From his seminal production work on Enter the 36 Chambers to his soundtrack arrangement for Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the RZA penetrated pop culture without ever compromising his musical integrity. But the Abbot, as he is known within the clan, may be a little bruised up from last year’s 8 Diagrams, perhaps the last Wu-Tang project ever and the cause of turmoil within the group. SO he’s leaving the seriousness behind him to serve up some Digi Snacks with his beloved alter-ego, Bobby Digital.
Ten years ago, when you first introduced the world to Bobby Digital, things were very different. Now that the world has actually turned digital, where does Bobby fit in?
He fits in perfect. He’s been trying to tell us about all this, and now here it is. It’s a perfect opportunity to relaunch the character through my music but also through comic books, video games, and we’re planning a feature film in the future. Digi Snacks is the reopening of the character. Before, he was ahead of his time. Now he’s right on time.
I always thought the story of Bobby Digital would make a wicked comic book. Are you seriously considering it?
That’s what we’re doing now. We got a comic book coming. When you get the new album, you get a little taste of the artwork and the villains that I’ve created around the character. The Birds of Prey are after him, the main villain being the Raven. You also got the Hawk, the Vulture, the Eagle and the Crane. We have them incorporated inside the artwork of the album, as well. They’re also mentioned in the music, but you gotta listen closely.
Would you describe the album as a sequel to the first Bobby Digital?
I wouldn’t call it a sequel but rather another episode. I just make episodes, but there’s no particular order. I recently found the Bobby Digital film I did some years ago. I had lost a bunch of my stuff, but I found that footage and started watching it. One episode is about Bobby Digital as a regular street kid, with long braids trying to help get the guns off the street. The second episode is called “The Digital Bullet,” and it’s years later when’s he become a ghetto superhero. The next episode is called “Black Shampoo,” where it’s Bobby Digital and Kinetic trying to bring down the Raven and the Four Birds of Prey who are trying to steal the souls of women.
Do you completely step into character when you do Bobby Digital?
It’s a balance, like when I do movies. I did a few films recently — you can see me on the silver screen. When I play the character of Winston in the movie Derailed, I play a guy who’s a mail clerk inside a big office building, but at the same time he’s an ex-convict. I’ve been a messenger and worked in mailrooms before as a kid, so I used that shit for the character. When you see me playing Moses Jones in American Gangster, I’ve never been a cop or anything, but my pops was a real cool ’70s motherfucker. I used his inspiration and applied the character to myself.
Did developing Bobby Digital help your acting career?
Yeah, I think it did. Some people call me a natural. It’s natural in one way but at the same time a lot of it is based on personal experiences.
How would you imagine an encounter between Bobby Digital and RZA?
I look at Bobby Digital as a student of RZA, and he looks at himself as that, as well. In the world of Bobby Digital, RZA is the high abbot, the father of it all. Bobby Digital’s aim is to please the abbot.
What influences do you dig into when creating the world of Bobby Digital?
It’s influenced by blaxploitation, metaphysics, and a lot of imagination. It started off as an alter-ego for myself to get certain energies out, and it blew into its own mythology. And sometimes that mythology makes me think I can do something I can’t do [laughs]. You can do it easy on TV, but in real life, baby, you gotta know how to fly.
What kind of studio environment did you create for this album?
When I do the Bobby Digital album, I like to have a lot of fun around me. I like girls coming by the studio, and I invite a lot of my homies to come hang out. We cook, we drink, we smoke. I like to have a big party in the studio. I start my sessions around four o’clock in the afternoon — my cousin Daddy-O gets the food ready and shit. By seven, people start coming over, and there’s always good food and good drink. I party for a while, play a lot of chess and then around midnight people start leaving. At like 2 a.m., when everybody’s gone, my super-creative juices start flowing, and I usually do my songs then. The next day they’ll come back and ask me, “Yo, when did you do that track?” I did it when ya’ll left. I also usually demo my album first. After I get some feedback, I go back in the studio and re-record it.
Who are the first people to hear your music and give you feedback?
It’s my cousin Daddy-O more than anybody else right now. He’s from the street — Brownsville, Brooklyn, straight-up knockout artist. He’s been around hip-hop longer than me because he’s older than me and he’s a real nigga. I had like four, five songs I thought were good and he was like “Yo, cuz, you need to go back in and do your vocals over.” I listened to it and went back in to do them over. He’s honest with everybody because he ain’t scared of nobody. He’s got a strong personality, so I took his advice on this album more than anybody else’s. I felt good with what he thought because I knew that the way he listens to it is the way real niggas listen to it. Daddy-O’s been a big help for me.
How does the album translate into a live performance?
So far it’s been a lot of fun really. The crowd has been loving it. It’s my first tour where I’m rocking with a live band. I did a few shows with live bands but never a whole tour like this. Also, my costume is being made. I got my champion belt and we’re making the Bobby Digital mask — shit is costing money like a motherfucker! I also got new rings being made. I’ve been getting good feedback from the show, and a lot of fans are coming backstage wanting to party. That’s when you know you got a good show: when girls wanna come and take their clothes off. Especially when there’s a lot more dimes than nickels.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of performing with a live band?
I think the advantages are that you can control the music and the songs in a certain way that the audience will never get another chance to see or hear. We played one song when one of the musicians was playing out of key and I was like, “What the fuck they doing?” So I had to kinda break it down, stop two or three members, let the bass and drum play for themselves and then boom, I did the verse over with a different energy. Instead of doing the verse the way the song went, I just rapped it crazy- and the crowd got amped up and went crazy with me. The song became a smash and everyone went crazy. But it looked like we were gonna lose them for a second.
With a DJ you can’t really change the vibe like that. All you can do is spin it back, and it’s still gonna be that same song. With a band, if the song is in an A minor and you change it to a C or a F, it’s a totally different song. It’s security versus freedom.
If only ODB had a band, boy! He’s a free rapper, and he never performed a song the way it was on the record. If he had a band back then, he would’ve tore shit down! I use ODB for a lot of my stage inspirations. I won’t deny that and I want my fans to know it. He’s my biggest inspiration for my live performances and on this new album. Being the RZA from Wu-Tang, I sometimes forget about having fun because I’m usually so serious. I kinda forgot about the fun in hip-hop and the reason I got into this shit. I use the vehicle of hip-hop to enlighten and teach people, but primarily it was for fun. Like KRS-One said, “We’re not starting violence; we’re just having fun.” ODB never forgot that, so now I’m glad to be having fun with it. That’s why the album came out so good.
What have you been sampling lately?
I didn’t really use any samples for this album. I used “You Can’t Stop Me Now” and just a few other samples. I got “Don’t Be Afraid to Call Your Name” by the Emotions. I got mad records, but I didn’t even go through my records and do shit like that for the album. That’s another thing I didn’t do for two reasons. One, I’m a musician now myself, so I can create my own music. And two, the sample business is fucked up because they still haven’t met a standard of doing business. It’s like I do a song and you take 90 percent of my fuckin’ song when your track never even went gold and it’s about to go platinum. Until they get it right soon, I’ve declined on using samples lately.
They really be buggin’ sometimes. I had a few good relations, but a lot more bad ones than good ones. I don’t mind paying, but they come at you asking for 90 percent of the song it’s like, "What the fuck? Why don’t you go make the song then? What about the lyrics? What about the rap? What about the hook? What about the way I arranged it? I took four bars of your song when you didn’t even think of that part being the hook."
Most of the time the artist don’t even know about the shit. We got sued for a couple hundred thousand for a song we did called “Soul Controller” on Ghostface’s Iron Man. I composed that music originally, I did the strings, I brought in a flute section, I did everything from my own mind. But I got the Force MD’s to sing a small part from Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gon’ Come.” I thought it was an Otis Redding song at first and I had sampled from Stax before, so I figured it won’t be no problem. It turned out to be a Sam Cooke song, and they came back with one of those mean lawyers. They wouldn’t settle for shit. They wanted all this money and they wanted to own the whole song. We’d put in this part at the last minute, all drunk and shit. A year later we meet Sam Cooke’s family, and they had never heard about the lawsuit nor did they know a damn thing about the money.
It’s just a big hustle, man. There should be a standard, like a sample should never claim more than 60 percent of a song and it should be on a mathematical basis of how much the sample inspired the song.
What if some group you had absolutely no appreciation for decided to sample your music or Wu-Tang. How would you feel about that?
I’d be OK with that. I’m not gonna discriminate their music because it’s not my music. Once my music is released as mine, if they sample something from me to make their shit, as long as I receive my royalties and publishing, I don’t care who it is. Some white Armenian guys covered “Shame on a Nigga.” It’s a bunch of white guys saying, “Shame on a nigga.” I don’t give a fuck if they sampled that. If I did, I would tell them. But I really don’t.
A nigga is anybody now — all my white boys call themselves niggas. I got Chinese niggas. But this sample was even before the nigga explosion, it was years ago. But it’s just music, yo. When that kid got up there and did Dirty’s verse, that shit sounded funny, it sounded cool, I liked it. They asked me if I wanted to get on it and I was like, “Why the fuck not?” They love the song , we love the song, it’s all good. They invited me out when they did the song at OzzFest and when they played the song, the crowd went bananas.
I do not discriminate music. I make my music how I want to make it and that’s my expression of myself. I don’t give a fuck if a nigga make a record farting — that’s his fuckin’ expression.
What do you think about the controversy around Nas’ album?
I was surprised at the title, but he’s in the system right now, so he gotta obey the system. Nas is one of the best MCs in the world, man; he should be able to do whatever the fuck he wants. I think he could’ve kept it. He could’ve put N****r or called it The N Word, and it could’ve been "Nas" or "nigger" or any n-word you want.
I really like Nas and I’m happy for him, but honestly that’s not a nigger. We need to realize what a nigger really is. I learned it when I was reading the Koran and saw the word "nigger" in it. The way it was described in the Koran made sense to me and shed light on why people would call anybody a nigger. It’s for their ways and actions. The black man in America got his ways and actions from the white man — he taught us everything we know. So the original nigger is the white man, and he made us the nigger. As we grew, it became part of our personality. In the Koran it says that being niggerly means to use money foolishly, to dress and act foolishly the way niggas be acting stupid outside jumping around and making loud noises in a quiet neighborhood. That’s acting niggerly because you’re not respecting the things around you.
But we’ve also turned the word around as a term of endearment. Like "Yeah, that’s my motherfuckin’ nigga," or "Word, I feel you my nigga." It’s one of the worst words in the world, but when you say it like that, it makes me glad to be that. Words are powerful. If you turn to someone and say, "Hey, you’re an educated guy" but you say it in a funny way, he could turn to you and say, "What the fuck do you mean I’m an educated guy?"
What would you say is the most rewarding and most difficult thing about being RZA from Wu-tang?
The most rewarding is having these great men call me their abbot and let me guide them. The most difficult part was when the same men looked for guidance that I didn’t have. Or when they looked up to me for guidance but weren’t willing to accept that guidance. But the most rewarding part of my life, aside from my children and my family, is in Wu-tang Clan.
Would you say it’s sometimes a double-edged sword?
No, because it’s been so much more rewarding than it’s been painful. It’s only a single blade. When I got hit, I got hit with an edge that wasn’t sharp, so it never really wounded me.