Interview: Robert Diggs, a.k.a. the RZA

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TIME: How much has it helped your business that the Clan members can go work for other entertainment companies, such as film and record companies, and bring industry secrets back with them?

The RZA: That was my original strategy — to have artists placed in different locations, then get those different labels to work together for my brand. Of course I learned that's not easy to do because the labels are in competition with one another. There was only one year [1995] that they all listened to me, and that turned out to be a great year for everybody. Geffen, Loud, Def Jam and Elektra got together and bought this thing called the Wu Family Tree, which is a bin they put in record stores. It had the GZA record, the Wu-Tang record, the Method Man record and so forth. Everybody in the bin's sales doubled the month it was introduced.

But that only happened on one campaign, and that was because the people on that campaign were all good people with each other, for instance, the people from Geffen knew the people from Loud, etc.

TIME: How do you see things differently now from three years ago, when the last Wu-Tang album was released?

The RZA: I'm moving more toward looking at the integrity of the brand. My outlook ain't really about how much revenue we're making right now. The purity of the W is more where my heart is at. A few years ago I made a comment to my brothers, my business partners, that we gonna take this from digital to Disney. Wu Tang is gonna be like the Mickey Mouse ears. And with that kind of goal we got involved with a lot of different things to make that come to fruition. But some things got outta hand because the partners we wound up joining with didn't have the same agenda as we had for our logo. So now, I'm just going back to the integrity of the W. Of course we gonna make money when this next record comes out and there'll be more opportunities, but I'm not prepared to jump at every opportunity. It's got to be within the integrity of our brand.

TIME: What are some products we can expect Wu-Tang to move into in the coming years?

The RZA: First off, Wu Tang Filmz is gettin' ready to explode. But I'm also into electronics right now. I'm currently developing a new sampling machine that's more DJ-friendly than any sampling machine out right now. It will also be more physical than any other sampling machine out right now. Most sampling machines are just a computer interface where you press buttons. This'll have a computer interface but it'll also have a physical element to it that will definitely bring a very special twist to the art of making hip-hop music.

TIME: You mean a turntable.

The RZA: You can put it that way. That's dope right? You feelin' it? Digital vinyl, shall we say.

TIME: What's happening with Wu Filmz?

The RZA: Wu Filmz will make small-budget films as well as large-budget films with third-party assistance. We've got a short film called "Domestic Violence" that we're gonna release around the album. I'm also financing a film right now called "When Tyson Met Tyra." We've been accumulating experience. Method Man's got a movie coming out and he filmed an episode of "Oz," so he's learning the business. Power [Wu Wear founder Oli Grant] was in "Black and White" and that had some success on it, "Ghost Dog" was a good step into films for me. I'm friends with a few people in the acting community and we've been talking about working together, such as Wesley Snipes, Bokeem Woodbine ["The Rock"] and Kadeem Hardison ["I'm Gonna Git You Sucka"]. We started work on a film with Bokeem two years ago. He plays Masta Killa's cousin. It's a shoot-'em-up movie. We shot about 30 minutes already. I was financing it myself and I just had to put that on hold for a while because I had too many things going on.

I ain't gonna front you. Our hands are in a lot of directions. What I'm trying to do now is consolidate and take my "W" off things that are not representing it properly. Take, for example, Wu Tang Records. We've got groups such as Black Knights on Wu Tang Records, but they're not Wu-Tang Clan, you know what I mean? We're not putting our logo on our secondary artists no more. We're telling them, let them build off our strength and use our expertise, but build within their own strength. Basically, the "W" will only be our finest products. The ones we all agree on.

TIME: Divine says the band should bring in outside people to clean up your books. What do you think about that?

The RZA: He should do that, but there should be certain limitations. I've been telling him for three years, Look, go to these colleges, give scholarships and recruit while you're givin' out scholarships. Give scholarships to maybe 10 or 20 kids and recruit 10 or 20 kids and let's get this really poppin', because I know how to pop it. Right now Divine is attempting to separate the artists from the companies. In other words, have the artist be artist, have the business people being business people so we can bring in qualified business workers.

TIME: How long do you think that transition will take?

The RZA: Who knows man, because we did that before. You know we're a corporation, but we're from the street. It's hard sometimes for the average person to come work with us. People be scared of us man, I ain't even gonna front on you, man. I know TIME's like a big magazine, so I don't like to really be talkin' like this. But people are intimidated by us. Say you're an accountant and you come to our office and see that many of us and you feel all this pressure not to mess up. A lot of people have resigned and have left also over the course of the years, because they think "Yo, I can't take it, I don't know if I'm gonna get punched in my face if I fuck up." Not that we gonna punch someone in the face, but there's just a feeling of intimidation. The way my niggas talk is just different from them, you know what I mean?

But this corporation is definitely headed in the up direction, and the key members are focused, which is the main point. In 1997, Wu Wear was going in its own direction without too much influence from the rest of the Clan. I took Wu Tang Records by myself and didn't care what nobody else said. Razor Sharp [Records] was left up to Divine. Everybody was like "whatever, whatever" and meeting at the end of the year like, "how you doin', how you doin?' But now it's like we're coming together like we did for the first five years of our career — we're putting the energy together. Now we see each other at least three times a week. Everybody's there. For instance, Power will come into a meeting and say "Oh, you guys are dropping an album, let's make sure we get the proper advertisement in it this time to cross-promote Wu Wear."

Instead of Wu Wear having a whole separate budget, let's look at our corporation as a whole and consolidate all of our advertising. If we take the 100,000 we'd normally spend pushing Wu Wear and the 200,000 we'd spend on Razor Sharp and the 200,000 Loud [Records] was gonna spend on behalf of us and the 200,000 Geffen [Records] was gonna spend on behalf of us and consolidate it — wow, what an impact.

TIME: Where do you see Wu-Tang Inc in five years?

The RZA: I'm sure we can go public. I'm just not money-lusting right now. But maybe one day my brother can break into my head and say "Yo man, let's go for the money," and maybe I'll snap into it. But in five years? We're gonna be grown men that succeeded in the American dream. We came from sleeping on pissy mattresses to Trump Plaza suites. I used to be a messenger. Back then I couldn't even get into a lot of these buildings and now I'm invited to the penthouses. I wish America would take a look and realize the prodigal children that was produced from the hells of America. We weren't produced in heaven, man. I go to all different countries, and the first thing they see is that I'm reppin' America. We got the whole world rapping. I went to China last year while there was a heavy beef between America and China. As we went up into some of the provinces and I met with some of the people there, they were very impressed with me. They felt very comfortable talking to me and very comfortable relating to me. And felt very at ease talking about things. And I'm saying to myself "Ya see, America needs a diplomat like me, someone the people can feel and understand that can get with Dien Bien Phu and with these old men out there.