The Wu-Tang Clan is with her.
Yes, on the heels of Ghostface Killah’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president comes the news that the Wu’s de facto leader, RZA, is on Team Hillary as well. Speaking to The Daily Beast in support of his new group Banks and Steelz, a collaborative project between RZA and Interpol frontman Paul Banks, The Abbot launched into a long explanation about why he’s backing Hillary over presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
“I think America is a place that has a great image around the world,” says RZA. “As a musician, we travel the world. I’ve been traveling the world from [Bill] Clinton to [George W.] Bush to Barack Obama, right? And when I was going around the world during Clinton, the party was good, people came in and paid for the tickets, I wasn’t mad, room service was good, the restaurant treatment was good. When I traveled the world during Bush, people was hating on me. I had to wait for the waiter, you know what I mean? And then when I traveled when Barack was president, everything was good again.” “What that means for me as a world traveler,” he continues, “is the image of our president affects us who travel around the world—it affects the worldview of us. So when we put in a black man as president, we kind of fulfilled what the principles of our country are: to look at us as that guiding light. So, if we did it with a black man, I think, for our image, it would be very unique for us to do it with a woman, because that follows the principles of what we are saying this country is.”
Both RZA and Paul Banks sat down about a month ago to discuss Banks and Steelz, whose debut album, Anything But Words, is out August 26th. It’s an inspired effort, melding the Wu’s furious beats with Interpol’s moody minor chords, punctuated by Banks’s ethereal voice. The impressive album boasts RZA’s trademark eclectic production, as well as cameos from the likes of Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) and Wu members Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Masta Killa.
“I feel like part of why my instinct was that the collaboration would work was because of the minor chords and the atmosphere, because I feel like RZA’s production also exists in that kind of space. Even though it’s different genres, I feel like we have similar aesthetics in that way,” says Banks. “It felt like I don’t have to dig into the crates for those sample hooks that I always do,” adds RZA. “I’m digging to find old songs to express what I’m feeling. This became a case of he [Banks] can actually sing it.”
Instead of being forged in the fires of Staten Island like the Wu, the origins of Banks and Steelz can be traced back to Interpol’s East Village stomping ground. According to Banks, he’d referenced RZA as an influence while promoting his first solo record, and subsequently received an email from an acquaintance of RZA’s who arranged a meeting between the two. And what a meeting it was.
“We ended up hooking up at a tequila bar [Mayahuel on 6th Street],” says RZA. “I actually had mezcal for breakfast yesterday. No, seriously, it was good. From there, we ended up making a night of it, went down to Chinatown to this noodle bar that makes handmade noodles, then jumped into a club after that. We learned a lot about each other.”
The two jammed for about a week before they generated their first demo, which became the track “Can’t Hardly Feel”—a song RZA attests to being his favorite, remarking that it “makes me feel like I’m back in high school... I miss those innocent days.” Then, RZA’s manager brought the demo to Warner Bros. Records, who informed them that they’d be interested in an album if the fellas were, too.
Banks and Steelz’s music is difficult to categorize, owing to a wide variety of genres, but it’s certainly more of a departure for Banks, who’s been firmly entrenched in the rock arena since Interpol broke onto the scene in the early aughts with Turn on the Bright Lights.
As for the current state of rock music, which appears to be in decline, Banks offers, “That might be because there’s not as much space on the radio for rock music, but I think rock will survive and it is out there because it’s fun playing instruments, it’s fun being in the basement with a live drummer and making a ton of noise. And the live experience of a rock concert is something that is unmatched. So I think it will always survive. Right now, the moment with the popular mainstream has definitely moved away from rock, but I don’t think it’s going to kill rock.”
During the Wu’s ‘90s heyday, New York was the hip-hop mecca. Now, however, the rap capital has moved down south to Atlanta, where rappers like Future, Big Boi, 2 Chainz, Killer Mike, Young Thug, Jeezy, Gucci Mane, and more have influenced the rap zeitgeist to the point where even New York rappers like A$AP Rocky and Desiigner sound southern-fried.
“You can never sleep on New York hip-hop. You hear the new Fat Joe joint?” says RZA, referring to “All the Way Up.” “New York is always going to apply the New York vibe to hip-hop.” “And panda panda? That’s my joint, kid!” he adds. “You cannot deny it. If you have a drink in your hand, you’re up in the spot, you’re getting’ into it, kid! You’re gonna move!”
In addition to his music exploits, RZA wears numerous other hats—acting, scoring films, and directing. Back in 2012 he released his debut feature, the martial arts flick The Man with the Iron Fists, and next year will unveil Coco, about an aspiring hip-hop artist (played by rapper Azealia Banks) who navigates the world of slam poetry.
You never really now what you’re going to get with Banks, whose volatile Twitter persona has threatened to overshadow her musical bona fides, but RZA says she was a pro on set.
“I think it will be out February, to be honest with you,” RZA says of Coco. “Look, I’ll be a hundred percent honest: Azealia showed up on time every day, she delivered a great role. I’m not selling her—she has to sell herself—but she did a great job in the film, she was totally professional. I didn’t know so much about her, personally. I only knew a small bit from the ‘212’ song and the Ebro interview, which actually led to my casting her, because I liked the conviction of what she stood for.” Banks and Steelz, meanwhile, is set to embark on a mini-tour this summer and fall in support of their debut album, and remain optimistic concerning a possible sequel. “We got more material and I would love to make another record with RZA,” says Banks. “I think this collaboration is dope, and it’s real, and it’s an organic kind of experience.”
“If there’s a demand, we will give you the supply,” chimes in RZA. “Supply-and-demand. If ya want more, we got it! Alright, kid?!”