|Interview by Rob Schwartz
WHO?MAG: How did you first break into the music industry?
GZA: I hooked up with this brother named Melquan who was a manager who used to manage me back in the day . He knew someone and gave him a demo and he took it and I got a deal.
WHO?MAG: Being that you already penned a few classics albums, what is going to make the “Grandmasters” different from your previous releases?
GZA: It’s more work. I think it’s a step up lyrically. I am growing
constantly on a lyrical tip. I think that this is just another great
piece of work.
WHO?MAG: Why did you decide to collaborate with DJ Muggs for this release?
GZA: Because it was necessary. DJ Muggs and me have worked together previously in the past and he asked me if I would be interested in doing an album. I said “yeah”, and then he gave me some tracks then we linked up. A few months later, we knocked it out.
WHO?MAG: Do you agree with the direction that hip-hop is going today?
GZA: Hip-hop is all over right now. It is what it is. It’s not up to me
if I agree with it or not, it is what it is. There are a lot of good songs out there and there is a lot of bullshit out there. It’s forever changing though.
WHO?MAG: With all of the accomplishments that you have achieved as a solo artists and with Wu-Tang, what would be the number one accomplishment you would like to be remembered for?
GZA: I’m not sure if I could pick a number one. There were many
accomplishments. Just reaching out to the people and making music that is timeless and well respected and continue to make music that is appreciated. I mean those are many different things so I can’t pick one number one thing.
WHO?MAG: If you could change one thing about the entertainment industry, what would that be?
GZA: Music. I mean I am changing that doing what I am already doing. I can’t change others. The only change I can make is by putting out good music. And keep doing what I am doing and people will catch on.
WHO?MAG: With the recent announcement of the collaboration with System of the Down’s Daron Malakian, what impact are you hoping to bring to hip-hop?
GZA: Good music. This will be one of a kind right here. I am planning to just do an album that hasn’t been done. Doing something on another level that hasn’t been done and knock out a great song. It’s going to go with the flow and just creating from scratch.
WHO?MAG: Can we look forward to another Wu-Tang release in the future?
GZA: Hopefully. I hope so. I am looking forward to it, but I can’t say at this stage.
WHO?MAG: What’s next up for Gza?
GZA: More work, more music, a couple of books, a script or two. A lot. I am about to put out a mixtape album under Babygrande Records. It will be either a compilation album or a GZA Presents featuring various artists and after that just an album. Another official GZA Album.
BONUS INTERVIEW BY WILL HERNANDEZ FROM URBAN AMERICA
WILL: How did you and DJ Muggs first hook up?
GZA: The first time I hooked up with Muggs I think it was in 96; the first Soul Assassin project. Then I hooked up again for the second Soul Assassins project. We did a song called The Fat Lady Sings. From then on we stayed in touch. I would link up with him when I would go to LA every now and then; just to touch base. He talked about doing an album a little over a year ago. He came to NY played me some tracks in the hotel room. I picked some beats and then I linked up with him a month after that and we did the album.
WILL: Why did you guys choose the concept of chess for the album?
GZA: I love chess; I play chess all the time. Chess is the best sports game ever. We were playing everyday in the studio. We didn’t have the idea to come with the concept of chess until the album was complete. It was Muggs idea we didn’t have titles or anything. Muggs had the idea to call the album Grandmasters. After he had the title I thought about titling the songs with titles that have to do with chess. We came with hooks and the skits. Then we pieced it all together.
WILL: In the press release they quoted you as saying that you believe chess should be part of the school curriculum; why?
GZA: Because chess is about strategically planning. It’s about patience, planning, thinking, concentration; basically thinking moves ahead and seeing things ahead of time. I think if children become more sharp playing chess more than they play video games.
WILL: Talk to me a little bit of beginning. How did you get your record deal with Cold Chillin who put out your debut Words Of A Genius?
GZA: I hooked with a brother named Melquan who managed myself and RZA. I met with him in the 80’s. He put up some money and brought me in the studio. I knocked out 15 songs/demos and I got a deal. It was years of struggle as far as trying to get on.
WILL: How was the experience being on Cold Chillin?
GZA: It was great. Just to be on a label with a whole bunch of heavyweights. To be on the label with the Juice Crew who were the heavyweights at the time; magnificent emcees; to be up there with Fly Ty and the boys: Kane, G Rap, Shan, Ace, Biz Markie, Shante it was good feeling. It was my entrance into the industry; that was the first door that was opened. Me being signed to a label; the experience was good. We went on the road and toured. The tour wasn’t promoted well, but it was still good to be out. First time on the road, tour bus, doing radio shows, radio drops. I never knew what a perdium was until I was on the road. The perdium came in handy too. I think I was getting 35 dollars a day and I was saving every dime (laughs). It was a great experience, but at the same time. I’ve learned from being signed to the labels the ups and the downs as soon as I came in the game. It’s not all peaches and cream just because you got a deal.
WILL: My favorite song on that album was Life Of A Drug Dealer. How did the concept of that song come about?
GZA: : I wrote that song because I was told I may have chance of getting that song on the New Jack City soundtrack and I went all out. I think it was a great song, it’s just we didn’t have enough pull and power to get it on there. I think it would’ve been great; probably the best song for the soundtrack. Ice T did his thing I can’t knock him.
Actually when I first met Easy Moe Bee that was the first beat he played for me. I didn’t write that song to the beat. I wrote that song at home without any music and when I met Easy Moe Bee that was the first song he played. I was like ok and I had that verse for it. I’m not sure if DJ Mathematics or Easy Moe Bee’s brother Pat who did the cuts on that song.
WILL: How do you work do you wait to hear the beat to write a rhyme, or do you have them prewritten, or do you have a concept in your head that you want to work with?
GZA: Either way. Sometimes I have ideas in my head. Sometimes I have few rhymes written. No often do I approach a beat with a rhyme. I do write every now and then. It’s not always easy to match around to a beat. Because it has to perfectly fit like a foot to a shoe.
WILL: Do you feel as you said in another interview that the “pendulum” is swinging toward lyricism again?
GZA: It’s a few emcees that’s lyrical out there that are in the spotlight. Getting a little bit of shine. You know how the hip hop game is right now. It’s not a lot of lyrical stuff out there. It’s probably going to get to that in the next few of years. Its going to take couple of young cats; maybe even younger to know that out. Maybe something extremely young and I say that for a reason. Just to wake the world up and let other artists that are grown men running around talking a bunch of bullshit. To be like “Yo! We need to get our swords sharp again.” It’s forever changing. At one point it was very very lyrical then it became less lyrical; then it became less lyrical and more commercial in the sense where everything is the same. All the songs and concepts are the same and everyone is rhyming about the same thing and there is nothing in there to draw you into the music or into the world. Where you can experience something that’s how it is now. It is starting to change now.
WILL: I know you’re working on some documentary. Can you talk about that?
GZA: I know people have been hearing about this for the past 5 to 6 years. At one point I started to edit the footage that I had and I’m not even calling it a documentary anymore. It’s a Wu Tang DVD. The footage is interesting; I haven’t finished the work. It’s been sitting on ice for a couple of years. Also because I’ve waiting to release it with something; maybe another Wu Tang project.
WILL: Why did you leave Geffen/MCA records?
GZA: MCA decided to cut lose. They fired the president; they got rid of him. When he left a lot of jobs got cut and a lot of artists got cut. It had nothing to do with talent because I was damn near the most talented one. Not to take from others. We had a couple of talented artists on the label. Along with The Roots, Common, and whoever else was on the label. It had nothing to do with talent it had more to do with sales. That’s how labels get down. They look at your history of sales. Liquid Swords did great! Beneath The Surface did ok. It was still a gold album; but it didn’t do as good as Liquid Swords and it may not have done as good as other artists who they have kept. It was a favor to me really to be out of there. I wasn’t pleased with the way they were doing things anyway. It wasn’t like I was putting out horrible music and people were like “wow listen to this man. What is wrong with GZA? What is he doing?” It’s just that there was no push behind it. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. You spent three hundred thousand on a video that never gets played and then it gets serviced 4 weeks after the song is out. It’s a total waste of my time and money. A lot of times labels be screwing up. It’s their decision not to deal with me which is cool.
WILL: When is the next Wu Tang Clan album coming out and what label is the group under?
GZA: I can’t say man. It should’ve been out. Wu Tang is on no label right now.
WILL: Any last words GZA?
GZA: Get the Grandmasters album. Food for thought; listen to it eat well.