mono.kultur #13: GZA / WU-Tang Clan
mono.kultur is an interview magazine in full length and depth, extensive and unfiltered. One interview per issue. Quarterly. #13 features GZA/WU-Tang Clan Interview by Renko Heuer Photography by Sue Kwon Design by Kai von Rabenau
A chess game is a whole bunch of questions that need answers.
It certainly is no exaggeration to say that Genius/GZA is the epitome of a New York MC. Although he has had his comic appearances every now and then – for example, on Chappelle’s Show – first and foremost he’s a man who is ear-catchingly serious about his art: lyricism. Born Gary Grice in 1966, GZA is one of the three founding members of the legendary New York rap collective Wu-Tang Clan, arguably among the most successful and influential rap groups in music history.
Originally known as the All In Together Now crew, GZA and his younger cousins RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were gradually joined by six more members (Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface, Masta Killa, U-God and Inspectah Deck) and eventually renamed themselves in 1992 to storm onto the scene one year later with the instant classic Enter the Wu-Tang. Hailing from Staten Island, aka ‘the Shaolin’, the Wu’s debut album immediately became the catalyst for a new, more aggressive and multi-layered style of NYC hip-hop focusing their razor-sharp lyrics on street-related subjects, which the Clan’s members repeatedly blended with Five Percenter and Kung Fu terminology. 36 Chambers, bursting with surreal and menacing soundscapes, hardcore beats and pre-chipmunk samples, ultimately marked the beginning of a new era.
‘Lyrical swords’ always at the ready, it was RZA who drafted the now notorious ‘five-year plan’ to conquer the world, leading to the Clan’s signing a monumental record deal that allowed each member to pursue a solo career with a label of his choice. Ever since, the core group around GZA, RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who died in 2004 of an overdose, has, with a huge variety of collective and solo projects as well as productions, record labels, films and clothing lines, created a hip-hop empire that has been unequalled, financially and creatively.
Though he is by far the least flamboyant and perhaps the most introverted member of them all, GZA is clearly the Wu-Tang’s master lyrical swordsman. With Liquid Swords, his sophomore effort, he delivered one of the first Wu-Tang solo projects to follow 36 Chambers – and without a doubt one of the greatest moments in hip-hop to this date. Following Beneath the Surface and Legend of the Liquid Sword in 1999 and 2002 respectively, he made his film debut alongside RZA and Bill Murray in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes in 2003. Working on various projects these days – a script, a graphic novel, his son Young Justice Kareem’s album, the forthcoming DVD Wu-Tang Revealed, as well as a collaborative album for Babygrande records – the Wu’s elder spokesman is still the grandmaster when it comes to lyrical dexterity. Fourteen years after the release of 36 Chambers – and with the Clan about to drop their fifth full-length, The 8 Diagrams, this fall – this classic quote from the first album still nails it: ‘And the GZA, the Genius, is just a genius; he’s the backbone of the whole joint… He the head. Let’s put it that way. We form like Voltron and the GZA happens to be the head.’ Word.