GZA: Single Minded Pro

The release of Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) set the stage for the release of a string of solo albums from each of the nine collective members. In 1995 Raekwon introduced the critically acclaimed Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, a theatrical album which is often thought to be responsible for much of the gangster imagery littering Hip-Hop today. The other critically acclaimed, and now sometimes overlooked, album released in late 1995 came from none other than fellow Clan member GZA. Liquid Swords displayed themes of crime and philosophy over a backdrop heavily influenced by chess and Samurai mythology. GZA wordplay over RZA’s dark production led fans to easily describe him as one of the Clan’s most exceptional lyricists. He may not be the most vocal in the Clan, letting us know that in group interviews he often doesn’t say anything, but his lyricism speaks for itself. It is that lyricism that has kept him at the forefront of the group and given him the ability to release albums consistently. In the 13 years since Liquid Swords, GZA a.k.a The Genius, has released six albums, the most recent being Pro Tools which promises to deliver more of the solid lyricism fans have come to expect. GZA about the importance of wordplay in Hip-Hop, the new album Pro Tools, and his take on 50 Cent and Soulja Boy.AllHipHop.com: What is the meaning behind the album name, Pro Tools?GZA: There’s not a story behind it or anything. It’s just software that we use. I happen to look at it one day while was trying to come up with the name of the album. I didn’t have a name and the label wanted something. Most of the time when I work the title comes after the song or album is made. One day I thought Pro Tools. Pro Tools sounded perfect….tools from a pro.AllHipHop.com: I heard it takes you a long time to put together a song and sometimes that bothers RZA?GZA: Yeah, he said “Don’t take two f**king weeks to write a song” [laughs]. But a lot of times those are the songs that he likes. If I work on something, and I’m really on it, I can finish in two or three days. You look at a song like “0% Finance” [off of the new album Pro Tools] and that takes about two days to research the subject matter and gather information about certain cars. I wanted to look up car slang so I could incorporate it into my lyrics. This way I’m not just saying — “He drove a Lexus/he parked the Navigator.” I’d rather say, “Her great grandfather was a Cherokee Indian/Explorer and Navigator whose travels then began.” There’s a difference that’s important for those that write and put time into their lyrics.Alphabets – GZAAllHipHop.com: Nowadays you don’t hear too many artists that speak about researching their subject matter or taking a few days to write a song. Most of them say “I don’t write down my lyrics.”GZA:  And you can tell. It’s like when you’re reading an article you can tell if the writer cared about the subject or not. When you listen to lyrics you can get a sense of how much effort the artist put into it. I could sit here and say – “On the interview/laying on the bed/T.V. on/thoughts in my head/look out the window/bird fly by/turn up the stereo/track sounds fly. That’s what rap is nowadays.” It’s A-B-C rap.AllHipHop.com: You’ve been in the game for 15 years so would you say that the biggest change in Hip-Hop is…GZA: The regression.AllHipHop.com: That’s and interesting way to describe it. Do you feel Hip-Hop is moving backwards?GZA: Things should be simplistic, but not in the form it is now. Cats that are 23, 24 and 25 are doing these A-B-C rhymes. It’s simple in that sense. People can solve the equation too easy. I once said in an interview that if you had someone who went into a coma in ‘87, woke up in ‘08, and you played Slick Rick’s “Children’s story” against a typical rap song today, he would think Slick Rick’s song was in the present. Basically he would switch up the present song with the song from the past because Slick Rick’s song sounds so much more advanced than what typically plays on the radio now. Look at what dudes was doing in ’87, ’88, and ’89…they were 20 years ahead of their time. Cats nowadays are twenty years behind with slow delivery, weak wordplay, and ideas. Ideas alone – it’s the same story.

“Ask the average MC to write a rhyme but set it in the 17th century – they’re f**ked up. “What? I can’t talk about my Maybach?! I can’t speak about rims and bitches?!” They’re stuck. That’s how you test them and see their real lyrical abilities.”

AllHipHop.com: So what would you say to new lyricists are artists trying to make it?GZA: Be original. Don’t rhyme about what everyone else rhymes about, and if you are, try to rhyme about it in a different way. Do it in a way that will make cats say, “Wow….I didn’t know he was even speaking on that.” Craft it in a way where it will be respected and be there for the long term. Do you and be different. When I’m around I give the new rappers advice. The main thing I do is try to take them out their zone. Ask the average MC to write a rhyme but set it in the 17th century – they’re f**ked up. “What? I can’t talk about my Maybach?! I can’t speak about rims and bitches?!” They’re stuck. That’s how you test them and see their real lyrical abilities. No money, no cars, no blackcards…can you write about being in a room with nothing in it? Just the four walls? Where does your mind go now? A lot of MC’s nowadays just write what they see and not what they think. Half these rap lyrics ain’t thought provoked/just a lot of beef until they get caught and smoked.AllHipHop.com: Well getting back to the album, what made you decide to turn Pro Tools from a compilation album to a solo album?GZA: I didn’t want to short myself. The label really just put up mixtape money. It was a mixtape, but as time went on my opinion on the album started changing. Plus it was taking me a long time to give the label the album. If they can be that patient on something I should have given them in two months then I have to make sure I give them something good. I do make a living doing this, but I also love what I do. I hear the cats talk about paper and of course we get money off of the music, but if I really felt it was just about money the label would have got a mixtape a few years ago. I would have given them a mixtape with a bunch a s**t just thrown together on it. I love what I do and I can’t short change myself.AllHipHop.com: We spoke about the biggest change in Hip-Hop since your entrance but what do you feel has most changed about yourself?GZA: I would say I’ve grown. I didn’t know as much about the business as I should have known. I still don’t know as much as a lawyer…some artist do. My change has just been growing and developing as an artist and seeing that in your music. Also hearing the fans speak to you about your work because you realize that they are growing with you. Dude has been a fan for 15 years and now he’s a father. Girl that has been a fan since 12 is now a mother. They are developing so as an artist I want to grow up as well. If I talked about being in the crack spot 12 years ago I’m not really trying to talk about that today. I was never in the spots like that but you get my point. You got dudes running around in the rap game for years now still talking about slinging crack in spots. Still on the block but they haven’t been on the block for ten years. Even in R&B…If you was talking about doing s**t in the club at 14 people don’t want to hear you singing the same s**t when your 28 or 29. People are growing.AllHipHop.com: You’ve been vocal lately on your criticism of certain people in the industry. After the YouTube video came out where you spoke on Soulja Boy and 50 Cent what made you retract the statement about Soulja Boy?GZA: Oh, I never retracted my statement on Soulja Boy. He may have taken it a certain way, and I did feed into some of the stuff people were saying, but let’s get a few things clear. On the clip, someone in the crowd said Soulja Boy and 50 Cent suck d**k. I never said that…I don’t talk all that “suck my d**k s**t” on wax or in person. Me and my brothers don’t talk like that. A couple of bloggers twisted it up and I cleared up the situation. I said homeboy don’t got lyrics. I was sober. This dude don’t got lyrics. I didn’t say screw Soulja Boy. I have a son your age so I’m not knocking you. You got a hot ringtone, but when I think about cats like Special Ed… I wasn’t getting at him or saying he f**ked up Hip-Hop, but I know 16 year olds that could lyrically run circles around him. There are cats around now that came out around that age like LL Cool J or MC Lyte. At 16 years old, me, Dirty, and RZA where terrorists on the mike. Kool G Rap was that young. Imagine KRS-One at that age. Look at Nas. Nas was 17 when Illmatic came out and that album was recorded the year before. I can’t let people tell me age is an excuse for him not being lyrical. He produced his own song and it was cool but at the show that night I said how I felt. I mean, you’re not going to see that many GZA fans at a Soulja Boy or 50 Cent concert just like their fans wouldn’t be at my concert. I don’t expect it. I wasn’t coming at him because I’m not going to go at a young dude like that. I just voiced my opinion. If he’s going to be in this game he has to learn how to take the good with the bad. You might have a million Soulja Boy fans saying, F**k GZA. He can’t rap.” Just because I disagree? Whatever.AllHipHop.com: What made you decide to go at 50 Cent?GZA: After all that took place [50 Cent] addressed it. You guys have heard it. It still wasn’t anything big. When I heard him I thought it was kind of funny like, “Is this a diss?”AllHipHop.com: Joe Budden has a lyric – “You can tell a guy I spit better than you/but he’ll say I’m better for whatever I do.” Do you feel it’s harder to battle rap in today’s climate and be judged on just skills?GZA: [50 Cent] can argue that his diss record is better but that doesn’t hold weight. Don’t think that because you sold more…ff you want to talk about money and record sales you have a point. I understand that. That holds weight in the eyes of the shareholders. On the other hand there are people really reading and listening to these lyrics. If you’re not really into Hip-Hop you might not listen to the lyrics. You can like the beat. If you’re really into the music you can tell the difference in quality. If you sold more, hey, there’s nothing wrong with being rich. Get your money. It’s not going to make me better. I’ve never been the flashy, have money type of dude. A lot of dudes have that style. They look at me like “What are you a scientist?” They make fun by saying “I bomb atomically….” [laughs].  That’s not even my verse, that’s Inspectah Deck’s. This is your craft and you’re going to make fun of that verse? I had [the 50 Cent response] written months ago. I just happen to throw it on a beat and the producer was like, “Whoa, we gotta use that.” I just wanted to say something. I can say what I want. It’s just a song…a well written song.AllHipHop.com: We’ve spoken on what you don’t like about Hip-Hop, but what do you still enjoy about it?GZA: I like that it’s still raw. Even with all of the phonies, fakes, bitters, haters, and the fake façade it’s still raw. Break Dancing is stronger than ever. Graffiti is on another level. Kids is still MCing.  Really the only thing that’s not growing is MCing. They used to talk about Hip-Hop like it was a fad. It’s over two decades old and still growing. You see it in commercials. You hear the slang. You hear it in church. I mean Kirk Franklin is around because of Hip-Hop. AllHipHop.com: Well before we go any final words on the album?GZA: Pro Tools is out now. Get it. If you don’t like it break it up and send me an email. If you like it ride it ‘til it breaks.

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