When you think Wu-Tang, images of hip-hop artists and big leather jackets with the letter “W” on it come to mind. The truth is that whatever form Wu-Tang may come in, you should be thinking about how to fulfill your life by acting in a fulfilling way. Wu-Tang has gone through a metamorphosis. Don’t worry, they are still a group, minus the dearly departed ODB, but rather Wu-Tang has now become a way of life and a path to equality “for the hip-hop generation.” That last bit comes complimentary of the RZA, the mastermind behind the Wu-Tang albums and now a keen philosophy intellectual. The eastern influence on the group and the RZA is no gimmick to sell merchandise. The RZA has drawn from the great spirituality of eastern cultures, as well as a few Kung Fu films, to construct a personal technique for living. The RZA’s book, titled, “The Wu-Tang Manual,” is part diary, part chemistry – actual chemical breakdowns are found in the book – and part holy scripture – which scripture it is does not matter – all of which make up the Wu-Tang philosophy. The Abbot himself was able to talk with me while boarding his flight to Los Angeles in preparation for his talk tonight at Corwin Pavilion. The RZA had a lot to say on numbers, his brother and women. However, it is not in the actual words that the RZA used, but in the larger idea and overall concept that is the essence of Wu-Tang is held secret.
Artsweek: What was your intention with putting out this book and going on a college tour?
The RZA: I am looking forward, at the next generation. I am hoping to spark some determined minds. Schooling is one thing, but I wanted to provide people with something they can actually use. Academics will help your mind, but I am giving people something they can use everyday. The book is something that you could apply to life down on the street level. I wanted to start somewhere. I wanted to expel some things to the hip-hop generation that we are all a part of, whether we listen to hip hop or not. I have another book coming out next year. It will be short but really focused. Some things I talk about in there are the strive for perfection, the illusion of beauty, the universal changer. Things like that. It is just good food for our generation.
Which of the 36 chambers do you feel you are at right now in your life?
Thirty six. Definitely 36. I am a master and I have made it through all 36 chambers. Remember the 36th chamber is when you go out and spread the word. You can’t keep things a secret. Most of society is a secret. Layman was out in the world and didn’t know much of anything. He sought the Kung Fu of the Shaolin. They made him go through their 36 chambers, the last one being to go out and spread the word. If it wasn’t for the original Shaolin monk San Te, we would not now about Shaolin Kung Fu. He eventually left the temple. I am San Te, we are both masters and we reached the 36th chamber. Wu-Tang is not kept secret. Everybody goes through their own chambers.
Do you think you have obtained the 12 Jewels of Life your book talks about?
That is something that I am going to talk about. I think of the concept of it more as a good road map. Have I obtained all 12 Jewels? Yeah, I have all 12 in my possession. That’s my true wealth.
What do you have to say about the 12th and final Jewel, Happiness?
If you are not totally satisfied with yourself, then you will never be happy. You then become a living example. A person filled with happiness brings joy to the world. It does not mean laughing and jumping around, because a pig could do that. A movie could make you laugh. Only when you are mentally and physically happy, but mentally more than physically, because you get dirty every day so you just take a shower. Mentally you are grounded in yourself.
You consider Dr. Dre a master like yourself, what do two masters have to learn from one another?
Two masters always have something to learn. It’s like the master of the sword and the master of the spear. There is always something to learn. His approach will add on to me and mine will add on to him. You must realize first that you know nothing, but that you are a master. You couldn’t be unless you understood that fact. The 13th letter in the alphabet is “m” and it stands for master. Thirteen is one and three. The number one is knowledge and three is understanding. Now two is wisdom. You must pass through wisdom before you reach understanding. You can do something, but if I can’t see it, then I won’t understand it. As master you do not need to see, you know what 13 means and you understand. Dre and I could be in the same room for an hour and not say a single thing and nod our heads and understand what the other meant. That’s called mind-to-mind heart-to-heart.
What particular Kung Fu fighting style do you call your own?
Well, I adapted my own style from Kung Fu, which is the sword style. I made my tongue my sword. So, therefore, I am always a Wu-Tang style. I have seen the Wu-Tang mountain in China where that particular fighting style originated. There I went to a Kung-Fu school. They took me to the school and took me to a little door in the back. Through that door was a yard where they were doing a completely new style. That was a few years ago and no one has it in books or on camera. I saw it with my eyes and they let me videotape it. So I got a sneak peek. It was like dragon style. A dragon is unique because it is like the serpent in the way it moves, but it can also fly. So it is different from a serpent. It can slither or fly like a bird. That unique attribute can be applied to your own body. To know your whole body from head to toe and all of its movements is very powerful. That’s what these guys were doing. I was just a witness.
What does 36 and the death of O.D.B. when he was 36 mean to you?
Thirty six is a very important number. It comes from the 108 pressure points on the body. Thirty six of those points are fatal. Between each point is 10 degrees. Thirty six times ten is 360 like the degrees of a perfect circle, you see what I am saying? Even our calendar and our year has 360 days. A circle is the perfect symbol of the universe. Mathematically, it puts a limitation on the number. To get to the next number, you have to add one, or knowledge. Then you will have 37. Seven is perfection. Three is understanding, because you could know it and still not give a fuck. You would not know your true purpose. Three and six bring you to nine, which is born. It means you’re bringing it to existence for the rest of the world. The limit is your limit. My brother, who I love dearly, did not understand the equality. He did not understand the limitations of what he was doing physically to himself. You understand? It didn’t have to be like that, that was not predestined. He has been born into a different existence. Now how do we look at that? Ironically, his oldest son is 16. O.D.B. once said, “Stay up at night / Don’t sleep on your moon.” The moon is your woman, so don’t sleep on the moon. In one line, he explained the whole science of it. He used to stay up six days in a row. Many people emulate him across the hip-hop community in all ways.
What is inspiring you today?
I was anti-emotion and anti certain things. Now I have a good woman and child in my life. I see the world from a woman’s point of view and I have a whole new life. You can’t make a good woman. She is giving me a whole new perspective, a whole new side of things. I am able to write songs and melodies I didn’t think I had in me. Some women have thorns, but there are some that you can pick up and smell. I am a firm man about being a man. What about the struggle of the woman? I saw her give birth to my son and maintain the light that makes her a woman. I was humbled by that.
Final question: How often do people say to you, “You have to diversify your bonds?”
Yeah, man, that’s a funny fucking line. People always say it to me. I hear it once a day, at least. People say it as they walk away, they say, “All right RZA, be cool, don’t forget to diversify those bonds.” So it’s all good.