Exclusive: RZA opens up about ODB signing with Roc-A-Fella and how it wasn't supposed to happen
R.I.P. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
This coming November will mark 14 years since the passing of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, one of music’s most animated and much loved characters. To me it seems way longer than that.
I can remember hearing the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), for the first time and falling in love with both Ol’ Dirty’s and Method Man’s iconic voices. I can remember hearing “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” for the first time. And even more monumental than that, I can remember seeing the video for Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” remix and thinking “What a stroke of fucking genius it was putting him in it.”
He was brash and excitable. He was like a whirlwind rolling into town. But it wasn’t always about his persona. Forget the circus act for a moment, ODB was in fact an incredibly talented MC.
His delivery might have seemed random for the most part but truth be told it was every bit as calculated as it was erratic. Real Hip Hop heads know exactly what I’m talking about. He was like the second coming of Biz Markie, but more potty-mouthed, and he laid the foundation for DMX to shine. He toed that line and I loved it.
With his fair share of controversies, like his “Wu-Tang is for the children” outburst at the 1998 Grammys, one in particular that stands out is when ODB went to jail in 2001 for cocaine possession.
Released in 2003, he shocked the music world by signing with Roc-A-Fella Records, the same label JAY-Z was signed to and that Dame Dash was the head of. Why was this such a shock? Well many expected him to reunite with his Wu-Tang brothers, especially RZA, but even with deals on the table he chose Dame and Roc-A-Fella.
I caught up with RZA on a recent trip to London, who revealed to me that the ODB and Roc-A-Fella signing hurt him as he’d been talking to Ol’ Dirty for a while and had been working behind the scenes on a deal for him. Not only that, he had a plan to help get the rapper’s mind right and his health right.
“I’ve never really talked about before,” RZA begins. “We talked a lot. When people say that nobody visited ODB in jail, no, I visited ODB in jail. Okay?
“I told him, ’Yo, when you get out, fuck the world. I’m gonna put you in a Manhattan apartment, I’m gonna give you a girl, the kinda girl that’s gonna live with you, she’s gonna take care of you. I’m building a gym for you, the studio is right there, and we don’t need nobody, it’s just me and you and we’re gonna go and do what we said we were gonna do as kids, we’re gonna live out our destiny.’
“And then the week before he was getting out I was on the phone with him. I called Tom Whalley over at Warner Bros. I’m like, ‘Yo, I wanna come over there and I’ma bring Ol’ Dirty over there and we’re just gonna focus on making music.’ And he was like, ‘I got you.’ He gave me numbers. So I told Ol’ Dirty, ‘I got this much money for you. Listen this is gonna be great, you ain’t gotta worry about nothing.'
“While this was going on I had to fly to London because I was doing some press for Derailed.” Referring to the film he starred in alongside Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, RZA continues: “ODB got released while I was in London and I was due home two days later. That’s when I saw it on the news: ‘ODB signs with Roc-A-Fella Records.’”
After all the work behind-the-scenes on getting everything ready for Ol’ Dirty’s return it’s understandable that RZA would feel a type of way. Disappointed not only because his brother had gone back on his word, the fact that he had to see the announcement on TV first before being told, especially when other members of the Wu family were present, was obviously going to be a bit of a blow.
He continues: “I was like ‘What the fuck?’ Not only did he sign to Roc-A-Fella but he had Popa Wu standing beside him and he had 12 O’Clock standing beside him. So he had them standing beside him, as well as his mom. There was nothing I could do. I went to see them and his mother said to me, ‘Baby, let him have his own life.’ And all I could say was: ‘Yes, okay auntie.’”
But what about Dame Dash, the man who had appeared to orchestrate the whole thing?
“Me and Dame had two sit downs,” RZA explains. “There was a little animosity, yeah, of course, but we sat down and he said something that I couldn’t deny. He said, ‘Yo Riz, your family came to me and they asked me to help them and so I gave them what they asked for.’
“How do I respond to that? I can't. He didn’t go to them, my family went to him. And it was Jarred Weisfeld (Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s manager) who led them over there and they asked for what they asked for. But ODB never signed a contract. It was a power of attorney type thing which got that contract signed. Before he passed away he told me all that, he told me that he never signed a contract. He was feeling like ‘Yeah, I kinda got duped’ in a way.”
Not elaborating on exactly what he meant by Ol’ Dirty getting duped, one could speculate that it had something to do with his manager, Jarred Weisfeld, a man who was more concerned with making himself famous than having his artist’s best interests at heart. This was never more evident than when an ODB movie was announced in 2012 with a working title of Dirty White Boy. Not so much a tribute to the rapper who died in 2004, instead it was to focus on the relationship between ODB and Jarred. Needless to say it never got off the ground.
Asking RZA about whether or not we’ll ever see any more posthumous releases from Ol’ Dirty Bastard he explains that there’s not a lot of unreleased music left from ODB.
“There’s actually more of him dialoguing though,” he admits. “For some reason Dirty would be in the studio just dialoguing, bullshittin’, talking, or saying what’s on his mind. We actually uncovered one that we recorded for the album N***a Please and it’s called ‘The Law’. The Warner Bros./Elektra family, they found it in their files, and then I realised I also had it in my files, so we have actually refurbished it and we’re thinking about putting together a tribute compilation to celebrate his life.”
Asking him exactly how it’ll be made up, and whether or not it will feature any tracks from the A Son Unique (his unreleased Roc-A-Fella album) sessions, RZA says:
“It’ll be like a greatest hits album with unreleased… well, not just dialogue. It’s weird how he did it. He wanted 'The Law' to be a song but it’s all over the place and he doesn’t rap on it. But he’s saying some things on there that’s kinda crazy.
“As for A Son Unique, the tracks I produced for that album I don’t know if they all came out so I will need to check with Dame Dash and if they didn’t come out I will make sure that they get out. Ol’ Dirty’s flow, his concepts and his ideas are always a pleasure to listen to.”
RZA and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan will be co-headlining Lovebox Festival in Gunnersbury Park on July 13th 2018.