Rick Rubin has a podcast on which he interviews different musicians. A few months ago he had Rza on. It’s an interesting conversation.
Rza talks about growing up in Staten Island, the early days of hip-hop, about visiting China, taking pilgrimages, communism, religion, a bunch of different subjects.
A few other things jumped out at me. One, when Rick asks what smoking has contributed to Rza’s life, Rza says he realized, about five years ago, that all his best work was made when he was sober. Enter the Wu-Tang, for example, was made when he was sober. He is sober now.
Another interesting thing he says is that, around the year 2001, he became very disillusioned with hip-hop; he began trying to conform to what he believed the market wanted, as opposed to doing music for the love. That’s probably why a lot of the Wu-Tang material from around that time is hit or miss.
He also says that when he wrote The Man with the Iron Fists, he traveled to China, where he had a kind or rude awakening about race relations. There are no black people there and nobody speaks English, he says; because of this, he bonded with one of the first white people he met, a white dude from the midwest who was in China on business. Would that happen in the United States? He isn’t sure.
Lastly, he says that when he was in China, he was very lonely. Again, it comes down to language barriers, and being black in a country with no black people. It’s incredible thing, hearing him admit that. We think of rappers, they are like supermen, living in this fantasy world where all kinds of crazy shit is happening all the time. But here we listen to Rza talking about being alone, and realize that even with all the shit that he might have around him, the handlers and whatnot, he is — at the end of the day — just a person.