Friday, May 06, 2005

Bob Digi, yeah you know who is he

glisten: RZA

Who, in their wildest dreams, would've imagined that the mind behind at least one (and, I'd argue, many more) of the great hip hop albums of all time would find his calling in scoring movies? That's where we find the RZA today, as one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood. There's good reason for that: a RZA soundtrack has the imprimatur of true hip hop and comes with a rabid built-in fan base. Besides all that, the work is likely to be great; RZA's previous recordings have been critically lauded and well-received by the record buying public.

RZA - "Ghost Dog"

For those very few of you unfamilar with RZA, also known as Bobby Digital AKA Prince Rakeem AKA th' RZArecta AKA Robert Diggs: Rizz is one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most successful and influential bands active in the last decade of the twentieth century. The Wu relies heavily on th' Rizz; he is their producer, de facto leader and the most creatively diverse and ambitious of the bunch.

RZA - "Opening Theme (Raise Your Sword)" [Instrumental]

RZA's first foray into the work of soundtracks was for Jim Jarmusch's 1999 movie 'Ghost Dog,' a moody, stylistic film about a bushido-obsessed hitman played by Forest Whitaker. A samurai flick was a natural fit for the Rizz; his work shows considerable influence from plenty of pop-culture touchstones, but none so prominently as his abundant love for 70's/80's chop-socky punch'em ups. RZA's finished score proved revelatory; given leeway to employ his production without the need to regulate a beat for one of the clan to rap over, the songs sounds disjointed and experimental, almost akin to noise or free jazz. Jarmusch himself called the soundtrack "dreamlike"; that seems pretty accurate to me.

Unfortunately, when it came time to release the soundtrack, Sony decided that heads would be unlikely to buy RZA's stream-of-consciousness melodies and opted instead to drop a collection of movie quotes and B-level material from friends of the Wu. The RZA soundtrack was ultimately released only in Japan; that rarity is where all the tracks on this post hail from.

RZA - "RZA's Theme"

RZA took the next four years to work on side projects and hone his craft but, since 2003, he has been obscenely busy in the studio. Besides a number of smaller Wu-related film projects and (betraying his comic geek leanings) an Alan Moore documentary, RZA has contributed incidental music to no less than five major films in the last two years: Blade: Trinity, Soul Plane, Barbershop 2 and, most notably, both episodes of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.

Rizz's is currently involved in producing a new album with Method Man, extending the muscle of the Wu imprint internationally by producing overseas artists and continuing to hype the new book.

Rizz is also about to drop a new track or two alongside Massive Attack for 'Unleashed' AKA 'Danny the Dog', the new Jet Li movie that opens stateside in a week, but don't be fooled by ads that seem to suggest otherwise: it's not really a RZA soundtrack.

No word on when he might settle down in the studio to do another score but, as a fan who is beginning to believe that's where he does some of his best work, I'm hoping that's next on the agenda.

I can't honestly recommend that you buy the import "Ghost Dog" soundtrack from Amazon. C'mon: fifty bucks? For one disc? Who's kidding who?

What I can recommend heartily is the album itself; there are several other great atmospheric cuts lurking around and a few more obscurities from the Wu, including some notable verses from ODB (though some of these, like 'Fast Shadow', are available on the US release). If money is no object or if you MUST, you can find it easy enough. Otherwise, keep an eye peeled and grab it on sale.
Every time RZA releases a new soundtrack, he's on the press junket talking about the experience. You can read interviews about the man's work on Kill Bill, Soul Plane and Blade: Trinity over at ign.
Listen to this recent Fresh Air with th' Rizz and listen to this older NPR piece on RZA's scoring ways.
Read this May '04 interview with Rizz in which he talks about how he met Jarmusch and read this December '04 interview where he talks about studying Danny Elfman.
Explore this article about auteur Jim Jarmusch and read any of dozens of reviews of 'Ghost Dog'.
Read the Hagakure, the eighteenth century manual of samurai ethics that figures prominently in 'Ghost Dog'.
Watch the trailer for 'Unleashed'.
Proving that EVERYBODY loves the Wu, witness the Fluxblog guide to the Clan, from '02. I don't agree with all his observations ('Nigga Please' and 'Bobby Digital' are both great to me), but Matt's generally pretty much on the ball.

bonus RZA glisten

Wu-Tang Clan - "Wu World Order" (version one)

"Wu World Order" has only been previously released in the US as a bonus track on the sadly mediocre Wu-Tang video game, Shaolin Style.
It's a nice cut and doesn't deserve to be buried as an unheard rarity.