm a real kid at heart when I want to be. If you listen to me lyrically, I write strong lyrics, but they're not preachy. I never come off as preachy. If I was that serious in that sense, everything would be preachy - "go to school, don't smoke, stay off drugs!".

Did you play your Wu-Tang PlayStation game at all?
A little bit. I'm not into video games much though. My son played it. When I play video games I like stuff like Tetris on the Gameboy. I like strategic games. You know, with some of the fighting games I can just put my fingers on the buttons, not look at the screen and still win. There's nothing skilful about that. When it comes to videogames, I like games like golf, bowling, Wheel of Fortune, Tetris. And old school games like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, those are the kind of games I like. I'm not into the new stuff.

Who are some of your favourite artists, both old and new school.
I don't know, I listen to many different types of music. I listen to a lot of music and don't know the artist. I listen to a lot of old stuff from back in the day, I'm kind of stuck in that chamber, I listen to a lot of old school hiphop. I write a lot of new stuff based on old music, old vibes. As far as hiphop though, I'm not really feeling anything that's new out there - but I'm really feeling Eminem. The way he constructs songs, his professionalism that he brings to the game, his concepts, his videos, his songs have hooks, they have stories, they're visual. He's not the deepest lyricist, but he's visual. Big up to Em. I'm feeling Nas too. But you know, the level that I'm on...I'm not a flossy type of MC, but I can relate to some of the MCs out there in that chamber. I like Jadakiss, I think he's lyrical. I might be leaving out a lot of guys. Of course, my Clan. I've always liked Redman as well.

What did you think of the whole Eminem-Benzino controversy?
I don't really know what sparked it, and I don't want to talk about one or the other. I don't know what got Benzino mad or angry, but I know Eminem as a lyricist, when he's throwing down...I don't look at him as a Vanilla Ice - there's no comparison. I look at Eminem as an MC, as an artist, with ideas and concepts. And I respect his shit - this is truthfully speaking - I respect Eminem's shit more than 95 per cent of the fuckin' music that's out there. I'm not into the bling blings - don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the individuals that do that - but there's so much of that shit, it's like watching the same movie over and over. All this shit about cars, Eminem don't rhyme about that. I've never rhymed about cars. I don't rhyme about women and being in the bar, being in the club. All that shit is played out. I haven't heard the whole Benzino album so I don't know exactly what he rhymes about, I don't know his style, but I'm feeling Em's style. I don't know the foundation of their beef, but I don't look at Eminem as some Vanilla Ice cat with no talent who just came in and took over. I see him as an artist who's doing his thing. He's got a lot of fuckin' skills. Even his song, "Lose Yourself" - to me, it's a perfect song. You know, I'm a writer. [Starts rhyming] "His palms are sweaty..." - I can visualise that, because I went through that. I can relate, the way he broke it down. Then the hook, "You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you want it, you better never let it go..." - that's something all artists should listen to. A lot of artists need to look at Eminem and re-structure their shit and start making creative, interesting music.

I understand your 11-year-old son has already started rhyming...
Oh yeah, he's got some stuff. He's going to be totally different to what's out there.

Not Lil' Bow Wow Part 2 then.
I wouldn't even say that. Not to take from Bow Wow. I understand some people might look at him like that though - he wears braids, but he's been wearing those since birth. But sometimes people see him out and they be like, "Lil' Bow Wow!", there's no harm in that. But musically, he's on a totally different level.

More like his Dad?
Exactly. More visual, a whole lot more visual. A lot of story-telling and descriptions.

Is there anything new from Wu-Tang in the pipeline?
Yeah, as we speak now this is the 10th anniversary for Wu-Tang. So expect an album this year, except something on DVD, but definitely look for a banging album this year.

What about ODB, what's his situation at the moment?
I haven't spoken to him in a while...he's doing alright. They've kept him a little longer than was expected, he should have been out in November. He might have another case once he gets out as well, so I don't know, but hopefully he will be home soon. He's been locked down for damn near two years.

Do you have a favourite Wu track, where it seemed like everything clicked in the studio?
"Triumph" and "Protect Ya Neck".

You mentioned before that you write songs like you would write a script, but I understand you also actually write scripts.
Yes, I've just started writing them. I haven't completed a whole one yet, but I'm working on three or four different ideas at the moment. I have one strong idea that I'm working on right now, it's based on real events. I just write scene by scene though...something might happen, like me, RZA and Raekwon in the studio, so I'll write a scene about that. I work on songs like that, I'm always working on three or four different things at one time.

A lot of rappers make a point to announce that they're retiring after their next album, or they have their little farewell publicity tours...has their been a point in your career when you've thought about hanging up the mic?
I have thought about it, but only in the sense of I want to move on, do other things. You know, I want to do film, which would still tie me back into music. I'll always be involved with music on some level. But I'm kind of fed up with music, in terms of the labels, the politics that goes on, I'm kind of disgusted with it in that sense. I'm not backing out because I feel I'm washed up, I feel like I'm getting incredibly stronger, in terms of my writing. You know, I was looking at this review of my album that was in the Source, and the girl said, she was speaking about "Fame", how it's no comparison to "Publicity". I just thought, what is she listening to? Because, and don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this from a negative or jealous standpoint, but if it was someone else, who did "Fame", say someone like Jay-Z, it would have been the best fuckin' rhyme ever written in the world. I mean, if you listen to the rhyme: "They were told not to ride in Patty's Hearse and stay out of Charles' Manson. They drove Abraham's Lincoln across the Todd Bridge expansion." Who do you know who can use names in that way?

It's like you've got the burden of expectations.
Exactly! And not to big myself up, but I've never seen anyone use people's names in that fashion. You know, "Larry's Bird flew out of Nicolas' Cage." Who rhymes like that, you know what I'm sayin'?

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