CULTURE

Giving hip-hop’s glitz a miss

The only thing that was missing from the US hip-hop circuit, badly needed too, was a figure such as RZA, who has managed to demolish all the style’s stereotypes. Contrary to various superfluous rappers of humble origins who live their lives boasting about their smart cars and hot-looking women, RZA, born Robert Diggs, has lived with the one partner for a decade and did not purchase his first car until 1997, despite being a celebrated hip-hop figure since 1993. This reclusive individual, who talks little but works intensely, and not surprisingly ranks as one of the most respected figures in contemporary music, will be in Athens for one show this Saturday as part of a European tour. The show includes various other worthy rappers, including Moroccan Salah Edin, who delivers his message in Arabic. Immediately after school, RZA began learning his craft alongside the producer Prince Paul, who led acts such as De La Soul and 3rd Bass to their scene’s top. Hailing from Staten Island in New York, the artist renamed himself RZA and drew various other rappers with repulsive-sounding pseudonyms such as Old Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Masta Killa, and GZA to form his hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan, an umbrella act under which its various members have functioned both jointly and individually. In unison, as the Wu-Tang Clan, the collective scored a hit with its debut album «Enter the Wu-Tang» in 1993. The collective launched its efforts with an anti-star principle as the basis of all activity. The idea was – and still is – to keep changing pseudonyms in order to avoid turning into commercial idols, and also to collaborate with outsiders, always through their own record label, launched as a vehicle that would strive to change hip-hop. RZA stands at the core as main producer and sound engineer. With these principles in mind, RZA, following the successful launch of the Wu-Tang Clan project, also released work in 1995 through a project called Gravediggaz. For its purposes, he appeared with other pseudonyms, Rzarector and Bobby Digital, as a front. The project helped him develop his skills as a musician. «Between production work with the Wu-Tang Clan I began learning to play instruments. Being a good producer is not enough. You’ve also got to study some instrument, learn to compose and arrange,» says RZA. The respected film director Jim Jarmusch quickly tuned into the work of the Wu-Tang Clan to become one of the collective’s more prominent fans. Jarmusch and RZA eventually met and discovered that they shared common interests such as a passion for the martial arts, karate films, and samurai of feudal Japan. Not surprisingly, when Jarmusch filmed 1999’s «Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,» RZA not only provided the soundtrack, but also landed a minor role. He has since taken acting lessons, and in the process, met another major figure of the celluloid world, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino, who also shares an interest in the martial arts and Eastern philosophies, realized, after viewing «Ghost Dog,» that he had found an appropriate collaborator for his own prospective work. RZA ended up writing music for «Kill Bill.» The rapper-producer, who was on location for all the filming sessions, learned much about music from the director. «Initially, I didn’t know of Nancy Sinatra, one of whose songs was selected by Tarantino for the film’s soundtrack. He sent me a tape and I sent another with my compositions because I believed the material would suit the film,» explained RZA, who also ended up writing music for its sequel, «Kill Bill: Vol. 2.» Also under his RZA pseudonym, RZA recently released a superb solo album, «Birth of a Prince.» He is already working on another new album titled «The Cure.» RZA recently also undertook another project – unprecedented for an American hip-hop producer – that entailed discovering and culling various fine European acts for a compilation album titled «The World According to RZA.» Saturday at 9 p.m., Gagarin 205 Club (205 Liosion, close to Attiki metro and train station).