Legendary Wu Tang producer drops new solo album, headlines Sled Island
If he had grown up in Beverly Hills rather than Staten Island, Robert Diggs (better known as Wu-Tang producer and emcee the RZA) would be running a Fortune 500 company. Shortly after the Wu Tang’s formation in the early ’90s, Diggs approached the other members and asked for five years of absolute dictatorial control of the music, brand name and eventually the record label that crystallized around them. Though the details of the RZA's five-year plan are still somewhat murky, everyone agreed to it. Culminating in the 1997 release of Wu Tang Forever , which sold 600,000 units in its first week (eight million worldwide total), Diggs's plan hadn't just made the Wu Tang Clan more money than several gods, it made their gangsta rap business model the one to follow, and changed the face of hip hop music forever.
Though they released three more collaborative albums, the members of the Wu Tang Clan are better known for their solo efforts post- Forever. Diggs’s output has been sporadic, but his primary focus has been on his Bobby Digital alterego, a hedonistic version of himself whose only concerns are those carnal elements of the gangster rapper power fantasy —guns, money, women, drugs and alcohol. Though the sense of irony was maintained on The RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo , the explicit pathos and rumination on the gangster lifestyle that characterized Wu Tang was absent, and the album received largely middling reviews. As if in reaction, 2001's Digital Bullet saw Bobby grow disillusioned with his hedonist lifestyle and was greeted much more positively by critics. On June 24, the third Bobby Digital album will hit store shelves and their Internet equivalents everywhere.
“ Digisnax is more like a snack pack,” he says. “The character is changing up and evolving and all that, but it's more like a snack pack of different parts of the character. Like, the artwork that's showing you the character's world, and villains of the character — I've got those guys in the artwork. I'm using Digisnax as a resource not only for Bobby Digital or the RZA as alter egos, but to show that the character has now moved into a life of his own.”
Paralleling his character's arc through the three albums, Diggs himself is aggrieved with the recording industry. This feeling is only amplified by waning record sales and ungrateful executives who have started to erode his enthusiasm for the industry as a whole, as well as his growing interest in film as a storytelling medium. In the early days of Wu Tang, when piracy was properly limited to home taping and the high seas, Diggs recalls independently producing thousands of four-song demo tapes to promote the release of an album. Now, with the whole industry casually slouching toward the Internet, every note of Diggs's voice is dripping with exasperation.
“When you're a [film] director, it isn't like being a CEO of a [record] company. It's like something that happens for six months and then it's over, you go back to enjoying your life,” says Diggs. “I kind of feel more comfortable like that. As I'm getting older and shit, I don't want to be hustling and bustling and worrying about a hundred people every day in an industry that isn't really giving me the proper compensation for it. What I mean by that, and I don't want to put down what the industry has done for me — I've made a lot of money and I've got a lot of nice things, I know that. But if you make $500 million for an industry, they should be able to come back and invest $50 million in you, so you can make another $500 million.”
Under the tutelage of Quentin Tarantino, Diggs has already started to ease his way through the Hollywood membrane. Tarantino hand-picked Diggs to produce the incidental music and mix up the soundtracks of old kung fu films for his revenge epic Kill Bill , and they quickly became friends over the course of the project. Diggs's lifelong interest in films — especially Asian cinema — can be heard in every album he's produced, so his apprenticeship with the postmodern auteur was a natural progression. The RZA-produced album by the Wu Tang Clan’s GZA, Only Built for Cuban, Linx tells a modern mafioso story using John Woo's The Killer as the inspiration for the plot. On GZA's Liquid Swords, Diggs cut up samples from Shogun Assassin to string along the album's crime-and-martial-arts narrative. After Diggs spent a month as a student on the set of Grindhouse, his “master-teacher” told him he was ready to start making films of his own.
“I made my albums like movies, you know what I mean? I wanted people to be able to listen to a movie in their car while they was driving,” says Diggs. “I want to start off making movies where people will know they're at a movie. Like my man Tarantino, he did that movie Pulp Fiction — classic fucking movie, man. Every time it comes on TV or cable, I have to stop and watch it. And it's based on nothing, really. There's only a few people out there that are able to do that, where it comes from nothing but the vision and imagination of the artist.”