36. RZA, Bobby Digital In Stereo (1998)
There was a great deal of expectation surrounding Wu-Tang Clan’s producer and de-facto leader RZA’s first album upon its release in 1998. By that time, five of the group’s other eight members had released solo albums, all of them classics that had moved forward what hip-hop was capable of, with RZA having had a hand in all of them.
So what did the Wu leader do when he finally found time to attend to his own album? He put out an oddball debut taking on the identity of a character named "Bobby Digital." RZA has never been the strongest rapper in the Wu and by the end of the ‘90s his style had gotten lazy, so 68 minutes of him on the mic was problematic.
Worse, the beats here have little in common with his sample-heavy work to date;. Instead they’re built with over a dozen keyboards. The results sold okay but there were some naysayers; Pitchfork gave it a 2.9 and called its opening track “the most annoying rap song of the year” (what an honor!).
Kool Keith, meanwhile, felt the whole Bobby Digital concept bit his style and teased in the booklet to his album First Come, First Served (itself released under a concept alias, Dr. Dooom) that his next album would be released as “Robbie Analog.”
What was missed in all this is that Bobby Digital In Stereo is brilliant in spots, particularly when RZA takes a break from rapping to bring in some other Wu members and farms out some production work, like on King Tech’s bubbling “Love Jones.”
Elsewhere, “Domestic Violence” proves to be an alarming highlight; Bobby gets cussed out at length by his girlfriend before finally shouting back “you don’t cook, you don’t clean, you don’t press my jeans” and U-God makes a cameo as a dude on the phone. Speaking to the Onion A.V. Club years later, RZA revealed his inspiration for all this strangeness was actually very simple; “It came from a really good bag of weed one day.”