Real Name: Robert Diggs,
A.K.A.: Bobby Digital, Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah, Bobby Steels, The Rzarector, The Abbott, Prince Rhakeem
D.O.B.: July 5th, 1969 Brownsville Brooklyn, New York
Label: Koch Records
The Rzarector, the founder of the legendary nine man,Wu-Tang Clan recording family. He is the de facto leader and head producer of the outfit as well as being a recording rap artist himself. He was also a recording/producer member of Gravediggaz. Almost all group Wu albums, including solo and affiliate projects were produced and arranged by RZA. Lately he has gained more attention for his work in films, whether it be on screen or as a composer of original film scores. He is becoming recognised as one of the most talented musicians today and one of the greatest hip-hop producers in the music business. He has released solo albums under RZA and the alter-ego Bobby Digital. Currently RZA is working on his latest Bobby Digital joint, as well as the highly-anticipated sequel to Raekwon’s classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. He has also confirmed he has co-produced a track on the highly-anticipated Dr. Dre album Detox. The Wu-Tang Clan’s latest crew album, 8 Diagrams has just dropped in late 2007.
The Early Years
RZA was born Robert Diggs in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. After an impoverished childhood in a family of eleven children, RZA began his hip hop career in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a member of the trio 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). The group consisted of future Wu-Tang members and his cousins GZA (then known as the Genius) and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (then known, respectively, as Ason Unique, the Specialist, and the Professor). Once this acclaimed local band dissolved, both he and GZA attempted to kick start solo careers. With the help of GZA’s friend Melquan (then owner of Jamaica Records) they both secured single deals with album options at successful labels, GZA going to Cold Chillin and RZA to Tommy Boy. GZA ultimately released the Words from the Genius album, but RZA’s stint at Tommy Boy ended with only the EP Ooh I Love You Rakeem to show for it when he went to jail soon after its release. GZA’s album flopped, and the two cousins became determined to conquer the hip hop industry on their own terms. Throughout most of his youth he enjoyed watching various kung-fu movies and purchasing countless albums which he would later sample in most of his music. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) From this determination came the Wu-Tang Clan (named after Shaolin and Wu Tang, a kung fu movie), formed with The GZA/Genius and Ol’ Dirty Bastard as well as with 6 others (Inspectah Deck/Rebel INS, Raekwon the Chef, Method Man, Masta Killa, U-God/Golden Arms and Ghostface Killah). With the Clan, Prince Rakeem started going by the name RZA (Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah). After the single “Protect Ya Neck,” which was driven by a raucous RZA-produced beat, made the group into underground sensations, the group released their debut LP Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album, which only cost $36K to produce, eventually went platinum, and was heralded by hip-hop fans as a classic. Enter the Wu-Tang revolutionized hip hop and helped bring the East Coast back into the spotlight after Dr. Dre’s G-funk had come to dominate the rap scene, in large part thanks to RZA’s lean, gritty and very distinctive production style. RZA also started what he called the 5 Year Plan in which he asked the other 8 members of the Clan 5 years of life, hard work and good lyrics and he’d “take them to the top.” In this span of five years the RZA started what he liked to call a dictatorship of organized chaos within the group. In late 1992, RZA was charged with attempted murder for shooting a man and faced 8 years in prison. He was found not guilty, claiming self-defence.
Wu Solo Albums (Round 1)
As each of the group’s members embarked on solo careers, The RZA continued to produce nearly everything Wu-Tang released during the period 1994–1996, producing in both the hip-hop producer sense (composing and arranging the instrumental tracks) and in the wider music producer sense (overseeing and directing the creative process as well as devising song concepts and structure in addition to being responsible for a recording’s final sound). Indeed, The RZA’s rule over the Clan at this time is described in 2004’s Wu-Tang Manual book as “a dictatorship.” His sound was to develop from the raw, minimalist sounds of Method Man’s Tical and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers to more cinematic and expansive soundscapes driven by string sections or thick layers of synthesizer on Ghostface Killah’s Ironman, GZA’s Liquid Swords, and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. All of the group’s albums during the period from 1994 to 1996 are highly regarded by critics and hip-hop enthusiasts. During this time, The RZA also took part in the creation of a hip-hop subgenre called horror-core with the Gravediggaz, an off-and-on hip-hop super-group including Frukwan of Stetsasonic, Too Poetic of the Brothers Grym, and Prince Paul who released the critically acclaimed album 6 Feet Deep in 1994. As part of the Gravediggaz, he went by the name The RZArecta. He was once affiliated with the the Nation of Gods and Earths but has stated he that he is no longer a member of any particular group. He also has taken on various aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity as stated in his book The Wu-Tang Manual in order to expand his spiritual growth. Wu-Tang Forever The success of Wu-Tang Forever, which hit number one on the charts after selling 600,000 in its first week, also marked the end of RZA’s “five year plan”; at the group’s inception, he promised the group if he had total dictatorial control of the Wu-Tang empire, it would conquer the hip hop world within five years. After Forever’s success, RZA ceased to oversee all aspects of Wu-Tang product as he had previously, delegating much of his existing role to associates such as Oli “Power” Grant and his brother Mitchell “Divine” Diggs, and giving each Clan member more individual control. This move was designed to enable the Wu-Tang empire to expand further and further into the fabric of the hip hop industry, and in accordance with this an extremely large amount of Wu-Tang music was to be released over the next two years. This had already to some extent begun on Wu-Tang Forever, which for the first time featured RZA delegating a small number of beat-making duties to other producers in the Wu-Tang camp, such as his proteges True Master and 4th Disciple (known as the Wu-Elements) and Clan member Inspectah Deck.
Wu Solo Albums (Round 2)
During the 1998-2000 period RZA ceased to produce every Wu-Tang solo album as he had done previously, but continued to contribute usually one or two beats on average to each record as well as receiving an Executive Producer credit. He also released his first solo effort titled RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo in 1998 (see 1998 in music). This was an experimental concept album featuring him rapping as his hedonistic, fun-loving alter-ego Bobby Digital and showcasing a unique keyboard-driven sound RZA called “digital orchestra”, receiving mostly positive reviews. He also reformed with the Gravediggaz for the album The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel, a calmer and more mature album than their horrorcore-oriented début. During this time, he also began work on the unreleased and still incomplete RZA solo album, The Cure, said to feature deeper lyrics and guests ranging from Zack de la Rocha to Isaac Hayes.
2000: The W
After helming another Wu-Tang group album titled The W (his production on which received much praise) and providing narration to a Clan greatest hits album titled The RZA Hits, RZA released another Bobby Digital album, 2001’s Digital Bullet. Digital Bullet was an attempt to develop Bobby Digital further, and the album followed a loose story arc which saw the character becoming more “enlightened” and more disillusioned with hedonism as the album went on. In 1999 the RZA moved into composing film scores. His first work, Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), earned praise; he also had brief cameo in the film itself. The experience was positive and, as he noted during an interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, the work with traditional musicians gave him the desire to learn how to read and write music. The critical success of the Ghost Dog soundtrack led to further work. The RZA created and produced the original music for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, as well as Blade: Trinity, and Soul Plane. The RZA was nominated for four different awards for the work he did on the Kill Bill vol. 1 and 2 soundtracks, winning one.
In the beginning of 2003 he also produced a few tracks for The Mindscape of Alan Moore. His first solo album as simply the RZA, Birth of a Prince, was released in 2003 and spawned the single We Pop. The album itself featured a mix of light-hearted Bobby Digital tracks and more lyrically highbrow RZA tracks. In 2003 he also released an album of collaborations with international rap and R&B musicians (including the UK’s Skinnyman, France’s Saïan Supa Crew, Germany’s Xavier Naidoo and Italy’s Frankie Hi-NRG MC) entitled The World According to RZA, which was successful in many countries, despite not being sold in the U.S.Wu Solo Albums (Round 3) In 2005 RZA released the long-gestating book Wu-Tang Manual, an in-depth discussion of the Wu-Tang’s virtues, vices and philosophies. RZA continued to act in and score movies such as Derailed, Blood of a Champion and Miami Vice. In 2006 he contributed four beats to Method Man’s latest album 4:21…The Day After and also executive produced the project.
Before signing with SRC Records in early 2007, RZA was flooded with offers from Bad Boy Records, Aftermath Records, Interscope and Def Jam among others for the Wu-Tang Clan super-group. In late January of 2007 he announced that he was working on a new Bobby Digital Album tentatively titled Digi Snax. The albums first single, “You Can’t Stop Me Now” (featuring Inspectah Deck), was released in March 2008 in preparation for a planned release in Summer 2008. In 2007, he did the score of the American adaptation of the Japanese anime Afro Samurai starring Samuel L. Jackson. Currently he is working with Raekwon on his highly anticipated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. He has also recorded with the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and is set to contribute to Cannibal Ox’s upcoming album, along with Pete Rock and El-P. In a recent article, he stated that he is working on a new Bobby Digital album, slated for release in the summer of 2008, and his last RZA album The Cure before he will retire as MC and move on with his movie directing career.
In addition to working behind the scenes on movie scores, RZA has been active on-screen as well. He began an acting career in the mid 2000’s alongside fellow Wu-Tang member GZA in one segment of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes opposite Bill Murray. He and the GZA have also made several appearances on Chappelle’s Show, in one more popular appearance pitching a financial services firm called Wu-Tang Financial. He followed up with a big role in the hit 2005 film Derailed. The same year, he served as the Artist in Residence for the LA Film Festival. He has appeared as himself in numerous major motion pictures throughout the course of his career such as Be Cool, Scary Movie 3, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood and a myriad of others. RZA was offered the role of “Brown” in The Departed (2006), but turned it down because of scheduling conflicts. Rza’s most recent role, and possibly his biggest to date, is in American Gangster as “Moses Jones”. American Gangster is a 2007 crime drama film directed by Ridley Scott starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. He has also been confirmed for roles in Gospel Hill and Life Is Hot in Cracktown. He is also said to be attached to Quentin Tarantino’s next Kill Bill project in one way or another.
The Wu-Tang Clan and their associates are being investigated by the FBI for weapon trafficking in Staten Island and their relationship with the Gambino crime family. RZA admitted to being friends with several members of the Gambinos in The Wu-Tang Manual, both before and after his rise to fame. In 2000 the Village Voice ran a story about the FBI infiltrating the Wu Tang Clan through a criminal-turned-informant named Michael Caruso who got a job as the personal manager for Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna. Several other members of the group did not like Caruso, however his ties with Ghostface and Cappadonna got him into the inner circles of the Wu. Due to Caruso’s criminal past he was prohibited by law to associate with felons or leave the state of New York, however these restrictions were lifted in return for providing information on the group. The federal government turned their head and allowed Caruso to tour around the country with Wu-Tang as long as he was kicking back info on their involvement in gunrunning and the Gambino crime family. Caruso was subsequently fired from all duties regarding The Wu Tang Clan’s business when these allegations came to light. RZA forced Cappadonna to fire him as his manager, however Caruso still works with Ghostface and is on his new poker team. The report rules out the majority of Wu Tang affiliated performers and focuses on those running the business aspect of the Wu empire, Oli “Power” Grant and Mitchell “Divine” Diggs (RZA’s brother) and The RZA himself. The issue was recently resurfaced by FOX News in mid-2007 after RZA attended one of Hillary Clinton’s parties and donated money to her 2008 campaign. FOX News criticized the fact that Clinton took money from The RZA, claiming it was contradictory due to RZA’s felony record, FBI investigation, ties to the Gambino family and his music lyrics. In his book The Wu-Tang Manual he has a 6 page length section on Organized Crime and gives tribute to many of New York’s mob bosses of the 20th Century which he claims is what makes his business so successful.
RZA has stated Ennio Morricone, Syl Johnson, Marley Marl, Augustus Pablo and Danny Elfman as musicians he is fond of and has taken influence from. During the Enter the Wu-Tang period, RZA’s production consisted mainly of stripped-down, frenetic piano loops and finger-snaps with heavy bass and drums, though he experimented with more melodic sounds on the album’s “Method Man” and “C.R.E.A.M.” He also began incorporating skits consisting of clips of old kung fu movies. The next two solo albums from the Wu, Method Man’s Tical and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, featured versions of the same style of production from the RZA; the former delved somewhat into old soul records and became somewhat bouncy rather than quite as gritty, while the latter was at times even more simplistic than the group’s début.
On Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and GZA’s Liquid Swords, RZA would immerse his beats in dark, sinister soul sampling, pioneering the technique of speeding up or slowing down samples to fit the beat. He also fully realized the potential of the skit, using samples from John Woo’s film The Killer to string the Cuban Linx album together into a loose storyline. RZA’s production technique, specifically the manner of chopping up and/or speeding or slowing soul samples to fit his beats, has been picked up by currently popular producers - most notably Kanye West and Just Blaze, the two main producers behind Roc-A-Fella Records. West’s own take on RZA’s style briefly flooded the rap market with what was dubbed “chipmunk soul,” the speeding of a vocal sample to where it sounded as though the singer had inhaled helium. Several producers at the time copied the style, creating other offshoots. West has admitted that his style was distinctly influenced by the RZA’s production and RZA has acknowledged his influence in an issue of Scratch magazine, saying he wished he had produced “Jesus Walks” and “Breathe”, two 2004 hits produced by Kanye West and Just Blaze, respectively. Said by Kanye West: “Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time… We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that.” Subsequent Wu group albums saw RZA become even more experimental, usually with soul samples as well as the layers added his beats. Around 1997 he began tutoring 4th Disciple, True Master and Mathematics in production. The early-mid 2000’s have seen him move more toward smoother and more tightly-assembled productions, where the melody, drums, bass and other elements play more off each other than they previously had in his beats. His Bobby Digital albums introduced tweaked-out new age elements to his sound; these have incorporated themselves more fully into his beats on newer albums such as Method Man’s 4:21…The Day After. RZA was not the first hip-hop artist to use aliases, though he did become known as having a great number of them. These include: The Abbott, Chester Benningston (not to be confused with Chester Bennington), The Razor, Bobby Digital, BZA-Bobby, Bobby Steels. Prince Delight. Prince Rakeem. Prince Dynamite, RZArecta (from resurrector - waking up the mentally dead),The Scientist, Bob Digi, Robert Diggs, Bobby Boulders, Bob Digitech, The Kid Wit Braids, and Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah.
1998 Bobby Digital in Stereo
2001 Digital Bullet
2003 The World According to RZA
2003 Birth of a Prince
2008 Digi Snax (unreleased)
1994 6 Feet Deep/Niggamortis
1997 The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel
1999 Ghost Dog
2004 Kill Bill: Vol 1-2
2004 Soul Plane
2004 Blade: Trinity
2005 The Protector
2006 Blood of a Champion
2007 Afro Samurai
2007 Freedom Writers
1993 Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
1994 Method Man - Tical
1995 Ol’ Dirty Bastard - Return to the 36 Chambers
1995 Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
1995 Ghostface Killah - Ironman
1997 Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever
2000 Wu-Tang Clan - The W
2001 Bobby Digital (RZA) - Digital Bullet
2001 Ghostface Killah - Bulletproof Wallets
2001 Wu-Tang Clan - Iron Flag
2003 RZA - Birth of a Prince
2007 Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams