Wu-Tang Clan master producer RZA has made his choice in the presidential race, and he’s backing the candidate he believes is the best man for the job: Hillary Clinton.
“I think Mrs. Clinton is qualified,” RZA told The Daily Beast this week in Los Angeles. “The reason I think she’s qualified is because I think she’s smart. I watched all the candidates, and even when you had Mr. Sanders, whom I respect, she’s the smartest one in the room, yo!”
“She has the experience and she has the wisdom,” he continued, praising the Democratic presidential nominee he vows to vote for in November. “When they say the best man for the job… we keep forgetting that it says, ‘All men are created equal.’ That means black man, brown man, red man, yellow man, white man, wo-man. All created equal. And I would love to see that practice—that principle—not just because it’s her, but because right now she’s the most qualified. We don’t have anyone more qualified to choose from.”
Wu-watchers took note last month when RZA, in a podcast with Interpol’s Paul Banks, seemed to praise GOP nominee Donald Trump. “I’m like, ‘That’s New York, man.’ You could go to any pizzeria and talk to a guy like that, and you’re going to get the same thing!” he said of Trump’s unapologetically egocentric persona in a Sept. 15 Talkhouse Music podcast.
Sitting in the aisles at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre after live-scoring the Shaw Bros. kung fu classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin to classic Wu-Tang beats at Beyond Fest, he clarified those comments: They were not by any means an official endorsement.
“Listen, if Mr. Trump gets up there and says something smart, I’m going to always vouch for the truth,” he said, explaining that he’d been referring to specific statements Trump made about inner-city educational programs. “That particular speech he made was about education. It was about taking billions of dollars to help kids in lower income homes go to the school of their choice, invest in the kid, let the money follow the kid from preschool all the way up to 12th grade. That’s smart. Wu-Tang is for the children. If Mr. Trump speaks something for the children, I’m going to say, ‘Hey—he finally said something I agree with.’ If he says something wrong I’m going to say I disagree with it, and the same thing for Mrs. Clinton.”
RZA, who cofounded the seminal rap outfit the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990s and built a two-decade career in music and film with a reported net worth of $18 million, did admit he has respect for Trump—just not as commander in chief. Trump’s “Grab them by the pussy” comment, said RZA, “sounds like a total 22-year-old drunk kid that does shit like that. And even then it’s wrong.”
“As a New Yorker I can understand his personality,” he said. “But he’s running for president so his qualifications and his demeanor have to match the qualities of the job. I’m not going to hire a house painter to paint me a portrait even though he’s a painter! Even though he’s a corporate man and a businessman and an icon, he’s all these things, as presidential material—to sit here and represent our country’s interests and needs—that’s something, to me, that he hasn’t shown me personally.”
“But he did his shit as a businessman, I’m not going to knock him for that,” he added. “Some rappers rap about chasing girls and popping pills and they sell a lot of records. I don’t complain about what they do. But would I take that rapper and say, ‘I want you to move into my house?’ No! Keep that over there. My family, we want Hillary Clinton.”
It’s time, RZA says, that America puts a woman in the Oval Office.
“I will be honored and proud of the United States of America that elects the first female president,” he said. “I’m glad that we did it for a black man—a beautiful black man. If you look at the history of this country, women weren’t given their rights until after slavery. So I think it’s only proper, just for the meaning of what we say we are, to see a woman sit in the White House.”
RZA’s touring a hybrid project that, in some ways, is the ultimate culmination of his hip-hop career and the cinematic influences that helped shape it. In RZA: Live From the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, he lovingly pairs a contemporary hip-hop soundtrack with Liu Chia-liang’s 1978 martial-arts classic about a monk, San Te (Gordon Liu), on a quest to achieve kung fu excellence and teach civilians to stand up to their oppressive government. Standing solo in front of a cinema screen, he scores San Te’s journey in front of a live audience, mixing classic Wu-Tang tracks into the film’s dialogue and sound cues, filling quiet moments with throbbing beats that infuse Shaolin with the energy and attitude of Staten Island’s Killa Bees.
“For me it was homage,” said RZA, who credits the idea to a brainstorm with Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest founder Tim League. “I’ve sampled those films and watched them and gotten inspiration from them, and now I can control the mood and the vibe of it. I’m realizing some of my music is very nostalgic in a way—some of those songs are 20-years-old now. It’s just a beautiful thing that the movie itself inspired my generation, and my music inspired a generation, and now we might have another chance to inspire another generation with the combination of the two.”
RZA’s 36th Chamber project also synthesizes the Eastern cinematic and philosophical influences that shaped his art and life. Hip-hop, he theorizes, is a form of martial arts in its own way: “It’s about battling, it’s about training, it’s about discipline, it’s introspective. Some of the lyrics can be very uplifting in the sense of the meaning behind what somebody is saying. Some of the lyrics are spiritual. And some of the lyrics are vicious and violent.”
“The Wu-Tang style of hip-hop, we call it lyrical swordplay,” he added. “If you look at other forms of hip-hop, the breakdancing is very acrobatic as martial arts can be, the graffiti goes back to the calligraphy of writing—which is also very important in martial arts. These things have their common denominators.”
Given the impact cross-cultural influences had on his own life—Wu-Tang is named for another Gordon Liu martial arts flick, Shaolin and Wu Tang—RZA blasted the racist Fox News segment in which Jesse Watters went trolling in New York’s Chinatown just to mock the Asians and Asian Americans he found on the street.
“I think that’s so foolish,” RZA said. “In today’s age, no culture can ridicule any other culture. You cannot find a culture on earth that has not been inspired and influenced by another culture. How can you deny beauty, unless you’re so ugly? If you’re ugly inside, the only thing you see is a reflection of yourself, and you can’t see the beauty because there’s so much ugliness in you.”
RZA, who next takes his 36th Chamber of Shaolin live-score to his hometown of New York City, also mulled over the current state of police brutality in America and how the film’s anti-authoritarian message resonated as strongly with him as a teenager as it does today. “This movie struck a nerve with me on a political level at the age of 14 because I didn’t know that oppression existed outside of my own community or outside of the black man’s suffering in America. I was like, ‘OK, I dig it now. I can see this is something that was not just inflicted upon my people; it’s a misuse of power of man that’s happened across history.’”
Police brutality and abuses of power are nothing new, he noted. But in the age of Black Lives Matter, it’s crucial that misuses of deadly force, particularly those that result in tragic deaths, are scrutinized. “I’m happy we’re able to see it now, that people are capturing it. A cop is supposed to be a hero. You’re here to serve and protect the people. We pay for the service. Imagine if you paid me to come to your house and clean your house and I broke all the dishes. We pay for their service, and they’re misusing their service.”
He was emphatic, however, to point out a positive interaction he’d had the night before with a cop in Phoenix. “The only thing I had on were my pajamas and New York Yankees hat,” he began. “Don’t ask me why! He was like, ‘Are you from New York, or do you just like the Yankees?’ I said, ‘Both.’ He said, “Hey! I’m from Queens.’ It was a nice white cop, he was on his bike, and he helped me out. But he was probably properly trained. If I were looking for cops I would go, ‘When Tommy was in school, he was a good guy.’ That’s what you want in a police force.”