There are few people in hip-hop that deserve to be called an auteur (the French word for author, a title reserved for consummate creators) as much as The RZA. The de-facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, he’s more than just a legendary producer. From the earliest days of the Wu, Rzarector was their creative visionary.

He’s also a savvy businessman who helped the Wu-Tang Clan change not just the sound of hip-hop, but the business model too. Wu was the first team to land a group record deal as well as a variety of solo deals. With Wu Wear, he became one of the first rappers with a clothing brand. He’s also written a book (The Wu-Tang Manual), composed and recorded original scores for movies like Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai and Kill Bill, and he even claims he helped create the technology behind Serato and Final Scratch. Oh, and he’s directing his own upcoming film, The Man With The Iron Fists. Needless to say, the man has always been at the forefront of hip-hop culture.

And now he’s got one more notch to add to his black belt in hip-hop: Headphones. Since Dr. Dre ushered in the headphone boom with his ubiquitous Beats By Dre, everyone from 50 Cent to Ludacris has been trying to get in on the action. However, unlike 50 or Luda, The Abbot actually knows a thing or two about decibels, kilohertz, and the basics of sound quality. And just like with hip-hop production in the early ‘90s, he’s one of the few people who can rival Dr. Dre’s sound with his Chambers By RZA headphones

With the headphones going on sale today on the WeSC website as well as Guitar Center locations (they'll become more widely available at additional retailers in the coming weeks), we sat down with The RZA to talk headphones, hip-hop, and Hollywood.

Yes, he also responded to Method Man’s claims that GZA wrote many of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s rhymes, revealed that he had to censor Raekwon and Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and claimed he recently gave away 10 beats to Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, and Nas...

Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)

How did you get involved with making the Chambers by RZA headphones?

I got involved through mutual people that knew the headphone boom was happening. They was telling me to get involved but I wouldn’t get involved. I came across a company [called WeSC] that had something cool about them that resonated with me.

 

I already owned a pair of Beats [by Dre headphones]—I dug them—but my battery ran out on me. I was kind of pissed off that I paid $300 and had to fucking wait for the batteries. I said, "I’m making some shit so that will never happen."

 

They said I could personally design them and make them how the fuck I want. If I wanted to put three ears on it, I could put three ears on it—well, that wouldn’t work on Earth. [Laughs.] They let me zone in and make something that I thought would be cool.

I already owned a pair of Beats [by Dre headphones]—I dug them—but my battery ran out on me. I was kind of pissed off that I paid $300 and had to fucking wait for the batteries. I said, "I’m making some shit so that will never happen."

I did a few other things and then I just got involved in it. When I was making my film in China, a lot of the ideas for the headphones materialized. Now, here they are.

I hear you were very hands on with the project. What were some of specific ideas that you were bringing?

It’s a lot of them, but the most prominent is I wanted lights on them. We have a small meter on it, so you know if [the music is] peaking or not peaking because I know some people like to mix.

I wanted them to be able to link together. It was off my own experience from riding the plane with my wife and she’s looking at something and says, ‘Oh, look! [and has to put her headphones on my head].’ We can both sit there and watch the same thing.

You can have one iPad, and we both can watch a movie on that iPad or one iPod and we both can hear the same song. Now that I came up with that idea, you actually can chain five of these headphones together with one equal sound resolution—actually you can chain 20 [if you wanted].

You mentioned owning a pair of Beats by Dre. How much did that influence this product?

We started this before all of that. This is a two year process. These ain’t something they made last month and then told me to put my logo on it. That’s another thing: These were made by me.

I don’t know their situation or what he did, but they are the pioneers of it. We got to respect the pioneers and I respect them doing it. I usually wouldn’t even do something somebody else did to be honest with you. I started Wu Wear, and other people started copying me! I came with the first sneakers, other people copied me. When it came to these headphones, the question in my head was, ‘Am I gonna do something that somebody else did?’

 

When it came to these headphones, the question in my head was, ‘Am I gonna do something that somebody else did?’ I decided to say yes to this one. The only way I was gonna do something that somebody already else did is if I did something different. I’m not the first guy to make hip-hop, but I did it differently. I’m the first one that took it to the chamber I took it to.

 

I decided to say yes to this one. The only way I was gonna do something that somebody already else did is if I did something different. I’m not the first guy to make a record or to make hip-hop, but I did it differently. I’m the first one that took it to the chamber I took it to and that’s where I’m going with my headphones.

There’s no lights on [Beats by Dre] headphones, you can’t plug up multiple headphones to their shit, and if you have noise cancellation with the battery and your battery runs out, you can still use mine.

When I made hip-hop, I made hip-hop. I didn’t make R&B or make it for the radio. I made beats so niggas could rhyme to it. I wanted you to rap to it. I didn’t want you to dance to it—if you dance to it, it’s up to you. With “Protect Ya Neck,” “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” and “Bring The Ruckus,” you can rap to that shit. If you find a dance to it, that’s on you. You definitely can rhyme to that shit.

Same thing with [the headphones], I made it to be the fit of style. In New York, a lot of us wear those Nikes—the Air Force Ones/Uptowns and shit. If you notice, If you had on the red and white [Air Force Ones, your headphones would match]. I like the metallic silver Benz, [so there’s] metallic silver headphones. I got a white Maserati, so I got a solid white pair of headphones.

Is that really how you based the colors—on your cars?

I based [the metallic silver and white headphones] on those two [cars]. I based the black matted headphones on my buddy Chavo. When I got the Maserati, he got him a matted black Mustang. His is the Knight Rider and my shit is the Mach 5 Speed Racer. I made these from inspirations from my life and things I like. That’s another thing that makes it cool.

That’s why I signed my name on it. That logo is my signature. Every autograph I’ve signed for any fan, they’ll know that’s that nigga’s real fucking signature. They sent me logos, but it’s just a logo. I never put that [signature] on something, besides what I gave to fans. I’m not selling that though.

 

People be like, “Yo, how come you make your music lo-fi?” I’m like, “Muthafucker, I got a million dollars worth of equipment. You don’t think I can make my shit sound [hi-fi]? No! They can’t make theirs sound like this!”

 

We’re not selling [the headphones] because of [the signature]. This is just authenticating it. I sign autographs for free. This is authenticating the headphones. If you take the logo off the headphones, you got some headphones, but is it really mine?

Other people can take my [technical] specs and come out next year with the colors, and a daisy chain, and put 20 lights on theirs, and copy all that shit—the same way they did with clothing and beats. That’s what they do; that’s America. Shark biters. But they won’t have [my signature] on it. [Laughs.] I have to make sure something is still pure.

That’s why people be like, “Yo, how come you make your music lo-fi?” I’m like, “Muthafucker, I got a million dollars' worth of equipment. You don’t think I can make my shit sound [hi-fi]? No! They can’t make theirs sound like this!”

Now you can buy shit like “’90s hip-hop” or “lo-fi” drum kits. No. It don’t sound like it, kid. You don’t know what filter I’m using. You don’t know what machine I got and I won’t tell you what machine that is. In fact, you don’t know why I EQ at the kilohertz I do. You don’t know why I use hertz and you don’t have to know. Why does Ghostface sound how he sounds [on my records]?

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