The RZA: The King’s Gambino

Robert Diggs is a visionary. Ten years ago the MC/Producer and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan known as The RZA reinvented himself as a binary masked superhero called Bobby Digital. Almost a decade later the world couldn’t be more to Bobby’s style. Cars drive around with digital ports to plug in encoded music and people talk to each other through blinking earpieces. How’s that for forecasting the future?

With his acting turn in American Gangster and film scoring projects keeping him busy, RZA just can’t seem to leave rap alone. So now he’s back with the next installment in the Bobby Digital saga, Digi Snacks. In a candid conversation he shares his inspirations for making music, the drama within The Wutang Clan and whether Dr. Dre’s Detox will come out before The Cure. It’s been 10 years since the debut of the Bobby Digital in Stereo album and the world has become increasingly digital since then. How does that make you feel?

RZA: Makes me feel like I was 10 years ahead, baby. [laughs] On the real though.It was foreseen with the character, if you think about it. When I first made Bobby Digital, I was just telling…everything is going digital, the digital state is going to be the stronger state, we gotta become digitally in our own minds, think digitally. One thing I was also saying as the character, and partly as the artist, on a business level, I was telling people in the industry, you know, like Lyor Cohen, Steve Rifkin and ‘em, that things are going digital. That we should find other ways for us to sell our music and s**t. Instead of just making videos, why don’t we just make a whole movie so that the artist can have an [album] and a DVD together. At the show, all the cars goin’ to have TVs in their cars. It’s going to be like American standard, I was telling them all that s**t. They still ain’t listen to that. So it’s like foresight was there. And now that it’s there, it’s like, haha, like I said. How does Digi Snacks differ from your previous Bobby Digital albums?

RZA: The main difference…the first Bobby Digital album, I was having fun with the alter ego and I was really sporadic with my talent. I just spit my lyrics any way I wanted, whether it was on beat or not, just had a lot to say, a lot of energy. On the second album, I kinda got a balance going. To where some songs were sporadic and some songs were focused, like “La Rhumba,” “Brooklyn Babies,” some songs like that.

On this new Digi Snacks album, I feel like the whole album is focused. At least 90% of it, maybe one or two songs on there where I’m just wigging out, nahmean? But mostly every song on there is a song, a song you can take and create any context. And that’s why I think I’ve become more of a musician, and more of a focused artist now, not dependent so much on uncontrolled substances for everything I do. S**t like that.

Just really being more focused, I think I was able to give a focused album. And I’m just going to say this: for every recorded album, I’ve recorded it closely on uncontrolled substance, I recorded it like that. I recorded it like that first.

"I was high! [laughs] S**t. When I first recorded it. That was recorded and I listened to ‘em, learned some, learned that spirit of the high." What do you mean when you say you recorded on uncontrolled substance?

RZA: I was high! [laughs] S**t. When I first recorded it. That was recorded and I listened to ‘em, learned some, learned that spirit of the high. Because when you high, you act different. When you drunk you act different. So I took all that, recorded all that and we recorded it sober. And then! Then we went back again and re-recorded everything like half high, half sober. But like a little bit of weed and s**t. Instead of doing 4 o’clock in the morning sessions, I was going in the afternoon and doing it. More like a job, focused. Like okay, now, it’s getting that twenty days, I wanna go in and really make this a record, like an R&B artist would do it. I’ve seen a lot of artists do it over the years and do it real professional. And not just do it like how I was in Hip-Hop, which was just doing it f**king spontaneously. I read a quote where you said, “Long time ago, I realized that music isn’t only a note and a melody and a harmony, it’s also a pulse.” Can you elaborate on that?

RZA: Every note has a pulse to it. So it’s the pulse sound of philosophy that applies to sampling more than anything. Because I was sampling s**t like…take a song on Raekwon’s album called “Icewater”. Where it comes in, [imitates vocal sample from “Icewater”] “Ahhhhhhhh.” That’s just an “Ahhhh”, you can’t really sample. When the drum comes in, and the horn that’s on top of it, then I make it have a rhythm now. That’s the pulse. The pulse is there, forced out of it. On this album and a lot of your work recently, you sample less than you used to. So how do you still capture that sound, that feeling of the sample, but you’re still…you’re playing piano now, you’re putting in live instruments.

RZA: One thing I do, I keep the drums sampled in my s**t. And so by having sampled drums and s**t, that kinda adds up for not having to sample instruments. But also, with a good band, which is what I got, Soul Method, Soul Method is a band that plays samples over. They specialize in playing over your samples. They’ve been doing that s**t since Ice Cube, they did Ice Cube’s s**t, Mac Dre’s s**t. They been doing s**t for years. Unknowingly. They wasn’t known for what they was doing. So they specialize in that. So they would come in, and play something that would make it sound close to a sample anyway.

So to me, on Digi Snacks, the music sounds like it could have been a sample. But it ain’t a sample. Also, it’s still a pulse there, no matter what. ‘Cause it’s still a pulse when the drums kick in, it’s still going to push it to that Hip-Hop pulse. That Charmels’ Record you used for “Cash Rules.” Where did you find that?

RZA: I found that on a Stax Box set that they put out in 1990. A few producers had it. Large Professor had it, RNS from Staten Island had it. It was something that cost $100 or $200 but who had the money to get it back then? I did. I’m surprised that Large Professor didn’t find that beat first. But I know why they didn’t find it first, they were looking for Hip-Hop breaks, I was looking for musical inspiration breaks. That’s the difference. You produced records for the Notorious B.I.G. and Big Pun, how were they different and how were they alike to you?

RZA: They was alike as far as their love for Hip-Hop and their approach to content of you know, that Hip-Hop braggadocios, ‘I’m the man, I’ve got the most everything.’ They were definitely superheroes and s**t; they were definitely two different MCs. B.I.G. had the most immaculate voice ever on the mic, I don’t think you’ll find a voice like that. I think Biggie and Reakwon are two of the illest rhyming voices [laughs]. Those brothers have voices that just jump through with the s**t, know what I’m saying? Pun was able to fit a lot of words into one sentence because of that Spanish tongue he had, speaking English he was able to fit a whole lot of words into one f**king sentence and get it off. And he didn’t have that Kool G Rap lisp. So what do you think is coming out first, The Cure or Detox?

RZA: [laughs] Detox better come out first, I already got Digi Snacks out. That’d be deep. If The Cure come out before Detox, s**t, someone gotta give the great doctor a call. [laughs] I think Detox is followed by The Cure. Because first you detoxify yourself, then you get the cure. That would be great in life and s**t. I’ma watch for when he drop that, I’m going to make sure I try to make the universe line that up for us.

"I think Raekwon looked at 8 Diagrams to be what Cuban Linx is supposed to be." So what happened to the Cuban Linx 2 tracks you released like “State Of Grace.” Where is that music?

RZA: I left all that at Raekwon’s after 8 Diagrams and s**t. And how he felt, he wanted to take control of what he was doing for his own destiny, Rae told me. And so he felt my decisions weren’t in line with his decisions. I let him go ahead, let him do what he wanted with it. And so why not keep that s**t and make it a little tighter and put those s**ts out. Because they had a classic album right there. I think Raekwon looked at 8 Diagrams to be what Cuban Linx is supposed to be. And that’s what I think is pretty much your calculation.

8 Diagrams is for the world, that’s where the hood is, that’s where the club is. And then what Cuban Linx would have been, the follow up with the f**king aggression, the meanness, the roughness, the Mafioso, and all that s**t. And the soul music is all on the album. You got that right there. The reason 8 Diagrams and Digi Snacks sound the way they sound is because there’s a lot of producers that got into my chamber that’s not part of my family. Then there’s a lot of producers within my family like Mathematics, True Master, 4th Disciple…so many of these producers who make RZA sounding beats. You could buy a Ghostface album, Pretty Toney, and there’s not one RZA beat on there because he made every beat on there. [Editor’s Note: actually RZA produced “Run” and “Kunta Fly S**t” on The Pretty Toney Album] I got tired of emulating…breaking the same sound that’s been emulated, and that people get from Mathematics. Mathematics put an album out called The Problem, and he put out an album called The Answer. Both of those sound like a bunch of Wu beats, and it’s got Wu n****s rapping on it, it sound like Wu s**t, nah mean?

I was like, “Yo, let’s change chambers. Let’s give them a couple of the soul s**t but let’s switch it up, bring it over here to this chamber.” Same thing on Digi Snacks. On Digi Snacks, I had the chance to do whatever I wanted musically, even as far as the arrangement, the wordplay. I made a lot of songs on Digi Snacks because [I could make] any songs I wanted to make. [Before] I had to ask somebody, yo, rap about this or do this or say that. I would make the songs and then I could do it myself. On Wu, I had to be like, “Yo, this song is about this, make it right. I don’t feel like writing about that.” [laughs] You know? It seems like every few months there’s some random report on the Internet about problems within Wu-Tang, and someone in Wu-Tang is upset. Is it just family stuff getting out in the public or are there real issues to be resolved with you guys?

RZA: To be honest with you, it’s both, man. It’s like the family stuff is definitely getting out to the public, and the issues that got to be resolved…everybody got their own manager, everybody got their own lawyer, and they got these motherf**kers that are looking at me like a hamburger. I’m realizing that I don’t make money off of the Wu-Tang Clan. The money I’ve been making, I had to clear a whole new career for myself, a whole new input for myself. I was making mega millions at first! Now I’m making a couple million, I got to keep myself balanced, for my own worth.

It has nothing to do with Wu-Tang. And so for the people on the outside looking in, they looking at what RZA’s doing, he’s on that, he’s on this, he must be robbing y’all or something. He must be doing something against them. Not realizing that’s my own hardworking. Like I was telling Rae one day, “Yo n***a, I never got a Wu-Tang royalty check in my life.” I never got a royalty check for record sales in my life. But I got a royalty check for f**king Kill Bill, a big one came quick, motherf**ker! And why is that? That’s the question. I don’t know why that is. That’s why I’m letting brothers know that I’m not getting paid off the hard work we did together.

When I did 8 Diagrams, I actually put a lot of money, I turned down my own future to get back with the Wu-Tang. And then I was the one to go full speed ahead, I did go full speed ahead, but then n****s shot the front. After that, I was like, damn. They sayin’ U-God suing the RZA for a $170,000. You know what? I could never owe you $170,000. But even if I did owe you [that], U-God, after all these years of millions you made, motherf**ka, you gonna come back and b***h about a hundred and seventy thousand dollars? If you want to be logical, know what I’m saying? I’m the one who gave you, when nobody would sign U-God, I gave him a million dollar f**king deal! And of that million dollars, I put seven hundred thousand that’s in his pocket. And the rest went to making the record [U-God’s debut, Golden Arms Redemption], and I still spent hundreds of thousands on videos for “That’s Gangsta” and “The Bizarre”, and all that. That was on my own label, yo. I could have spent that money on whatever I wanted to spend it on. But he didn’t secure a deal back then, so I’m like, you know what, I’ll give you a deal.

Same thing with Cappadonna, he couldn’t secure a deal. I’ll give him a deal with Razor Sharp. Put a record out, put out a gold album, n***a. If he listened to his manager, who was Mike Caruso at the time, he would have f**ked around, tried to go to Sony, sign to Sony without me. Put out a record out and sell 1000 units. Alright then. That same kind of problem goes on in our family, because all the people who are always around us saying…They did the same to me.

My boy in California, he hates Wu-Tang, man. And when I was doing 8 Diagrams, he would always tell me, leave the studio, don’t do this, don’t do this. I couldn’t pay him no f**king mind because he don’t understand the love. If I would have listened to him, we would have had nothing. But I don’t listen to nobody like that when it comes to Wu-Tang. But in that case, some of these brothers would listen to these n****s gas them up, get ‘em in a f**king courthouse and they’ll pay 500 to 1000 dollars a day in court fees. I’ll pay a 1000 dollars a day in court fees. At the end of the day, no matter who win or lose, the only one who’s a winner is the lawyers. Because these courts are nothing. At the end of the day, when they judged it, the judge is going to go my way anyway, because I got contracts for everything I’m dealing with.

But I ain’t trying to rely on a contract when it comes to my brother. But if we go to court, all we could do is rely on a contract. And there’s not a contract in this industry that’s going to be against the label. [laughs] I don’t make the contracts, that’s how they make ‘em when they give it to us. I tried to sue Sony for Razor Sharp, they took me for $12 million, yo. Probably $15 million, that’s what they got me for. Nothing I could do about it. I sued, I sued, I sent my lawyers in, nobody want to fight with Sony. They got signed with a contract that says, Yo, it’s something else you didn’t know. That’s just how the game is, man.

"But even if I did owe you [that], U-God, after all these years of millions you made, motherf**ka, you gonna come back and b***h about a hundred and seventy thousand dollars?"

You asked about Wu-Tang, that’s the problem with it. There’s third energy, that’s sparking our own energy and making us look at somebody gotta be wrong here, somebody gotta be wrong. Maybe it’s brother divine, somebody gotta be doing something wrong here. Nobody is doing something wrong, this industry has been like this since the 60s, homey. It’s very rare that a Black artist even makes it 10 years in this business. It’s very rare that Hip-Hop artists make it this far. That we could still be worth money in the first place. And you can ask anybody. I’ve talked to n****s from before, I’ve talked to Redman and De La and all them n****s, when I was talking to them in the early days of Hip-Hop and s**t. I talked to everybody, man. I asked them how much they be getting. We was getting top dollar compared to what some of these n***s was getting.

Inspectah Deck got his first album, Redman never got nothing for his albums, as far as dollar advances and s**t like that. To realize that we had that kind of advance, and we already selling 50,000 records. You can write that off, it’s not coming back. If I give you a million and you only get a dime a record after deduction and everything, all that s**t, from that dollar, you sell 50,000 you gonna owe me. That’s the system. That’s how it is. This November, it will have been 4 years since ODB passed. What do you remember most about him as an artist?

RZA: That he was the best Hip-Hop performer of all of us. Right now, I’m on tour with a live band. If he would have ever had a f**king live band, he would have been the f**king new James Brown, yo. He had the freest Hip-Hop spirit ever. I actually used ODB a lot on the inspiration on this new album. Especially when I first recorded it. On the first recording of it, the demos of it, I was honed to his spirit, that I kinda cleaned it up when I re-recorded things. But he was one of my main influences on this album. That’s why at the end of the album, you hear me say it. You were in the American Gangster film, and the Shocklees worked on the score. Did you guys get to talk about music at all, while you were working on the film?

RZA: Yeah, we talked a lot about music. We had a couple of plans for songs he wanted to do that didn’t materialize. But he came by the studio a lot of times while I was working on 8 Diagrams, he was working on the music for Gangster. I love Hank Shocklee. Did you guys actually record songs or you just talked about doing songs?

RZA: Nah, we just talked about songs. He had beats, some songs he wanted to do. One song he wanted to do was a “Shut ‘Em Down” remake, they wanted to get me, Common and T.I. That’s who was in the movie, they wanted us to do the song but there was scheduling difficulties and all the plot was happening during the course of the campaign, so it didn’t come to fruition.

"On the real though, one thing I can say: n****s cannot imitate my flow. Not yet, at least. No one has jumped up yet." Your influence on producers is obvious, as you mentioned earlier, a lot of people are in your chamber. But do you feel like you’ve influenced people as an MC?

RZA: I think I influenced vocabulary as an MC. I think MCs hear me and their vocabulary improves. As far as my flow, I think I got a flow that can’t be imitated. [laughs] On the real though, one thing I can say: n****s cannot imitate my flow. Not yet, at least. No one has jumped up yet.

It was kinda surprising to hear a lot of brothers who really loved that first Bobby Digital album. Ludacris was like, yo, that song “Terrorist” on that first Bobby Digital album, that’s one of my favorite beats of all time. And Andre 3000 was like, Yo, I love that Bobby Digital album, the project, the concept, “Domestic Violence” and s**t. Musiq Soulchild told me that was one of his favorite songs of all time. He said there’s a realness of it, a spirit of it and the music of it, that was incredible for him. I was like, Wow, I didn’t know that a lot of artists that were out there… but hearing the Bobby Digital, I love anybody that say they love Bobby, because I feel how personal it is to myself. Now, you’ve done a lot of film scoring. Do you expect people to sample you the same way you sampled kung fu movies in the beginning?

RZA: Potentially, yeah. I mean, even my old music on Wu-Tang, a lot of my music has been sampled a lot over my life. But on every album, I try to make it at least 70-80%, no samples. Or non-recognizable samples. ‘Cause I want people to sample my music in the future. One good example, my favorite example is a movie that came out this spring, Street Kings. It had Common and Forrest Whitaker. The trailer of that movie was my music! I didn’t do it, I didn’t give it to them, I don’t know how they did it but I got a check in the mail. They took my s**t and made their own s**t out of it. It’s interesting cuz the song they chose was off the Blade soundtrack and that’s not even five years old.

ALLHIPHOP: Have you seen Kung Fu Panda?

Yeah, I seen it. I think it was fun. They had the Furious Five in that motherfucker. That s**t was funny. I love when he did that last finger clip on him, cuz that s**t didn’t exist.

Jerry L. Barrow is a Content Programmer for The and Founder/Editor of