The RZA, you know him as the shadow behind the spotlighted chaos that often encircles the notorious Wu-Tang. He’s always there with his two cents, yet you don’t see him in heavy rotation on TRL. At 38, the prolific hip-hop head is diverging from producing albums, and focusing on film. Already having scored the music for Ghostdog and Kill Bill, he has frequently appeared on Comedy Central’s The Chapelle Show and is now featured in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee & Cigarettes. Is RZA trying to come up on Mos Def’s movie stardom, or is his creative energy just redefining what it means to be hip-hop?
You’ve been known as a behind-the-scenes mastermind. What was it like filming a comedic skit for Coffee & Cigarettes?
It’s ironic you said that because I really never liked watching myself on TV. You look at earlier Wu videos, I always had one shot then I’m out. But last night at the San Francisco Film Festival, when they premiered the film, people were laughing and cheering. I kind of got hooked on that. I was like, “Maybe I should be a movie star or something,” naw, but I gotta admit it felt good.
Before working with Jim Jarmusch on this film, you worked with him on Ghostdog. How did you two hook up?
It’s funny; I met Jim through a friend of mine, Dreddy Kruger. Dreddy just always smoked weed. I wonder how him and Jim met, I only could figure him and Jim met buying some weed. After I did the Bobby Digital album, I realized what I was doing wasn’t really total hip-hop; it was actually getting more cinematic. One day Dreddy Kruger comes over to my office and he had Jim with him. Jim said, “ Hey man I want you to do my movie.” Jim is a very intuitive guy, very deep; we started smoking and talking. He wanted me to meet Forrest Whitaker, so we all met and Jim said, “I’ll go write the script, Forrest you go practice for the part, and RZA you go work on the music.”
When he asked me to do Coffee & Cigarettes, I thought he wanted me to add some music. He said, “ Uh no, I want you to do a skit, I wrote a part for you. “
What was it like working with Bill Murray?
For me, coming out the hood, you never really expect much in your life. You dream and you hope, but there’s always some kind of oppression to stop you. When you start meeting these elite people, like Bill Murray, and get the chance to work with them, that is a sense of accomplishment in my life. I think it shows other kids in my neighborhood they can forget the stereotyping… that nobody’s going to live past 25 or they’ll be in jail. If we stay focused, do with our minds, and be honest with ourselves good things are going to come. Working with Bill Murray to me is like Yo! I’m glad I got a chance to grow up and work with this guy. He’s a funny guy, a gentleman, he taught us a few things about ettiquettcy [sic].
You also did the score for Kill Bill. What was it like doing music for Quentin Tarantino?
When I worked with Mr. Tarantino, I was doing my own Kung Fu movie [The Z Chronicles]. He told me he wanted to bring me in [on Kill Bill], in a music capacity, but I asked him, “Can I be the eyes behind your head though? Can I use this opportunity to be mentored by you?” Quentin let me look in the lens, and showed me some things that only I understood from watching ‘70s martial art films. One thing for example, quick pans, he’d try to explain it to his director of photography. The DP didn’t know, he’d be like, “RZA c-c-c-come here.” I’m definitely looking forward to doing something great in Hollywood in some capacity. I would love to show some of the hip-hop culture, the urban, from a real person who lived it. As an artist you get girls and all that stuff, but there’s a different thing being on film.
Like making people laugh?
Yeah, and I’m known to be a tough motherfucker; Wu Tang ain’t nothing to fuck wit’! So it’s a good thing for me to mature into.
Wu-Tang has always been inspired by the philosophy of martial arts. Can you share something you’ve taken from that philosophy?
Martial arts are not only an art of fighting and inflicting wounds it’s an art of cultivating your spirit. Kung Fu means time and energy. Anything you put time and energy into is Kung Fu. Something simple is persistence overcomes resistance. You want to get a job, some people get up in the morning and they go to get a job, and they don’t get a job that day and give up. Then they wind up drinking and going more downhill. You have to be persistent. That’s why you see some plants grow all crazy trying to get the sunlight, they tryin’ to get it man. That’s how we have to be in our life.
In a lot of ways hip-hop is becoming the new pop music; you have artists like Justin Timberlake working with rappers. Do you think this appropriation of hip-hop into mainstream culture is positive or is it hurting the creative force behind the music?
It’s doing both. It’s making a lot of money, but sometimes they say when you’re making money you’re selling your soul. It’s exposing the culture to more people, but the foundation and the root of the culture is getting more dirt placed on top of it, and soon there may be so much dirt we don’t know where the root is no more. I’m very proud of the success hip-hop is having. It’s feeding a lot of people from the urban communities, but it’s getting so big that people who are really doing it at a real level are not being recognized, and those same 40 artists are being kept out there. I thought a rapper after the age of 30 should quit; I was always talking some shit about that. Here I am at that age and not quitting, and the whole industry is at that age and not quitting. We should let some new talent come in, just to revitalize it. GZA got a son, who did his first demo and he’s dissin’ all the rappers in the whole world, and he’s 13 years old and good, so it’ll come back. Everything goes in a circle.
As the face of hip-hop changes where do you turn for inspiration?
Inspiration in music comes from your daily experiences. The one thing I haven’t shown is, you haven’t always seen the love in my heart. I’ve always shown the aggression and the oppression, and some of the sadness, but you’ve never really heard the love. That’s my inspiration—I’m starting to understand love and feel it in a different way, not just love of one person, but love of people. I love women, but I don’t just love y’all because y’all make me feel good. I love y’all because y’all a very unique species of people, and a true reflection of us as beings. Through y’all we can really learn ourselves. I think my music will start reflecting more love in the near future.