Rebirth of a prince

Digging RZA in 36 steps
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  August 19, 2008

WU GOES THERE: As a producer, MC, and entity, RZA introduced architecturally underground hip-hop to mainstream audiences.

I recently took the Greyhound to Montreal for a RZA concert. In fact, my lust for Wu-Tang has led me to endure even fouler things than eight hours of lavatory stink: since the Clan usually bypass Boston, I’ve had to roll to Worcester for some shows. So when three weeks ago it was announced that RZA had booked a solo gig next Thursday at the Middle East, it seemed appropriate to spread some flower petals. In honor of the sacred Clan number 36, here go that many memorable moments from the career of a producer, MC, and entity who introduced architecturally underground hip-hop to mainstream audiences.

“GRITS” | BIRTH OF A PRINCE [2003] | Born in 1969, Robert Diggs grows up poor in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and Staten Island. According to the song “Grits”: “A one pound box of sugar, a stick of margarine, and a hot pot of grits kept his family from starving.”

“YOU CAN’T STOP ME NOW” | DIGI SNACKS [2008] | 1979: RZA and his cousin Ol’ Dirty Bastard begin hitting kung fu flicks on 42nd Street. An imagination blooms.

“LITTLE GHETTO BOYS” | WU TANG FOREVER [1997] | Around 1990: RZA, GZA, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard collectively call themselves Force of the Imperial Master, but they change the name to All In Together Now after their song by that name blows up around New York.

"OOH I LOVE YOU RAKEEM" [1991] | 1991: Before the RZA is born, Diggs signs to Tommy Boy records as Prince Rakeem. His lead single, “Ooh I Love You Rakeem,” hardly demonstrates his genius.

“IN THE HOOD” | IRON FLAG [2001] | Wu-Tang are born from a rivalry between Staten Island’s Park Hill and Stapleton projects. RZA lives on the borderline between the two, and he pumps music from his basement studio to lure potential MCs on both sides.

“DRAMA” | DIGI SNACKS [2008] | Even with his career popping, RZA remains handcuffed to the block. Soon after the Rakeem video and EP drop, he does a short bid for gun possession.

“BACK IN THE GAME” | IRON FLAG [2001] | 1993: Following the success of the newly formed Clan’s jump-off single, “Protect Ya Neck,” Wu-Tang sign with Steve Rifkind’s soon-to-be legendary Loud Records.

“BRING DA RUCKUS” | ENTER THE WU-TANG (36 CHAMBERS) [1993] | Dropping the same year as Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die and the Nas classic Illmatic, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) emerges as the grimiest, most eclectic of the three iconic releases.

“DIARY OF A MADMAN” | 6 FEET DEEP [1994] | 1995: Not busy enough rearranging the contemporary rap landscape with Wu-Tang, RZA becomes the Rzarector and joins Prince Paul, Frukwan and Poetic as Gravediggaz to birth an East Coast horrorcore movement.

“SLANG EDITORIAL” | THE PILLAGE [1998] | 1995: RZA produces GZA’s debut, Liquid Swords, and rips the project’s toughest verse on the track “4th Chamber”: “Protons and Electrons Always Cause Explosions.” (Translation: P.E.A.C.E. can never happen.)

“WU-WEAR: THE GARMENT RENAISSANCE” | THE RZA HITS [1999] | 1995: Realizing the merchandising opportunities posed by the Clan’s logo, RZA commissions the first line of Wu-tastic gear and opens the Wu-Wear boutique on Staten Island.

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