Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Real Name: Russell Tyrone Jones
A.K.A.: Dirt McGirt, Sweet Baby Jesus, Joe Bananas, Dirt Dog, Osirus, Freeloading Rusty
D.O.B.: November 15th, 1968 Brooklyn, New York [Died: November 13th, 2004]
Label: Roc-A-Fella Records
Ol’ Dirty Bastard takes his name from the 1980 film by Meng-Hwa Ho called An Old Kung Fu Master, known also as Mad Mad Kung Fu and Ol’ Dirty & The Bastard.
Dirty simultaneously brought a measure of humour and a touch of the absurd to the Wu-Tang Clan. Often noted for his unusual microphone technique. His clowning presence was regarded as similar to that of Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav. His erratic behaviour (including crashing the Grammy Awards of 1998 and multiple legal altercations) had earned him a reputation as a particularly wild and eccentric member of the Wu-Tang Clan. His vocal style was garbled and often arrhythmic and his lyrics tended to be free form. Method Man had be quoted as saying that there was “no father” to Jones’s approach to hip-hop. After establishing the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard went on to a successful solo career. However, his professional success was hampered by his erratic personal behaviour and frequent legal troubles, including incarceration. He died in late 2004 of congestive heart failure as a result of an accidental drug overdose only two days before his 36th birthday.
The Early Years
Russell Tyrone Jones was born in Brooklyn in 1968, and grew up in the neighbourhood of Fort Greene. As he got older, he started hanging out more and more with his cousins Robert Diggs and Gary Grice; they all shared a taste for rap music and kung-fu movies. Diggs, later known as the RZA, Grice, later the GZA, and Jones formed Force of the Imperial Master, which subsequently became known as the All in Together Now Crew after they had a successful underground single of that name. In 1990, Ol’ Dirty became close friends with fellow “5 Percenter,” Freedom Shabazz Allah, “Slumlord Shabazz,” while both were residing as room-mates in Orlando, Florida. Shabazz, hailing from Plainfield, New Jersey, immediately became close friends with “Ason” after graduating from Job Corps in upstate New York along with RZA’s eldest brother. The two became inseparable and spent countless hours penning rhymes together and working a brief stint at the local Hardee’s and at Universal Studios as labourers at the “Jaws” attraction.
The cousins soon added six more friends and associates to the Clan, and released their début album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993. 36 Chambers received enormous critical praise, and is now widely regarded as one of the best and most influential albums of any genre to be released in the 1990s, as well as one of the best hip hop albums of all time. While most of the group’s members received individual praise from critics and fans, Jones became perhaps the best-known member of the group. Armed with a seemingly crazed, slurred, often off-beat, half-sung half-rapped delivery, bizarre lyrics and humorous antics that were unlike anything ever heard before in rap, he seemed to encapsulate and personify the raw, unadulterated and innovative style of the group. ODB’s solo career began in 1995, making him the third member of the Wu-Tang Clan to release a solo album, following Method Man’s 1994 effort, Tical.
Released on March 28, 1995, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version spawned the hit singles ‘Brooklyn Zoo’ and ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’, which helped power the album to gold status. The album’s sound was as raw and gritty as 36 Chambers, producer RZA creating beats even more minimalist and stripped-down than on the group’s début. That same year, he was featured on the remix of Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy”. What might have seemed like an unlikely pairing spawned a major hit song. “Fantasy” was among the first popular pop, R&B, and hip hop collaborations. Around this time, Jones gained notoriety when, as he was being profiled for an MTV biography, he took two of his thirteen children by limousine to a New York State welfare office to pick up his welfare check while his latest album was still in the top ten of the US charts. The entire incident was filmed by an MTV camera crew and was broadcast nationwide.
In 1997, ODB appeared on the Wu-Tang Clan’s second and most commercially successful album, Wu-Tang Forever. However, Jones appeared less often on the Clan’s second album than on the début; he contributed a solo track titled “Dog Shit” as well as hooks (“As High As Wu-Tang Get”) and spoken introductions (“Triumph”), but other than these appearances and featuring prominently on the songs “Maria” and “Reunited,” as well as delivering a very short verse on “Heaterz,” he was absent.
In February 1998, Jones witnessed a car accident from the window of his Brooklyn recording studio. He and a friend ran to the accident scene and organized about a dozen onlookers who assisted in lifting the 1996 Ford Mustang—rescuing a 4-year-old girl from the wreckage. She was taken to a hospital with second and third degree burns. Using a false name, Jones visited the girl in the hospital frequently until he was spotted by members of the media. The evening following the traffic accident, Jones rushed on-stage unexpectedly during Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech for “Song of the Year” at the Grammy Awards, and began complaining that he had recently purchased expensive clothes in anticipation of winning the “Best Rap Album” award that he lost to Puff Daddy. Before being escorted off-stage, he implored the audience, “I don’t know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children. Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best. I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all. Peace!.” His bizarre on-stage antics were widely reported in the mainstream media. In April 1998, he announced his new stage name, Big Baby Jesus (the first of many alternate stage names; see the list below), but was never able to give a coherent explanation for the very brief switch.
In 1999, he found time to release Nigga Please between jail sentences, which received much success and was even more bizarrely warped than his début. This release included the single “Got Your Money” which became extremely successful in the US and elsewhere; it was produced by The Neptunes, and its success would serve as one of the production group’s main stepping stones to the super-stardom they would later achieve. As well as the Neptunes, the single also put singer Kelis on the map and went on to have a successful solo career.
Nigga Please was a critical and commercial success, and remains a popular solo album in the Wu-Tang Clan’s discography. Nigga Please peaked at #2 and #10 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart and the Billboard 200, respectively. In 2001, with Jones again in jail for crack cocaine possession, his record company Elektra Records made the decision to release a greatest hits album (despite there being only two albums in ODB’s back catalogue) in order to both end their contract with the unreliable, troubled artist as well as make some money off the publicity generated by his legal troubles. After the contract with Elektra was terminated, the label D-3 records released the album “The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones” in 2002, comprised of tracks put together without Jones’s input, using the vocals he had recorded prior to his capture by authorities. The label recruited many guests including several Wu-Tang Clan affiliates, No Limit Records artist C-Murder, and the Insane Clown Posse. However, the album was critically panned and sales were poor.
The year 2003 brought a change in the life of Ol’ Dirty Bastard however. The day he was released from prison, with Mariah Carey and Damon Dash by his side, Jones signed a contract with Roc-A-Fella Records, and began a new chapter in his life. Living at his mother’s home under house arrest and with a court-ordered probation hanging over his head, he managed to star in a VH1 special: “INSIDE OUT: ODB LIFE ON PAROLE”. He also managed to record a new album, originally scheduled to be released through Dame Dash Music Group in 2004; it was released posthumously in 2005.
Rest in Peace Russell
Russell Jones collapsed at approximately 5:29pm on November 13, 2004 at Wu-Tang’s recording studio (36 Records LLC on West 34th Street in New York City). He was pronounced dead less than an hour later, only two days shy of his 36th birthday. He was buried at Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center. The cause of death remained unknown until December 15, 2004; although he reportedly complained of chest pains prior to collapsing, a heart attack was not listed as the cause of death. During the initial autopsy of the 35-year-old rapper, a doubled plastic bag containing cocaine was discovered in his stomach. Final results from an autopsy show he had a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription painkiller Tramadol in his system at the time of his death, which was ruled an accidental overdose by the New York Medical Examiner’s Office. A statement was released on Saturday (November 13, 2004) evening by his mother Cherry Jones:
“This evening, I received a phone call that is every mother’s worst dream,” she said. “My son, Russell Jones, passed away. To the public, he was known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but to me, he was known as Rusty, the kindest, most generous soul on earth. I appreciate all the support and prayers that I have received. Russell was more than a rapper, he was a loving father, brother, uncle, and most of all, son.”
A statement was also released by Damon Dash, who signed ODB to Roc-A-Fella Records in the fall of 2004:
“All of us in the Roc-A-Fella family are shocked and saddened by the sudden and tragic death of our brother and friend. Russell inspired all of us with his spirit, wit and tremendous heart. He will be missed dearly, and our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences go out to his wonderful family. The world has lost a great talent, but we mourn the loss of our friend.”
Wood-Tang website wrote on their obituary of Ol’ Dirty Bastard: This condescending celebrity appeal makes Dirty’s death that much more depressing, because it obscures a troubling story of drug addiction and mental illness. He struggled with a cocaine habit throughout his career. At a hearing in 2003, he told the parole board that he had been clean for four years, his longest stretch ever. He said, “When you got the stardom you got ladies all around, you got all kinds of foolish things messing with your head.”
After his death, family members say that Rusty, as they called him, simply couldn’t say no to the fast lifestyle of hip-hop fame. He continued to live in Brooklyn, where he took care of his parents financially and handed out money to children in the streets. But his sister Monique told the New York Times that, “He couldn’t come to the neighbourhood anymore and be who he was because now he’d become ODB.”
ODB created a legend that almost eclipses his creative and quirky musical legacy. He had no problem altering versions of his life story to enhance the character of Ol’ Dirty Bastard in the name of publicity. “Our brother looked at things as selling records,” said Monique about Rusty’s mendacious claims that he had never known his father, or that he had grown up on welfare. Dirty’s aura was of his own making, as much a product of his public misbehaviour as his music. The line between the accidental and the contrived in Ol Dirty Bastard’s career path is difficult to discern. This explains the duality of his character, how a vulgar rapper and serial criminal could create such a weirdly lovable persona, as likely to croon a love song as to threaten bodily harm. He went by many names: ODB, Dirty, Dirt Dog, Osirus, Big Baby Jesus, Unique Ason, Joe Bananas, and Dirt McGirt, to name a few. Each handle surely carried a different shade of meaning for him, yet still incomprehensible to his fans. The confusion is fitting for an artist who thrived on his own musical schizophrenia.
1995 Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
1999 Nigga Please
2001 The Dirty Story: The Best of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (compilation)
2002 The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones
2005 Osirus (mix-tape)
2005 The Definitive Ol’ Dirty Bastard Story (compilation)
2005 Free to Be Dirty! Live