The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY Vish KhannaPublished Oct 26, 2008

Now based in New Jersey, Wu-Tang Clan figurehead GZA/Genius put Staten Island, NY on the map, changing hip-hop forever. Revered as the Clan’s strongest lyricist/MC, GZA emerged in 1990 with Words from the Genius through a sour deal with Cold Chillin’ Records. After the Wu’s 1993 debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) exploded, a renewed GZA recorded Liquid Swords, setting such a benchmark for underground rap, the Genius still thrills fans by performing the entire record live.

"It was just perfect timing,” GZA explains. "It was the beginning for us, the whole new Wu era. I was coming off the Cold Chillin’ thing, which was a disappointment, so I was striking back hard but, at the same time, I was having fun, doing what I love to do. And the Clan — everyone was fresh and came through to help; it worked out well.”

On new record Pro Tools, GZA remains on point, connecting multi-layered lyrics with swinging beats, even chopping down 50 Cent on "Paper Plate.” Clan infighting reports notwithstanding, GZA says recent Wu tours are encouraging. "As far as doing another album, I don’t know, I can’t really say. Certain things still need to be ironed out. It’s not a big fire any more but there’s still smoke in the air.”

Before we begin, please state your name, your hometown, your current HQ, and any of your upcoming activities, especially Canadian tour dates and new releases.
This is the GZA, born in Brooklyn, New York. New York is the hometown I represent. I got an album out called Pro Tools and I’m working on a couple of graphic novels and scripts right now. And I’ll be on the road again soon. I just came off a Liquid Swords tour. I be doing a Liquid Swords tour in Europe and I’ll be in Canada for one show and then I’ll be back there, probably next year, for a tour.

What are you up to?
I’m just writing man. I’m working on a few more albums. I mean really, really great work; something you’ll really appreciate. I’m stepping it up a notch lyrically, as far as subject matter and what I choose to speak about. I’m healing right now, I’m healing the people.

What are your current fixations?
I like science and mathematics. When I say mathematics, I don’t mean algebra or math in that sense, but the mathematics of things. I love nature and I love information. Every now and then I like to look in the dictionary, and y’know, just A to Z. It’s just basic knowledge, to sum it all up.

Why do you live where you do?
I live in Jersey but I’m from New York. Jersey’s a cool place, where I’m staying now, and I like it there. There’s a lot around and it’s very convenient and everything’s within arm’s reach, so it’s cool.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Chess! It’s like an unsolved Rubik’s Cube and you only got one side.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I would say some of the Liquid Swords shows, especially some of the first few that I did in London. It was about a year ago, last December. It wasn’t the first, it was about the third. Actually I would say several Liquid Swords shows, only because the crowds now, they’re extremely young. It’s surprising and it’s a blessing. It’s an honour also to be blessed with the young like that, considering that hip-hop is an art form where you don’t really have fans like that. Especially for an artist that put an album out 13 years ago, and then to perform those songs and have 14 year-olds singing words from that album.

What have been your career highs and lows?
I would say the career high was the peak of Wu-Tang and just the new start, the spark, the birth of a new sun. And also the rebirth of my career coming off the Cold Chillin’ situation; we had many different highs and that was one or two of few. And I would say the lows were just the heartaches, the setbacks, and the financial situations at times. The death of O.D.B., the death of any family member. The death of rappers themselves; those were all low points, regardless of who it was. On the Grandmasters album, I said "This language is so captivating/When we lose a rapper, the news is devastating.” So, those were some of the lows.

What’s the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
I’ve never even heard anything that I consider to be mean, or I can’t think of it right now.

What should everyone shut up about?
That’s a tough one right there. What should everyone shut up about? Hmmm. Religion, because everyone thinks their religion is the shit. I mean, respect all.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like the patience that I have. I once said on the "Crash Your Crew” song, "I seen a million try to set a flow/thousands at shows/observed with the patience of watching a flower grow.” So, I have a lot of patience when it comes to writing. I mean every rhyme that I write, I usually draft five or six or seven times. What I dislike at times is that I’m just so laidback-slash-lazy when it comes to work (laughs). I work under pressure. I mean, I recorded Pro Tools in three days. I had many deadlines but that was like the final straw when I knew they were spending money on ads and I didn’t want that money to go out the door. They threw a date at me and I had to deliver.

What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Reading. I read about chess, basic knowledge, sciences, The Message from Water, self-universe, birth of the atom — science and math, y’know?

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Work hard. Take advantage of anything you can. Not to the point where you’re using someone or something but just taking advantage of an opportunity.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Kick someone out of my bed? My children I probably kicked out of my bed. Like, "Get out, get outta here. You’re in my spot.” The only reason I would probably ask my children to get up is if I’m tired and want to lay down. Some times I wouldn’t even tell ‘em that, I’d just go lay somewhere else. As far as my band, someone who’s just really outta line. Maybe someone who was really overdoing it or was disrespectful or wasn’t in sync really with the band. I mean they have to really cross that line and be beyond the point of no return to kick someone out of the band. Dirty was a loose cannon and he was never even kicked out the band! So I’m just sayin’, they have to take it really far.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of purple and brown money. A lot of times I think of Canadian nickels. We used to get Canadian coins a lot somehow. We’d go to the store when we were younger and they’d give us change and somehow we’d always have a Canadian nickel or dime in there. I think of Canada Dry soda. Y’know, the ginger ale I used to drink all the time. That’s a popular brand here in the States. I don’t know if it is up there. Yeah, so those are the things I think of, and I think of French.

What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
I remember the first 45 record I bought. It was called "A Dog a Donut,” it was a breakbeat. Actually I think I bought two at one time and the other one was "Dance to the Drummer’s Beat.” Those are breakbeats. I paid a dollar for it, for each one. Your average producer or DJ would know who came out with those.

What was your most memorable day job?
I had many day jobs and they all was very memorable. I had one job where I worked at a nut and bolt place where I stood at a desk boxing nuts and screws. Boxing them, weighing them, packaging them and stamping them. And there was a big clock right above me and I can almost still hear the ticking of the seconds. So that was frustrating. I had messenger and driving jobs, and those jobs go by pretty fast, especially when you’re working on commission. Y’know time is something else because when you’re working on commission, you need time to go a little slower than it is. When you’re working on the clock, by the hour, you want it to go as fast as possible. I worked for the New York City Transit Authority when I had a city job where I cleaned trains. I wouldn’t say the city job was a horrible job. It was a job I had to take a test for when I was 22 and then wait four years to get it, and people would kill for city jobs. Not literally kill but y’know what I mean.

How do you spoil yourself?
By writing fly raps.

If I wasn’t playing music I would be…
Playing chess. Yeah, I love it man.

What do you fear most?
Myself? I mean, who can harm me like myself? I mean, if you think about it, you have to be careful what you eat, what you do, how you move. It’s not necessarily fearing myself so I don’t really know if that’s a good answer because I don’t really fear myself, but I don’t know how else to explain it.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on? A nice, fat piece of pussy. Nah, y’know; I just have to throw that out there.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I don’t know if I would say strange but I get "Bill Murray? Motherfuckin’ Bill Murray,” a lot, and "Konichiwa bitches!” Usually they flash me back to Dave Chappelle and Coffee and Cigarettes. One time I ran into Master P out in L.A. He was with several people — I think it may have been his family and children. I shouted out "Yo P!” I think it was up in Universal City somewhere and he looked and said, "What’s up?” So I got up because I was eating and was walking over near him and he was giving me this look like, "Why is this dude walking over near me?” And I walked over near him and was like "Yo, what’s up? GZA. From Wu-Tang,” and I threw the flag up so he’ll know. But he still had a real funny vibe, like I don’t know what it was, and I grabbed his hand and shook his hand, but I still had a napkin in my other hand from eating. So, you know usually when you shake a man’s hand, some times you use the other hand to embrace? That hand had the napkin still, so when I touched the back of him, he like "Ssssst,” like "What is?…” It was just a funny reaction. It was really, really funny. Even after, I figured if I was like "GZA from Wu-Tang,” he’d be like "What up my dawg? Peace,” and ease up a little. But he was worried when I walked over there. I met him before then, at Priority Records, like when he first was poppin’ it off, like ‘bout it ‘bout it, right before all that blew up. So yeah, yeah, maybe he’s, what is it, a germophobe? Yeah, a germaphobe.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
That’s a tough one right there. It would probably be the Last Supper with all the artists that have passed away. Biggie, ‘Pac, Dirty, Easy-E, Big Pun…I didn’t want to start naming them because I’m pretty sure I’m gonna forget some. Big L and the list goes on. Poetic from Gravediggaz, and all those I have not mentioned; many, every one. I’d serve fruits and veggies.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
My moms was one of my biggest supporters. She passed away but she was one of my biggest supporters and one of my biggest haters. I wouldn’t say hater but, at one point, when things weren’t going well, she had her little lines to throw, especially when I quit that city job. Lines like "That damned hip-hop” and "Hammer’s successful ‘cuz he pray.” But she was always one of my biggest supporters. My family always gave parties and dances and, when I was on Cold Chillin’ Records, my mother would always bring my "Come Do Me” single along and ask the DJ to play it, so she was a big time supporter.

What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
Aw man. I can’t even answer that. I have to leave it up to those in charge. I don’t even like to think testimony and will. Oh wait, wait, I got one man: "Baby Come Back.”

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