"Bobby Fischer lost when he became the pieces. When he’d lose he’d go to his room and cry, he really took things hard. He couldn’t separate what happened on the board from what happened to himself. And some people think that it drove him crazy. I don’t think he was crazy. I think he was eccentric. But I think he lost a crucial part of perspective that you need in the game and in life.”
“Around 1991, things were bad for us in New York. My album as Prince Rakeem wasn’t paying my bills. GZA’s record for Cold Chillin’ didn’t do well either. We needed money, one of my friends got killed, some people were trying to kill me, and all of us were scrambling.”
“Practice wit and deflection every day. You never know when you’ll need it.”
These lines are from The Tao of Wu, a wisdom-volume by the RZA, architect of The Wu Tang Clan. The book includes an introduction by a Shaolin monk, koans, lyrics, and analyses of numerology, chess moves, kung fu movies, and religious passages. Interwoven throughout is the story of a suitably myth-sized life. Growing up, RZA once shared a room with nineteen others in a two-bedroom apartment; he says that as a teenager, he eluded a mob with the help of Allah, who turned him invisible; and when he was acquitted of attempted murder on grounds of self-defense, the jury, in tears, embraced him. A postmodern sage with street cred, the RZA approaches his life with a seemingly zig-zag logic. In hindsight, it’s clear he could not not have appeared in Ghost Dog.
In the early ‘90s RZA produced Wu Tang’s debut album, the heroically grimy Enter the 36 Chambers, in three Staten Island apartments. Later, in just one year spent in the basement of a new house, he recorded all the music for classic albums by Clan members Raekwon, GZA, and Old Dirty Bastard. Since he kept his own special system, with compressors for each rapper’s voice, the nine members would sound different if they recorded elsewhere. The place flooded before Iron Man, RZA says, explaining that Ghostface ultimately recorded this album in a studio and that his voice isn’t the same. As well as the virtues of being a despot of the engineering process, RZA talks about his initial vision for the Wu-Tang, and how their isolation on Staten Island contributed to their individuality within the New York hip hop scene. He also has some interesting views about rap in general, like this: “If the music sounds violent … that gives the listener a chance to get his violence out into the air. But if you have a violent lyric on a smoothed-out beat, that violence goes straight into your mind.”