The RZA on Starting Out, Hitler, and The Tao of Wu

The RZA’s The Tao of Wu is part brilliant autobiography, part collection of insights and lessons learned along the way, always tying back to seminal works and natural laws. Last week he kicked off a book tour at Barnes and Noble in Union Square, where he read a few bits from the memoir and answered questions. Virtually everyone in the packed room was a fan, waiting patiently while the catchy, beginning beat of “Shame on a Nigga” played in endless loop. There was one hater in the front row who tried to throw a multi-part question attack. The RZA gracefully deflected those punches with a big smile and positive ideas.

The next day I spent an hour across the table from the RZA, who had on the same sunglasses from the event, but pulled them off for a few seconds to show me his eyes. He’s a tall man, and the height can be imposing, but his smile comes easily and often. And once he starts talking about ideas, his presence is disarming. After the jump, some of the highlights from our conversation.

RZA on Starting up and Growth
The Wu started with 10 thousand records in our trunk [Laughs…] and it went on to sell millions of records. The funniest thing is that we started with only that, and about ten thousand dollars, all I had to my name.

That ten thousand sparked and spawned millions of dollars for us. They did a count one year, I think it was around 2000, of record sales and what we grossed for the industry. They said we created over half a billion dollars, for the industry and for the business. When you look at the movies we’re involved in, and all the solo careers, and Method Man and Ghost, it’s over a billion dollars of business from this one small idea. This one small investment. It’s great to see life happen like that.

RZA on Consciousness and the Media
I think there’s a rise of consciousness, but not in media exposure. There is a rise of it in the people. According to the New Age movement, we have entered the age of Aquarius.

If you look at the word of Jesus in the Book of Revelation, he tells his disciples, “Oh you’re impressed with what I am doing, but in the last days in time, people will be able to do what I am doing and more. Normal people will be able to do this.” Now, you could take it literally or spiritually. If you take it literally, you gotta take it to the science level. We have been able to take a gene from an animal, clone the gene, and from one cow have fifty cows. We have more food and growth around the world, cloning seedless fruits. If we take it from that level, it shows the power of creation in man’s hands.

Or if we take it from a spiritual level, to where people are walking around mentally dead. Mentally in the grave. Mentally they’re Lazarus. And yet a word, a beat of music, a spark of an idea enlightens them.

And this is my greatest reward. Someone will tell me, “Yo, because of you I’m a millionaire. Something you said or did, it inspired me to take a proper choice that led me to this goal. Now it secures my whole family.” That’s the beauty. In the Bible it said, “in the beginning there was word and the word became flesh.” We’re seeing the word we’re hearing manifesting things in the flesh.

RZA on Deriving Truth from Evil
Let’s take a man like Hitler. They’ve got a book about the 10 most evil men who ever lived, and Hitler is number one. You look at these men, and you see that their evilness. But I’m able to look at them and still gain some knowledge out of them. Hitler was a shitty motherfucker. But even in shit there’s use. Because shit from a cow? That’s the fertilizer that helps plants grow.

He had an idea. You have to understand his idea. He had an idea of white supremacy — Aryan supremacy. For the rest of the world, that’s pretty hard and terrible. But if you look at it, it makes a lot of sense for his world because he didn’t want his race mingled with other races. He wanted to preserve that particular people. He was studying features and saying OK, these are good, these are not. He wanted to bring forth this form of man.

Well of course it’s wrong because it’s affecting other men. And all men are created equal. And we should all have an equal chance to be ourselves. But preserving yourself — self preservation — is the first law of nature. Dinosaur, man, beast, the first law is self preservation. So therefore the law applies to him, and what he was doing. You’ve got to respect that, you know what I mean? The point that’s missing, which he probably knew but didn’t apply, is that his self is the same as all selves because there’s only one self. There’s one ocean.

As a black man sometimes, being oppressed in America, you say, the black man got to rise and rule the world. The black man’s going to rule the world. OK maybe. You’re going to rule the world and do the same thing as Hitler? It’s the same problem. No matter whether you’re black or white.

RZA on Obama vs. the Clintons
I supported Obama after he got the primary. At first I was supporting Hillary Clinton, because to me politics is about business more than anything. It’s about the business of life in America. America is a corporation. We’re electing the president of that corporation. I’ve got a corporation, and I’ve got to get a president for my corporation who’s going to be the best guy for the job. When the Clinton family was in power, I saw the benefits of it in my neighborhood. My cousins had jobs. Everybody was doing alright. My cousin was able to buy a house in Long Island just from working hard.

When Mr. Bush took over, everybody was going broke. Everybody I know. I’m watching the news seeing billions being spent on war against a man — these guys do business with each other everyday. Saddam had been doing business with America for years. And then didn’t like him no more because he was a bad business partner. They cut his ass out of it. Our hard-earned tax dollars is sent over to a place spread democracy and liberate people when I’m looking at my family starving right here. I was like yo, the Clinton family would be better if they be back in the White House because at least they cleared the deficit, jobs were better, and I seen people’s incomes increasing.

I also didn’t think that America would elect a black president so soon. I didn’t think for another hundred years to be honest with you. So instead of putting my energy on a long shot, I went with what I thought would be a good shot.

Do I think Obama is righteous? He seems to come off as a righteous guy. As a good guy. He comes off as if he has a lot of good qualities. You see it in his speaking and you see it in his face. I don’t know what’s going on behind these closed doors. And none of us are going to know until more can be revealed through time. But one thing he said in one of his speeches was, early on, when he first came to the Democratic convention and made his first speech, and they didn’t say he was running for president. And he said, “My name is Barack, and it means blessing.” And I went wow. I think he is a blessing to America. He has helped the American image. He has eased things.

If the black man in America don’t grow up to be a respectable man, a real dignified man, America’s never going to have its peace. There’s always going to be this conflict. Obama gave us an example of a dignified black man. That’s what he gave us more than anything. The idea that there is a chance. My next door neighbor might have finally understood the plight of humanity. And now we might be able to have a better relationship with each other.

RZA on Change, Growth, and Gangsters
I wasn’t conscious overnight. It was a process. That’s why my name is the RZA. My name stands for zig-zag-zig. I try this way — which is the right path — because when I was 15 and 16, I was righteous. Super righteous. I wouldn’t eat meat or drink milk. I would study every day. I was super humble. I was just so righteous. I was getting so skinny my aunt said “the wind is going to blow you away.” Then sex and drugs entered the picture. I went through this whole process of sex and drugs — I was 17, 18, 19 — MC’ing, gangsterism. I became a contradiction to what I knew. And all I did want to do was drink, smoke and fuck.

That’s why as Bobby Digital, I make songs that relate to that. But my idea of doing it is consciously to attract the person who is doing it, so he could take a listen to me now. And the next time he buys one of my products — guess what? — I threw some medicine in it. You put sugar in the medicine so people will take it.

I still smoke and drink. That’s self infliction, that’s nobody else. To hurt yourself is on yourself.

RZA on Why He Makes Movies
On the artistic level, making movies is so gratifying. So there’s a little selfishness in there. From the gratification I get in making films and being involved in that world. It’s a true expression of art. It’s like when I was first on the mic. I just enjoyed rapping and battling. And I enjoy this whole film thing whether it’s in front of the camera or behind it. It’s very fulfilling.

But yeah, I do desire — and there’s a few of us in Hollywood who desire — to break consciousness through film. People do it all the time. Take a Coppola film, The Godfather. That movie helped me, taught me. Taught me how to be a man. Taught me about family values. Watching these families — these guys were killing each other — but the family was tight. And so, I want to make films that can leave some kind of impact on people. Something with enough moral in it, enough spirit in it that it inspires you.

*****

At this point our conversation turned to kung fu, which he studies and which I took for many years. “Here let me show you something,” RZA said and got up, his arm out. I connected mine to form the bridge, a starting point with the arms that allows you both to block and punch. “Go ahead,” he said, and we started to spar.

I pulled his arm down, threw a punch, he blocked and so on, with him advancing me toward a set of bookshelves. The RZA finally broke through and had his hand on my neck. “How’d I do that?” he asked. I thought mechanics, and said something about him using my force. “No,” he said. “Intention.” He stopped to let it sit there for a moment. “I set my intention clearly before we started, I would get to your neck. You could hit me, kick me in the balls… doesn’t matter. Nothing would stop me.”