JAY WILLIAMS, HOST:
Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. Let me take you back - way, way, way back. It's the year 1993, and I'm a teenager shooting hoops in my own backyard. Wu-Tang Clan's "36 Chambers" - man, I love that album - it's blaring in my Walkman. As I'm about to take a shot, RZA's voice stops me dead in my tracks.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEARZ")
RZA: (Rapping) Check the script. Me and the gods getting ripped. Blunts in the dip, 40 dogs in my lip...
WILLIAMS: You see, those words hit, not just for me but for an entire generation. The Wu-Tang Clan changed hip-hop music and me forever.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILLIAMS: You see, as an athlete, you have to believe you're the best. Yeah, you can go out and practice. You can put in the work. But at the end of the day, if you don't think you're going to make it, you never will. It's the same in hip-hop. When RZA founded the Wu-Tang Clan along with Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Ol' Dirty Bastard and the rest of the Wu-Tang emcees - man, I just love saying their names; it gives you that vibe, doesn't it? - he believed they were going to be the best, the very best. Thirty years later, his music still sits at the very top of the best of hip-hop. He reached the pinnacle. But once you reach the top, where do you go from there?
For RZA, he never stopped pushing himself and hip-hop. He even has a new album out called "Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater," and he's one of the very first to ever think about what it means to be an elder statesman of hip-hop and creating generational wealth. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me slow down. Here's my conversation with the legendary hip-hop producer RZA.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILLIAMS: It's a pleasure to meet you, brother. I got to tell you, man - I can't tell you how many times I've recited your lyrics as a 13-year-old kid shoveling the snow outside in Jersey. So much respect and love to everything you accomplished in your life, man. You are a king among kings, man. So much respect and love, first and foremost.
RZA: Thank you, Jay. I appreciate that. And I'm glad that anything that we did artistically resonated with you and made your day better or cooler or whatever. You know what I mean? So thank you, too.
WILLIAMS: I've got to ask you, RZA, like, when I make mentions of names like J Dilla, Kanye, Just Blaze, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Timberland, Eric B, yourself, like, did you ever think that you would be in that rarefied air as one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time?
RZA: You know, you don't know, right? You have an instinct when you're trying to approach art and especially hip-hop, which is a very competitive form of art. You have an instinct that you can be great, you know? As an MC, you feel like you're the best MC. You have this - you know, even MC Hammer said he's the best MC. You know what I mean? Because it's the confidence needed, you know? And then when it came to me as a producer, what I did know was that my approach to it was purely from hip-hop and not really from other aspects of music. What I mean by that is some producers, you know, you could say their sound was jazz. It's hip-hop, but it's - you hear a lot of jazz samples, funk samples, James Brown samples. And I wanted to try to create something that, even if it was samples, it only could be identified as hip-hop. You know what I mean?
RZA: So I didn't want to get bracketed, like, in the beginning - he's making a new style of jazz; he's making a new style of funk. I just wanted to be hip-hop and not R&B, not reggae - nothing, you know? And so I think with that intention, it allowed me to definitely carve a piece of it out. You know what I mean?
WILLIAMS: The - it's like, your sound is so distinct, though. I read something - and obviously, this brings it all the way back to 1993, your debut with "Enter The Wu-Tang" - right? - which I go back to the album when I was 13 years old, that - it was so descriptive, man. It blew me away about how I looked at you 'cause it said the outlook was eccentric and encyclopedic, drawing on esoteric knowledge, comic books, street lore, chop-socky films, crime stories, Black nationalism, martial arts and chess. And, RZA, like, I'm thinking, like, I'm into chess. I'm into martial arts. I'm into chop-socky films. Like, can you describe to me where that distinct sound or where that origination of that thought process came from for you?
RZA: Well, they say the child you are is what makes you the man you become. And so all of these childhood loves, the ones all you just listed right there, and then the technological ability to play with turntables and play the four-tracks and put sounds together, right? So I was - you know, I started first without a sampler, right? We had a four-track tape recorder and a drum machine. And you would just, you know, cut the beat first, whatever drum loop you wanted to cut, then you'll find other records and go on top of it. And the things I would put on top would be so obscure. I took Screamin' Jay Hawkins (laughter). (Singing) My God.
You know what I mean?
WILLIAMS: (Laughter) Yes.
RZA: And then I took Wildman Steve, the comedian, got something from him. And then I got some "Peter Pan" record that was, like, "Peter Pan" played by the Philadelphia Orchestra or something like that. You know what I mean? And I would just cut another one and cut another sound in. And when it - when the crew heard it on the streets - you know, people back in those days, they just would get your tape and dub it. They was playing it in the Jeeps. It was like the neighborhood hit of the summer. And I was the man. You know what I mean? And so I could send you down that path.
And then when I got a sampler - you know, when I got that SP-1200, it gave me the power now to manipulate, to chop and to put all these different ingredients together. And I think I put the most weirdest ingredients together because I'm looking at, you know, a comic. I'm looking at a kung fu movie. I'm playing chess in the streets. I'm living the street life, trying to survive. And all that - you know, the grittiness of New York - that's what's in my head. I'm capturing it, you know? We're banging drums. We're banging on drums, you know? Tell - you know, the engineer recording it in elevator shafts just to get the certain sound that you can't get other places, you know? Just - you know, just capturing New York. So I think that is that. I think it's the childhood loves. It's the - then the DJ ability to translate that into the technology of sampling and understanding what that is. And mind you, I did all this - you know, I had no instruction manual, you know? So it was also discovery in the process.
WILLIAMS: Did that kind of eccentric thinking process - did that make you kind of misunderstood because you saw or heard things differently than how other people saw them? Like, you know, so much of upbringing has to do with, do you fit in, especially back then. Did you feel like you fit in, or did you fit out?
RZA: That's a good question, Jay. I think I fit in on the surface. Like, so I'm right there in the crew and, you know, alpha as well and got a lot of - you know, like, I'm good. But the full me fits out because there's still this awkwardness about me, this nonunderstanding about me that existed. And it only came out, like - if you look at me as an artist - right? - and, you know, my manager, he concurred that I could - I'm a great lyricist, and that's why he signed me, you know? Tommy Boy gave me a record deal. They heard my lyrics and they realized I was saying something very witty and unique and, you know, a good MC. My voice wasn't the normal hip-hop voice, nor was my cadence. But there was something there, right? There was something there - something awkward about it, I think. Not as awkward as De La Soul because theirs was awkward but had - it was still accessible. You know what I mean?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I do.
RZA: Ours was kind of almost like olive tapenade. You know what I mean? You know what I mean?
RZA: You got to grow into that taste. You know what I mean?
RZA: And then I would say that - so not fitting in at that capacity. But I think that, you know, as a MC, that was the element. But my lyrical content - like, all my peers, you know, they thought I was the best. But I always felt that my - the thing that was hurting me from really shining was that the production that I was seeking from other producers wasn't really accenting me as a lyricist or even the rest of my crew. That's how I felt. So I wanted to make it myself. And there was doubt, you know? A lot of people doubted that what I was doing would be successful, be accepted because it wasn't as simple as taking funky drummer with a bass line and making you dance. If you think about a lot of the Wu-Tang songs, when they come on sometimes, you stop dancing and you start listening.
WILLIAMS: Listening - exactly. I can't tell you how many times, RZA, I stopped shoveling or stopped hooping to rewind the tape back to just let me listen. What did he say again? Wow.
WILLIAMS: He put it together like that? Like, it stops you in time.
RZA: Right. And that was something that, you know, was a blessing to be able to do that, I think. I think in the beginning, think of an executive whose job is to have radio hits and club hits that really fits a formula. Here comes a guy without a formula. How does he fit in? And one thing I think people overlooked in that day is that music not only has a rhythm and a groove, but it has a spirit. And sometime it's the spirit that moves you or that makes you, like I said, stop and listen or whatever it gives you that day - make you clean up your house or drive your car fast or slow it down. You know what I mean? It's not just the let's, you know, let's get the party going, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILLIAMS: While getting ready for this conversation, I mean, you should've seen me. I was like a little kid in a candy store as I went through those early Wu-Tang records. And I was just in awe. RZA brought together these rappers with completely different styles of rapping and made it work. Just listen to my man Raekwon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAVEN AND HELL")
RAEKWON: (Rapping) Waking up about 10, kid, jumping in the shower.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THAT I GOT IS YOU")
GHOSTFACE KILLAH: (Rapping) Dwelling in the past, flashbacks when I was young.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUEL OF THE IRON MIC")
GZA: (Rapping) Picture bloodbaths and elevator shafts. Like these murderous rhymes...
WILLIAMS: RZA listened for what made them unique and let them shine. But he didn't just have an ear for music; he's also a genius strategist, and he had a plan to take these men to No. 1 and beyond. All he asked was for them to let him be their CEO for five years. RZA breaks down that plan after a quick break. This is THE LIMIT from NPR. I'm Jay Williams.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILLIAMS: I feel like so much of who we become is a byproduct of where we came from. So I want to go back a little bit more to your childhood for a second, RZA. So when you were younger and 19 members of your extended family were living in a two-bedroom apartment - two-bedroom apartment...
WILLIAMS: ...What did that teach you about family, first and foremost?
RZA: I mean, I guess one thing it taught me was get in where you fit in, right? (Laughter) That's the funny part.
WILLIAMS: Yeah. Yeah.
RZA: But yeah - because no, you might not sleep in the same place you slept last night. You know what I mean? But more importantly, though, I think being around that many people, you know, even having 11 brothers and sisters, coming from a big family, I think it taught me the understanding of personalities. It taught me to be able to navigate personalities. And when I look at the Wu-Tang Clan, which are very - these are all alpha. These ain't, like, no chumps. These are dudes that's the alpha, and they got a crew of bunch of dudes looking up to them. And they're taking - and now - and some of them bigger than me, more muscles, more stronger, more of an artist. You know what I mean? But I had this ability to understand personalities and have also an ability of empathy, you know? And that ability of empathy that I got just growing up in my family, it worked, and it helped as I'm navigating with my crew.
WILLIAMS: Did that make you more aware of how you had to bring people together, in particular with the Wu? Or did that leave you any blind spots because you were so empathetic that maybe you tried too much to help people? I heard you describe it as impresario - right? - like an organizer, this guy who's able to bring people together in the best form or fashion. Do you feel like that helped you with your strengths and weaknesses to a degree?
RZA: Yeah, I think there's more strength than weakness because I think the strength of it is the result that it gives to the people you bring together, the result of the product that comes out of that, whether it is some form of art, whether you brought people together to build a home or whether, you know, you brought people together to start a revolution, whatever the - the good was going to outweigh the bad. The weakness of it sometimes falls back upon yourself, which is the expectation that may now arise from people expecting you to be at a certain capacity, you know, yearning and maybe even becoming dependent upon that personality that you obtain. So it could be weakness, and that could hurt you. But I think that's the sacrifice, especially if we're working towards the good.
WILLIAMS: It just seems like those experiences as a team really set you up for building out the Wu-Tang Clan. I mean, you brought together nine rappers and made them into one group. Tell me about the moment you realized your vision for the Wu-Tang. Was it something that just happened, or was it something that grew over time and developed?
RZA: Of course, it grew over time because the talent had to grow, right? You know, it takes 10 years to become a master, they say. And I think if you look at - I'm writing my first lyric at the age of 9, so by the time we forming Wu-Tang Clan, which is 19 years old - 'cause we actually was talking Wu-Tang at the age of 19 even though we didn't get a chance to share it with the world until three years later. It's a process. But the vision of the success, that accumulated with the awareness of myself, you know? I can't describe it in words, but it's definitely - it's almost a spine-tingling feeling you get when you hear some great music, and you feel it off your back and everything. You - when I had that and it was like - if I follow this procedure here, I'm going to make it to No. 1 one. You know what I mean?
I guess the best way to say it is, like, to get the inspiration and to motivate yourself and move with a determined idea, so determined - you can't be deterred. Nothing was going to stop me. Nobody could even talk me out of it is like, I guess - I didn't know that then, but I can say this now. I guess when the Holy Quran says, like, who's going to - it says, who's going to make it to paradise? It don't say, you know, the Christians or the Jews or the Muslims, you know what I'm (laughter) - you know what I mean? - or the Hindus. It says the believers - you know what I mean? - those who believe 100% in the aspects of that destination. And so that 100% - because believing is - sometime to believe could be defined to agree without knowing, right? But when you truly believe, you actually know. When you truly believe, it's not believing without knowing. You believe it because you know. You know that five fingers is here and five fingers is here, and I got 10. And nobody's going to tell me that it's 20 or eight. I know it. I believe it, and I know it. It's - it becomes one and the same.
And I had that determined idea in me at that age. And I just saw it, and I couldn't be deterred from it. And I shared it with my brothers, and they agreed, you know what I mean? And whether they knew it or not didn't matter, because sometimes a scientist has the equation and the other scientists don't know it yet. But they trust that he's been on it for a long time, so the chances of him being right is really based on the faith of him, right? And then as time goes on, he proves that equation. And so I asked my crew to give me five years of their life, in a dictatorship mentality, and we're going to get to No. 1. And at the five-year mark, No. 1 album in the world - "Wu-Tang Forever."
WILLIAMS: And you call that the five-year plan, right? And that's essentially...
WILLIAMS: That's where that moment occurred where you released an album as a group, and then you released individual albums. That's so surgical. You built a brand, and then you amplified the individual brands in the overall larger group brand.
RZA: Yes. And consciously. And that's only going from - what? - doing the knowledge. I knew that GZA had - you know, I know him, and I know that colleges will accept him. I know that he's the type of guy - his way he thinks is academic in nature. It's lyrical, his flow is all great, but also - you know, and as he evolved, he's now speaking, helping science get back in schools and going to colleges and speaking. He was already that then, and I saw that. I knew Raekwon and (unintelligible) strictly - you know, I knew all the gangsters were going to light (ph) on. They were gangsters, you know what I mean? It was real. And the voice of that generation of gangsters wasn't on your radio, it wasn't on your TV set, you know what I mean? And I don't mean just gangster - just blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but I mean, like, just dudes to - who just - you know, that's just super real if the cause was needed, you know what I mean? And I knew that a lot of people out there was going to relate to that.
Even though Method wasn't intentionally wanting to be a sex symbol, you know, because he was a rough dude - but now he was a sex symbol at the end of the day, (laughter) you know what I mean? He's like - he couldn't hide that, even though he - you know, he tried to get away from it, but nah. It's just like, yo, the women and children is going to come all running to you. And you know what? When his album came out, out of all of us, he was the one that had the limousine chases, the whole - you know what I mean? Like, people were chasing the limousine. And I saw it, you know what I mean? I saw it.
WILLIAMS: When you were in the studio while you guys were recording this, did you recognize at that moment that this was potentially going to be the greatest hip-hop album of all time?
RZA: I will say I just recognized that this was definitely going to be great and different and was definitely going to exist, you know, in the canon. You know, I don't want to be too egotistical, and be like, oh, it's the greatest hip-hop album of all time. But I knew the Wu-Tang Clan were the best, you know what I mean? I knew it. I'm like this is - we - yo, we are the best right now. And we're the best because - look, what makes us the best is hip-hop itself borned (ph) us like it borned all the other great hip-hoppers. At one point, it was undeniable that Rakim was the best. It was undeniable. He was born out of hip-hop. He did it, and he - and we - and when the world - when we heard it, it was like, yo, that's great. It's not good. It's great. When Big Daddy Kane - you know, when he did that demo with Biz Markie and we heard him - it's the Kane in the flesh. Of course I'm fresh. You thought that I was rotten? I beg - when he came in with that rhyming with Biz and it just played on the radio, when we heard it, it was like, yo, that's great, you know what I mean?
And the same thing goes back to the GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghost, you know what I mean? When I was just hearing them in my community, when they just coming to my crib and making demos, I was like, yo, that's great. And then to take all of that energy and put it together, that's what makes it - when I say the best, it's like, it ain't just two great MCs or three great MCs or four great MCs or five great MCs. I mean, people don't even talk about Inspectah Deck, but Inspectah Deck probably wrote some of the greatest hip-hop bars in the game.
WILLIAMS: Of all time, yes.
RZA: You just keep adding on to it. You go, wow, it's just getting greater and greater. And it's a culmination of greatness, you know what I mean? And each one has given us something - not to keep - bragging about the crew, but each one has given us a perspective and an angle and approach of hip-hop that has a common denominator but yet is still different. So we think about U-God - (rapping) raw I'ma give it to ya with no trivia, raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia, my hip-hop will rock and shock the nation like the Emancipation Proclamation.
It's like, yo, that line is so compacted with information and spirit, you know what I mean? And so - and of course, ODB has given us the energy. His energy still hasn't reemerged yet, you know? Like, some of us, you may say, oh, you may pit this guy against that. His energy has not reemerged yet. In fact, it was only him that had it and nobody else, singularity, have reemerged with that energy. You know, to me, Ye has a spoonful of ODB energy 'cause of his bravery, his expression of pain. ODB also was a very pained artist. You know, the walking on stage, you know, to the Grammys - you see Ye did it himself, right? But nobody's singularity has - ODB's spirit has not reemerged, you know what I mean?
WILLIAMS: When you say his name, RZA, how does that make you feel?
RZA: I mean, I got so much love for him. I'm so grateful that I was able to spend a great chunk of my life with him. He was, like - he was, you know, one of my arms at one point, you know what I mean? That's how tight we were, you know? And so I always feel, you know, like, a sense of loss and missing because it's just like, he's not here to see all these things that we dreamed about, talked about and laid up in the bed until dawn talking about what we could be and what we could do. This is, like, 13, 14. And so definitely some - a life cut short, in my opinion. But then there's the part that - I know, like, yo, Ason, you did it, though. You rocked the world, you shocked the world, and you left an indelible imprint on this world.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILLIAMS: You can hear it there, RZA grappling with legacy - his own and that of the Wu-Tang Clan. After the break, RZA has a new plan for how to turn rappers into rock stars and cash in on the legacies they built. Watch out, Rolling Stones. This is THE LIMITS from NPR. I'm Jay Williams.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WILLIAMS: Not that this analogy compares at all, RZA, but, you know, when I got drafted second, there was a lot of pressure on me - because people would say, oh, you're great, you were the second pick in the draft - to live up or exceed this expectation. So when you guys came out with, quote-unquote, "the greatest hip-hop album ever," how did you personally deal with the pressure to - what's next? How do I make what we just have so different that it's better than what was before? How did you deal with that?
RZA: I just think - to be honest with you, Jay, I just keep creating. Like, I don't have to repeat what I've done. And if you think about it, some people may argue "Liquid Swords" is better than it, right? Some people could argue Cuban Link's is it, you know what I mean? You know, you talk to Pusha T, he'll tell you that Cuban Link's is the greatest hip-hop album, right? The point is, though, Cuban Link's don't sound like 36 Chambers, you know what I mean? You could tell it's from the same, but it's like, nah, it's a different movie. And I think that if you - really, when they do go back and check my catalog and start looking at it with a magnifying glass, they'll realize that, yo, even though it's all Wu-Tang, there's so many angles of approach that I took. And that's just how I am. You know what I mean? When I was learning hip-hop, there was an MC that was like, I never say the same rhyme twice. Like, I don't know if it was The Fearless Four or was it Cold Crush Brothers, but somebody said that in their lyric, you know, as I'm a young listener. And I took heed to that. I was like, yeah, I'm never going to, you know, make the same beat twice or something (laughter). Like, I wanted to, like, never have to run out of it.
And, you know, it's all - now, you know, of course, as time goes on, I may give you another interpretation of a track. There has been, you know, four or five tracks in my career, and I think that I reinterpret it. Like, the track from "Tearz" - I used that record and grabbed another part of it and used it for another song because I always wanted to use that part, but it didn't work in the original song. So I've done that. But majority of the time, I'm always seeking, always digging, always finding ways to express this art and this hip-hop art form.
WILLIAMS: You know, when you get a chance to see rock artists these days and they're still touring, making millions of dollars - tens of millions, actually - do you feel that the role of elder statesman of yourself of hip-hop is to continue to push that narrative, that, like, hey, like, there is a - there is an opportunity out here to create generational wealth of knowledge by how you perform?
RZA: Yes, I do, and that's what I'm striving to do. So that goes back to - you know, I saw that - you know, I have a lot of rock and roll friends. You know, I was blessed to break bread with them and hang out, and I seen how they - you know, how they do it. And I will try and tell my brothers, like, we could get on a regimen that will lead to that. And it's like, you know, like, you know, Bob Marley, I think, Wu-Tang - you know, you go back to rock and roll, you're going to get the Doors, Pink Floyd. There's certain albums and certain things that's, like, rites of passage. You're going to pass by this in order to get to where you have to get to. Since that is a reality now, and it's happening, we did a concert in Long Beach a few weeks ago, actually. It was just a one-off, but everybody showed up. And the crazy thing is, you don't know who's going to show up. You know, you just go, you know what I mean? The audience, though, ranged from, you know, 19-year-olds all the way up to 40-year-olds, you know what I mean? You got 50-year-olds all there. And I was like, OK.
So going back to your thing about the do I think it's necessary for me and for the Wu-Tang Clan to continue to tour and share the knowledge and then maybe to perhaps gain the wealth of what the music industry offers rock and roll artists and offers, you know, the greats - yes, I think we should, and I think we should continue. I think it's almost our duty to continue to represent because hip-hop is new still, you know? It's new. It's the newest form of music right now. That's - and it's the most populous form of music. And its story hasn't been told all the way yet, and we could continue to tell it.
WILLIAMS: You know, in your new album, you have a song called "Fisherman," which - it talks about glamorizing prison life, glamorizing sex, drugs, gangs, things of that sort.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FISHERMAN")
RZA: (Rapping) Too many Black youths locked in a box for life.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I want to go home.
RZA: (Rapping) It wasn't worth the sacrifice.
WILLIAMS: Do you feel like the informational aspect or style that you guys approached hip-hop with is still being translated correctly in today's version of hip-hop?
RZA: No, I think there's a lack of that particular substance. Hip-hop is more flooded with, you know, the chase of money, the enjoyment of drugs, enjoyment of sex, the gang - you know, a lot of, you know, gangs are back (ph) - you know, even - you know, all over the country. And it's understandable because young men - we passed through that. But what hip-hop was in the original - it was actually - it was anti-gang, you know? It was a way to express violence without being physical. It wasn't something that was made to make money from. It was something, to me, to entertain us because of lack of money. You know what I mean? The artist didn't have canvases in his house and paintbrushes. He had a can of spray paint. And the subways, trains and the walls became his canvases because that's all that was available. The lyricist and the poet didn't have a place where he could go and be at a poetry lounge or perform on stage - none of that. The stage was the block parties. You know what I mean? The dancers didn't have Alvin Ailey schools and Broadway. You know what I mean? The concrete and the cardboard was the place.
So hip-hop was these things. And it grew, of course, and it became economical, and it became a place where some people could express drugs and sex, but it also had KRS-Ones, you know, Big Daddy Kanes and Rakim, you know, Shabazz. It had a balance. So you could dance with the Jungle Brothers, but you could get some Afrocentric knowledge from Tribe Called Quest, you know what I mean? And so I think we're lacking that substance. In order for me to even put music out, which I'm doing here, I'm really giving it - giving it in a way to say, like, yo, here go a spoonful of that. And the best I could wish for is that a hip-hop artist hears it (laughter) and get inspired and start bringing that substance back. It's - for me, one thing I've learned is that sometimes Wu-Tang is for the artist community. Sometime - and not the fan community. It's just for, like, somebody else to hear it and go, OK. Let me add that to mines. I forgot about that, Rizz (ph). Thanks. You know?
WILLIAMS: Man, that's so deep. Tell me what you're trying to get across in your music now.
RZA: Well, like I said, it's adding a spoonful of substance and a spoonful of fun. Me and DJ Scratch - DJ Scratch, you know, a legendary hip-hop producer - we communicated with each other during the quarantine. I checked on him and his family and - you know, is - everything is well. Then I spoke to him about this old beat that he had in his catalog, and does he still have it? He said, yes. I said, I've been feeling really lyrical now. I want to write a album. He's like, yo, I got a lot of tracks that I made, like, with the Wu-Tang in mind. I said, well, send them to me, and he sent them to me.
And we wanted to do - collectively - we wanted to kind of give that feeling that we had when we was young, which was in New York City at 3 o'clock on Saturdays, they had Kung Fu Theater on Channel 5. And we would all go upstairs, leave, you know - I don't care if you was a hustler, a breakdancer (ph), playing basketball. You would go upstairs, and the whole projects would be cleared out. Everybody'd be up in the crib watching the kung fu movies, and then come back out after it was over and start flipping and making nunchucks out of our mamas' broomsticks. And - oh, you know, just emulating what we saw. And it was actually joyful and inspirational. And so this album is - hopefully can do that.
And also information, you know? It was - for us, you know, we didn't know what Shaolin was or what - or the culture of China and Chinese brothers and the chivalry and honor. You know, and watching - you know, look at Bruce Lee fighting oppression. There's a scene where it says no dogs or Chinese allowed. I mean, he broke that sign, you know what I mean? You think about, you know, we are just a second generation away from can't drink from the water fountain, you know what I mean?
And so that - those heroic natures resonated with us, and we wanted to make a album that kind of just bring you back to that, have some fun. And lyrically - if you hear some of my lyrics, I am - you know, I'm saying certain things that definitely have political context. I think I said despotism, socialism, capitalism, communism, forgot the wisdom. So we sitting in a rotten system. All these isms is useless without wisdom. And I went on to say left, right, come together, (laughter) you know what I mean? Just bring the left and right together, form this W. Put your hands up. Wu-Tang is forever, you know what I mean? So, yeah.
WILLIAMS: Tie it all back together.
RZA: Yeah. So I think it's healthy. I think this is the vegetables of the day.
WILLIAMS: Well, look, man, I'm a fan of your music. I listened to the new album. I think it's dope. And even more importantly, man, I think you are an incredible, enlightening human being who continues to need to shine to spread your wisdom because your words today have moved me in ways, man, I can't even explain. So I wanted to say thank you. I appreciate you, RZA, so much for what you've done to - for your community, for our community and for our listeners here today, man. I appreciate you, brother. Thank you.
RZA: Thank you, Jay. Respect. Peace.
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WILLIAMS: A huge thank you to RZA and his whole team for making this conversation go down. His album with DJ Scratch is called "Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater." It's a dope listen. Trust me. And there's so much more from our conversation that's dropping this Thursday in The Limits Plus feed, like how RZA learned to reject white colonialist views of his people and some thoughts for his friend Kanye West on how to preserve his own legacy. Hit that link in the description of this episode to subscribe.
THE LIMITS is produced by Karen Kinney, Mano Sundaresan, Leena Sanzgiri, Barton Girdwood, Brent Baughman, Rachel Neel, Yolanda Sangweni. Our executive producer is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Charla Riggi and Edward Wyckoff Williams. I'm Jay Williams. Let's stay positive and keep it moving.
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