Method Man really wants to smoke a blunt. I’m seated across from the towering MC, who’s decked out in head-to-toe New York Giants gear—matching hat and tracksuit, spotless—and, though he seems engaged in our conversation, I can’t help but notice the tiny piece of white paper in his hands that he’s furiously rolling (and unrolling) into a blunt. Perhaps it’s involuntary, since he hasn’t broken eye contact with me to so much as glance at his makeshift spliff. Even so, I feel a tad guilty to be depriving him of the opportunity.
The man formerly known as Clifford Smith is here in Toronto promoting the film The Cobbler, which made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Tom McCarthy, the dramedy stars Adam Sandler as a Lower East Side cobbler who discovers that by fixing shoes with an antique sewing machine and then stepping into them, he can assume the identity of their owner. One of the men he morphs into is Ludlow, a notorious local criminal played by Method Man. Jumping back-and-forth between street tough and gentle cobbler, the 43-year-old rapper runs away with the film, exhibiting deft comedic timing. Fans of the stoner flick How High, of course, already knew the grimy Wu-Tang Clan member possessed a knack for comedy, while those who tuned in to both HBO series Oz and The Wire, which coincidentally also featured McCarthy as the fabulist reporter Scott Templeton, can vouch for his dramatic chops as well.
In addition to his acting efforts, which includes a role in the upcoming Judd Apatow-Amy Schumer flick Trainwreck, Method Man’s rap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan is headlining a “reunion show” Sept. 20 in Brooklyn. The first SOURCE360 mega-concert is part of a packed weekend of music panels and events. And the Wu are also hard at work on its sixth studio album A Better Tomorrow, the first since 2007’s 8 Diagrams.
Did you know Tom McCarthy while you were both shooting The Wire?
We never met on the set of The Wire. Tom wanted to meet with me, so I wanted to do my due diligence before I met him and went online and looked at his credits. I knew the guy looked familiar. And then—boom—I saw The Wire, and it hit me. Templeton! He was that shithead reporter. So, when we finally met, I said, “You’re that piece of shit reporter!” and he said, “You’re that piece of shit Cheese!” and I knew I liked him right away.
You’re a part of the Adam Sandler-Judd Apatow family now with a role in the upcoming Apatow flick Trainwreck.
I auditioned for it, and the part was to be African or Jamaican. I pulled an African accent out of my ass, and got the part. So then the pressure’s on because it’s Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer, and I’ve got this pseudo-African accent. But they made it a very comfortable place for me.
Why do you think rappers, in particular, make such fine actors?I’ve been tryin’ to tell y’all for years: 85 percent of these rappers are actors. They fabricate their bumps and bruises. Half of them ain’t even held a gun in their damn hands, but they’re talkin’ about guns all the time. So, if you’re putting on that bravado like that and really believe in that part, why not put it onscreen? It’s a slippery slope, though, whenever someone from hip-hop gets into acting, because any role that they do, they’re not seeing us in that role, they’re thinking, “Oh, that’s Method Man up there getting a pie in the face.” It takes away a little bit from the mystique that they’ve put on you. Who would picture Wu-Tang doing slapstick comedy in primetime on Fox? Nobody!
If 85 percent of rappers nowadays are, like you said, fugazy, what’s your take on the state of hip-hop and rappers today?
I will never knock another rapper in the game, and I stand by that. The majority of rappers in the game now, I commend them for their business-savvy—the way that they’re handling their business first and solidifying that they have a future, and then taking care of the music second. These kids are way smarter than we were, so whatever you think they’re lacking in artistry and music, they’re making up for it in hustle.
The biggest example of a rapper playing a part is Tupac. He was a shy art student who assumed a role as this hell-raising gangster rapper, and then got caught up in it. In his infamous deposition video, you can clearly see that the “thug life” façade is stripped away.
He became it. He wanted to come home! He wanted to come home, but that demon was still there. The way dudes move, they want to be the persona so much and after a while of doing it, you become that shit. And then, it gets to a point where you’re like, “I don’t want to be this anymore,” but you can’t turn it off because you’ve already laid the path. It’s like takin’ a fuckin’ molly for the first time to see what it feels like and not liking the feeling, but you’ve got another two hours of this motherfucker so you’ve got to ride that shit out. That’s what happens to these people, and that’s what happened to ’Pac.
Speaking of Tupac, what’s your take on the recent Suge Knight shooting?
I think it’s sad that every time you hear something about Suge it’s some negative shit. It’s bad that that brother got shot. If we should be mad at anything, we should be mad at the fact that another black man shot another black man. I feel for Suge though, you know what I mean? I feel like in another era, Suge would be very much appreciated. He came around at a time when a lot of urban artists were getting dicked around by labels and had no means of retribution.
My favorite Suge Knight story will always be the one where he allegedly held Vanilla Ice over a balcony and forced him to sign away the rights to “Ice Ice Baby.”
[Laughs] That is dope! That’s some gangsta shit right there.
In college, my friends and me watched How High way too many times. What’s going on with the sequel?
The beauty of How High was that that movie was written for us—Redman and Method Man with different fuckin’ names. I wish they’d come up with some drinking games to it! But sometimes you have to give people a reason to want to do something, and have to remind them why something’s great. That’s where How High 2 is right now. We have to remind people why the original was great, and have to do a little more work to bring that to fruition.
There’s this Wu-Tang reunion show coming up in New York. What’s the status of the upcoming album, A Better Tomorrow?
Well, I think the mistake that everyone’s making is calling it a “reunion.” We were never broken up or anything like that. But the album is done. RZA is just tweaking things here and there, but we’ve got the track list down and everything. It’s a done deal. I spit on the majority of the records and now, according to my sources, Rae and Ghost are onboard, and it’s going to be really special.
Do you have a favorite Wu-Tang memory—any crazy shenanigans you got into?
Torturing whoever went to sleep first in the studio. A lot of the shit we did can’t be said because it’d be like snitchin’, but the funniest thing I can think of involves fire extinguishers. I got sick and went to sleep first, and you can’t go to sleep first around these dudes. This was early in our career so there was like five dudes to a hotel room. So they hit me up with the fire extinguisher. I was throwing up and that shit almost suffocated me! I woke up and my whole room was smoky, and I thought there was a fire and shit, and that was when I had my Afro so it was covered in white shit. I was pissed. Ol’ Dirty kicked my door in that night, too, lookin’ for SWV, talkin’ about, “Where dem bitches at?” So, I went and got my own fire extinguisher, went in their room, and I aired that bitch out. Now they’re runnin’ out with white hair and white beards! Fuck. It’s been 21 years now. It’s just Wu-Tang bein’ Wu-Tang, man.
A classic ODB moment was that MTV special where he took a limo to cash in food stamps.
Ignorance is bliss, but Bill Clinton got at his ass for that. That’s Dirty for ya, man. This kid is from Brooklyn stealin’ from stores, and he got the president pissed off. That’s when you know you’re a Dirty Bastard. That’s when you know.
Do you have a favorite Wu-Tang song? Nah. Out of all of ours, though, I have a favorite album: Cuban Linx. RZA was just experimenting on the first album, then came my album, then Dirty’s, and by the time we got to Rae, he was so fuckin’ focused, and so was Rae. It’s the best album out of all of ‘em.
Are there any current rappers you’re really high on?
There are a few, but I don’t want to name names. They’ll be hearin’ from me. But I respect battle rappers’ culture a lot more than ours right now. They do it because they fuckin’ love it, it’s got nothin’ to do with getting on the radio, selling clothes, and all that.