The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA Thinks Carole Killed Her Husband
The legendary hip-hop rapper/producer opens up to Marlow Stern about ODB’s legacy, Netflix’s “Tiger King,” and how he hasn’t left the house for 14 days.
The novel coronavirus is nothing to fuck with—quoth the RZA, de facto leader of hip-hop’s Avengers, the almighty Wu-Tang Clan. “I haven’t even been to a gas station, bro,” he says. “I haven’t been nowhere, man. I haven’t been outside in 14 days.”
RZA is “trapped in L.A.,” thousands of miles from his adopted home of Staten Island. He’s been keeping busy amid the COVID-19 pandemic by catching up on movies, tuning in to D-Nice on Instagram Live, playing board games with his wife and son, and, like so many Americans, streaming Netflix’s gonzo docuseries Tiger King.
And yes, the rap icon thinks Carole is not only a huge hypocrite, but likely killed her husband. “I’m a PETA supporter but the homegirl who was actin’ like she was supporting PETA but then had the lions and tigers in the cages, Carole? Oh my god. These people are not in sync with our system in America, and they need to get in sync,” he says. “I said to my wife, ‘So, Joe’s in jail but everybody else is free, and Carole killed her husband?’ Well, you know, maybe they’ll make some more episodes about it.”
But Wu-Tang is for the children, after all, and RZA is worried about the precarious state of the world—in particular New York City, which has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, with nearly 50,000 confirmed cases and 1,400 deaths.
“I got to build up a little bit of Chi so when calamity comes, I can go back into my ark. But a lot of people out there are really suffering, losing their jobs, not having proper food, clothing and shelter,” he says.
“It’s scary. I have a big family, and there are a lot of us [in New York City]. It’s nerve-wracking. My brother is one of the chief dispatchers for 911, so he has to hear all the trauma of what people are going through, and then my sister works for HUD, finding people homes, and it was already a problem,” RZA explains. “She still has to go into work because she’s in the middle, finding people places to live, and you can’t just abandon that. We’re feeling it all as a family, as a community, so if the federal government can send ventilators and anything to help us, we would greatly appreciate it.”
According to RZA, no members of the Wu-Tang Clan have contracted COVID-19—but the mother of their ex-manager John “Mook” Gibbons, who also happens to be RZA’s cousin, came down with the virus. “I don’t like to talk about sad things, but our manager of the past, his name is Mook, his moms has contracted it and she’s in quarantine right now,” he says, his voice cracking a bit. “She’s my aunt actually, and elderly, so we’re all praying and he’s doing what he can to comfort her.”
The novel coronavirus notwithstanding, RZA’s hopped on the phone with me to discuss Unique, a documentary short available on Amazon Music celebrating the 25th anniversary of Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, the solo debut of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (featuring one of the greatest rap songs ever, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”). The mini-doc includes testimonials from his fellow Wu-Tang members, never-before-seen freestyles, and more than anything, is a monument to ODB’s greatness—something that RZA feels has been criminally overlooked.
“People think that he was trapped in a box, or think that he didn’t have lyrical content, or think that he was on some clown shit. They got it totally wrong,” maintains RZA, who is also ODB’s cousin. “It’s like Charlie Chaplin: You think he’s just some guy out there doing physical comedy but he’s a master at what he’s doing, and what he did took years of training. So [ODB] was a scientist of his talent, of his music, of his vibe, of his performances, as well as a highly-intelligent man in his studies of life.”
Take the infamous MTV incident—you know, in ‘95, when the network captured ODB taking a limo to a welfare office in New York City to cash a $375 welfare check and collect food stamps. Many viewers saw Ol’ Dirty as a buffoon exploiting the welfare system but RZA believes there was a deeper message at work.
“People took things at face value, like, oh, he took his family down to the welfare office in a limousine to collect food stamps and it becomes a joke in one capacity, but in all reality, he said the government was givin’ out free money and he was gonna go get it. He’s saying that the government owes him,” offers RZA. “Dirty’s bloodline is from the Shinnecock Indian tribe, and all of Lower Manhattan was theirs. All of it belonged to his bloodline. His grandfather, Chief Cuffie, they moved him to a reservation out in Long Island, so this is Dirty getting information from his family that, yo, all that shit belonged to us. Dirty was pointing out something on another level, and that’s what people don’t understand about him.”
Then there’s the small matter of the FBI, who surveilled and harassed the Wu-Tang Clan—and Ol’ Dirty Bastard—for years. The extent of their campaign against the Wu came to light in 2012, when the Bureau released their 94-page file on ODB.
“It was a bad usage of government power and taxpayer’s dollars,” he says. “The biggest problem I got when it comes to politics, and I’m more of a spiritual guy than a political guy, but I do know that the government is paid for by taxpayer dollars, and so is the police, and so is all these state officials and public service stuff. We’re paying for service, man! I just hope that when I’m paying for some service, they gotta help me!”
“The problem we have in our country is that we’re paying for a service, and they’re not providing the service that we’re paying for,” he continues. “Why would I pay the government to waste time investigating young black men who are on a positive path? That’s a bad use of my payment for the services that I’m paying for—especially when I go back to my neighborhood and see the same pothole on my street.”
Our talk eventually circles back to the ongoing pandemic, and the state of the Wu-Tang Clan. While RZA had a two-hour call this week with GZA, his cousin and so-called “spiritual head” of the hip-hop group, all nine members have yet to hop on a Zoom videoconference together—though they have a scheduled call this week.
“We had this Wu Wednesday call that we used to do but we put it on suspension about a month ago. The last one was maybe the week of January 20th, and we put it on suspension for a minute because it was an anniversary year, so GZA was in Europe, Ghost was doing a tour, Rae was doing a tour, so everyone was in their own chamber, and now this thing happened, so we have a chance to sit still,” he says.
When I ask him whether the Wu-Tang Clan is planning to entertain the quarantined, live music-starved public with, say, a performance of “Protect Ya Neck” via Zoom, he laughs. “That might be fun! Maybe we can get all the guys together and play around.”