INTERVIEW: The RZA
by Couch Sessions
Hip-Hop can have a real voice in the film industry.
The term “man who needs no introduction” might be a cliche, but Wu Tang’s The Rza definitely fits that description. From rhyming, to production, and now film. The dude is no stranger to the film world, working with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and appearing in TV show such as Californication. But his latest effort finds the rapper not only writing, but directing as well. The Couch Sessions recently sat down with Director/Music producer, The RZA, while he was on his promo tour supporting his upcoming film, Man with the Iron Fists.
You’ve come a long way from Prince Rakeem?
That was bad direction for me in a sense, it was a beautiful thing to enter the industry at 18 years old, but it was a bad direction for me because it was me not doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to MC and rhyme. The style of lyricism and the style of what I had in me, wasn’t being exposed. They thought they could sell me as a pretty dude. Now I had a lot of girlfriends, I get my girls and shit. [laughter] It’s really not my forte. But when I write, I have to write the truth and this is not an exaggeration, all those girls I named were my girlfriends at one point or another.
You were on Warner Brothers Records right?
Yeah, Tommy Boy. It was a beautiful introduction into the industry and I’m always grateful and thankful that because of that experience, I was able to figure out what to do right. I came back with the Wu-Tang.
How did you like being on the other side of the camera?
Man, it was so stimulating, so fulfilling. This is where my mind is at, where my mind has elevated to creatively. We always find way to express ourselves throughout our lives. Directing is a medium that controls many departments, art, sound, music, costume, and thespians. You know what I mean? Production, design, all of these departments are controlled by one mind. This one mind has to hire the right people that can help see his vision through. Now I wrote this particular film so it’s different, sometimes as a director, they give you a script and you have to imagine it and then try to bring someone else’s vision to life. I’m trying to bring my own vision to life. It was really a thrill ride and fun. This is what I want to do. I want the fans to come and support this so I can go ahead and do more things, the way we did 36 Chambers, then after that we were able to make five classics in a row, as the judges say [laughs]. I want to help inspire a generation.
That’s what I think this film can do. I feel like I can do that in the film business. Like hip-hop can have a real voice in the film industry. Not to say we don’t have a black voice because we have great guys like F. Gary Gray, Antoine Fuqua, the legendary father of us, Spike Lee who did great things. But I’m talking a pure hip-hop product, like myself, able to translate our ideas and imagination in a certain way, that’s entertaining to the world not just to us, like the Wu-Tang was.
What was the difference in doing the soundtrack for this movie as opposed to Ghostdog?
Ghostdog was actually my first soundtrack. The soundtrack I did better than the score I think on Ghostdog. The soundtrack was no problem, I make albums, the score for Ghostdog was my first attempt so I really didn’t understand the nuances and the meticulousness of ideas you must use for scoring. Since then I have done a dozen of these things and I got it. The soundtrack for this movie was also a collaboration. I have a guy named Bob Perry, my brother 9th Prince from Killarmy, he’s an A&R on the company and they helped pull together artists and put things together. We took the score and we made songs out of some of the score cues. Same thing I did with Ghostdog but this time, in a more concise, broader way. More of an understanding of what we’re doing. I’m proud of the score and I’m proud of the soundtrack.
The soundtrack is rough, kid. I really like the one with Pusha T, Rae, Joel Ortiz, and Danny Brown. That shit sound crazy. Pusha got two verses on it. You know we got Kanye blessing us. The Kanye verse is more a Wu style verse, like you know how Wu can go? Like how Ghost went on Wildflower. Most soundtracks don’t have anything to do with the movie. Ghostdog soundtrack did go with the movie. I got that from Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. They always made scores and soundtracks that went to the movies. You can put on the Superfly soundtrack, you basically feeling the movie. [laughs]
Now, Let’s talk about the Cast.
Russell Crowe, Dirty was Russell Jones. [Crowe] mentioned that to me one day. He read the book, Tao of Wu. He mentioned it to me. The book was really touching to him. He knew me but he didn’t know this much about me. He said, “It’s funny how one of your closest mates name was Russell Jones, I don’t know too many black guys named Russell. I know he’s gone out your life but know that you have another Russell in your life.” Later on, I said I think I got the situation to do the film and asked him to be Jackknife. You as Jackknife would blow the shit out the box. Jackknife is a fictional character so there’s no backdrop for you to study. Use Old Dirty as a backdrop for this character, it will bring out a personality I think the audience will love. He [Crowe] said Ok.
Did you personally choose the actors that were in the movie?
Yeah, that’s another job of the director. Even though your producers will suggest people and try to sway you one way or another, it’s the director’s final decision unless is a major problem for the studio. Lucy Lui was always my choice for Madam Blossom. I didn’t think I would be able to get her. I was lucky to get her. Byron Man tried out for a character called Poison Dagger. He did it so well. His screen test was so cool and great that I wanted him for a bigger part and the person who had the part fell through and he was able to come in and do a good job. His screen test was like “that’s my motherfucker, thats’s my motherfuckin’ villain right there.”[laughter]
You have a very broad imagination. Did you collect comic books?
Of course. Marvel and DC.
Please do a Powerman and Ironfist movie after this one blows up.
I know. love Powerman and Iron fist. Somebody else gotta hold of it. I think somebody got a Luke Cage [movie]. I would love to do Black Panther. They got a new cartoon version on BET at night. Reginald Hudlin actually put together a great story on The Black Panther. I’m inspired by this story. Very inspired by that story.
While you were in film production, were you also working on Watch The Throne?
Yeah, actually they reached out for me. Today’s technology with music is easy. We emailed stuff back and forth. That’s a blessing of making music these days. Ghost can be in LA. I can be in NY and we can still get the song done in one night.
Speaking of Ghost, will we see a Supreme Clientele 2?
I don’t know but he does have something special right now called 12 Reasons To Die which is a comic book. There’s a guy named Adrian Younge, who did all the music for the Black Dynamite film. He calls himself a RZA disciple. He studied my style and he got it pretty good too. I’m executive producing a project that’s a comic based on 70’s horror. The star of this project is Tony Starks and it’s played by Ghostface Killah. Ghost already wrote the whole album. It was a comic, Ghost reads the comic, then he writes songs to match the comic. It’s dope. And you know Ghost is writer like a motherfucker. So that will be the next thing. I know he got the Wu-Block thing he’s doing but this is the new thing that I will be really fully involved with him in.
Have you ever thought about producing for someone you sampled who is still making music, like Al Green?
I thought of that but Adrian beat me to it.[laughter]. He’s doing a Delfonics album. Adrian’s younger than me, so he can do all that stuff. I’m going to make some movies but one thing I would love to do is do a movie about soul music. That’s one of my passion projects, I’ve been working on while. To have a movie about that sensibility of soul music.
Interview conducted by Anthony “Gadget” Mims
Man With the Iron Fists opens this Friday nationwide and stars Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe, and the RZA.