Friday, April 2, 2010

theGrio Q & A with RZA: Wu-Tang co-founder wears many hats

Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, also known as RZA or Bobby Digital, is not just another rapper. The actor, director, author, screenwriter, Grammy winning music producer, chess player, martial artist and co-founder of the Wu-Tang Clan wears many hats. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about his new movie, new book, and his health. The interview that I did with him had to be one of the easiest that I have ever done. RZA gave selflessly of himself and was so honest and open that it seemed as if we could have talked forever.

Hip Hop Doc: Peace RZA. I know you are busy, so let's jump right into it. Tell me about the new movie Repo Menand your role in the film?

RZA: Peace to you Doc. So yeah, if you like sci-fi, Doc, you're gonna like Repo Men. Like I said it's a sci-fi action film and I play the role of T-Bone (laughs). This movie is set in the "near future", maybe like in the year 2100. T-Bone is a music producer at the end of his career and like other characters, he has purchased a heart. The movie's setting is during the recession, times are hard, T-Bone is going broke, and is unable to make payments on his heart. He's living in a mansion with nothing left. He thinks the IRS is coming to repossess more of his personal affects, but it's actually Remi (played by Jude Law) who's coming to repossess T-Bone's heart!

Hip Hop Doc: So what happens?

RZA: Let's just say, T-Bone totally changes the outcome of the movie's suspenseful ending. It's a cool film and I enjoyed working with Forest Whitaker and Jude Law.

Hip Hop Doc: Now this is not your first time on the big screen or even working with Whitaker is it?

RZA: Nahhh, I've been doing some other things. I love Kung-Fu flicks and got a small role in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai; Whitaker was the lead in that. Ghost Dog came out in 1999 I think. Man, I got a lot going on.

Hip Hop Doc: More than a lot! So, you mentioned Kung-Fu, what's up with your own Kung-Fu flick, The Man with the Iron Fist? Rumor has it that you have the green light and funding to make this project happen.

RZA: Definitely! I'm scouting now for art directors, locations, things like that. I'm going to Hong Kong the second week of April. It's all about finding proper locations that can sustain the budget and the ideas that I want to bring to the screen. That's a five month process in itself.

Hip Hop Doc: I read that (Quentin) Tarantino told you to stay under $10 million on this project?

RZA: Yeah he did, and it was some wise advice, but it does limit me.

Hip Hop Doc: What do you mean? Ten million is a lot of money!

RZA: Well, with the recession that we are in, coming out of, the American dollar not being as strong as it used to be, as well as script that's a bit more elaborate than I thought - to bring it all to life I already had to cut out ten pages just to meet the budget requirements. Not an easy job, but I'm cutting where I can and trying to keep it in that $10 million dollar range.

Hip Hop Doc: Cutting pages, but I hope not the concept?

RZA: Exactly!

Hip Hop Doc: Is this your directoriall debut?

RZA: Yeah, on a major studio level. But I've directed videos for Wu-Tang and myself, of course, and also unbeknownst to some people, I've directed a few independent films such as Bobby Digital and one I'm revisiting and reinvesting in called Wu-Tang vs. Golden Phoenix. I hired actors from Hong Kong to come in; the fight choreographer from my favorite Kung-Fu film The Five Deadly Venoms, and even flew this guy in from Taiwan who helped me put together some fight sequences. I'm thinking about releasing that on DVD

Hip Hop Doc: I just read your second book, The Tao of Wu, and several years ago, I read The Wu-Tang Manual. Not what I expected. I read The Tao of Wu on a plane in one sitting. Incredible book!

RZA: Man, much respect Doc! It was good for me to write. So what was a point that stood out to you?

Hip Hop Doc: So many, but probably the story about the drug dealer in your neighborhood, Chili Wop, or the story about going to Africa to visit Ghostface while he was being treated for diabetes by the bushman, or the whole seven pillar concept.

RZA: (Laughing out loud) Doc I believe you read it homie! Yeah that was deep about Chili Wop. Pretty sure Chili Wop is not with us- you live and die by the sword in the hood, know what I mean. It was hard times growing up in the hood. As far as my trip to Africa- wow. The people who had worldly possessions had their hand out to me and wanted more. They saw me with gear on and thought I was somebody important you know- rich. [Ghostface Killa] was dressed down, his beard had grown out and they thought he was a nobody. When we got to the village, it was all love. The poorest people in the world offered me whatever they had- water, food, shelter. It was amazing!

Hip Hop Doc: Yeah, that was a moving part of the book. I also learned while reading that your mother had a stroke. I work with the American Heart Association and the Power to End Stroke campaign. Unfortunately African Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke as any other ethnic groups.

RZA: I had no idea about those numbers. Well, yes she did. She died from a stroke. That was a major turning point in my life.

Hip Hop Doc: From a health stand point?

RZA: Mental, spiritual, and a health stand point. I'm a vegetarian and I exercise at least three times a week- weight training or kicking bags. My weight has not changed in over fifteen years. My whole family is affected by high blood pressure. You know how it is in the hood (he laughs again). My grandfather died in his fifties, frying fat-back at least 3 or 4 times a week (laughing out loud).

Hip Hop Doc: Wow! Man, fat-back can be a weakness for some (we both laugh). We have to change our diets. I'm big on that and I try to influence the young people I speak with on a daily basis to eat better and love themselves. Before we go, I have to ask who your favorite rappers are.

RZA: Biggie, Pac, Jay-Z, Gza, and Ghostface. GZA and Ghostface did some crazy stuff on the mic. You can't forget about Nas. Nas is like a Kung-Fu master who achieved his goals at a much younger age than the average rapper.

Hip Hop Doc: I'm still a big fan of Rakim, but have to agree with you on Biggie, Pac, and J. Nas is tight, but I don't like him on live performances.

RZA: Respect. I understand but you can't deny his lyricism.

Hip Hop Doc: Definitely. I hate to end this interview, but I know you are busy. RZA, it's been an honor and a blessing. Thanks for your time. Peace.

RZA: Much respect Doc. Peace.