It's been a productive year for RZA. He had his usual place at the boards, executive-producing the critically acclaimed compilation Wu-Tang Chamber Music and Raekwon's stunning OB4CL2, but added to that another underrated acting role in Judd Apatow's Funny People and a second go-around as writer, dropping his spiritual mashup book, The Tao of Wu, earlier this month. And in the middle of all that, he took some time to sit down (with writer/musician Noah Rubin, who produced some of the tracks on Wu-Tang Chamber Music) and discuss everything from the stories behind The Tao of Wu to ODB to his continuing quest for enlightenment. Bong bong!
Interview by Noah Rubin
Complex: Talk to me a little bit about the idea of Supreme Architecture.
RZA: That's the one who comes with the illest ideas, the illest creation. An architect is a person who builds homes or structures, stadiums even. A Supreme Architect is someone who actually built the universe. So, if I say I am the Supreme Architecture, I'm letting Allah speak. I'm becoming a vehicle.
Complex: What's the key to becoming that vehicle?
RZA: Realizing that the body is a vehicle for the mind, and that vehicle is how you travel through space. The person who exposed me to a new way of thinking was my cousin GZA, Allah Justice, the Genius. When you're in darkness you need someone to show you what? The light. He's the one that enlightened me—and once that wick was lit I kept adding on to keep kindling that fire. They say knowledge is like fire 'cause it breaks down things so you can see what they truly are. It's like how a fire breaks your body down to carbon.
Complex: When GZA exposed you to those ideas were you immediately open to them?
RZA: It wasn't like I had to be convinced. They say the truth shall set you free. When you hear the truth, it sets you free. So mathematics is truth. It adds up. There's no error. Only time there's an error is when man miscalculates his own problems or his own equations. Knowledge is first and wisdom is the manifestation of knowledge. To understand this tone and pattern of thinking in the numerical way automatically resonated with me. Then to hear the facts that follow through lessons you have to study, through books you get exposed to. You get an education that defeats the education you get in school.
Complex: What books are most revealing?
RZA: The most revealing books are the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible. The Bhagavad Gita is a great book as well, and the works of Buddha. These are the major influences on the world.
Complex: How did those texts influence you artistically?
RZA: Well in The Tao of Wu, we go into different stories and ways of helping you get wisdom. I tell you stories from my life that help brothers see that it's a physical thing and a mental thing to gain wisdom. I'll read this right from the book: "Krishna said that you can study all day and pray all day and chant all day but you get to heaven faster if you hang with the wise men." I was nervous to even write this book, yo.
Complex: Why were you nervous about it?
RZA: 'Cause I don't like talking about myself. Even though I rhyme about it all day, I rhyme about a lot of my strengths and my weakness as well but not these particular lessons in life. Without having to put it all into a 16-bar verse, you make it a whole page of something that happened that led to wisdom and enlightenment or that added on to this enlightenment that I have. When you first get the spark, you know you gotta keep the fire burning, it can go out, it goes out in many people, it goes out on most people. Time, age, the old abbot gotta sit still after a while, but as long as he keep the fire burning he can touch another fire, spark another person and another, that's why in old kung fu flicks you'll see the old abbot, he don't come back to fight the villain, he trains a student for that job, the student comes back and destroys the villain. Bong bong. Then the abbot doesn't have to fight. His losing is losing a lot of wisdom. That's why so many people get in front of him.
Complex: Do you think there's a great challenge to get beyond the initial moment of enlightenment, to get to a higher level of understanding of the world around you?
RZA: Once you've got an inspired spark, you've got to strive. You've gotta keep putting wood on it, so they say, to keep it burning. But then there's the alchemist side of it, that's the fire that's burning but it don't burn. It's just a light. It's like when a man who works out can take a blow more strongly. He has muscles protecting his body. Punch him in the stomach, he's got a six-pack. He's not going down as quickly as a soft-bellied kid. So, when you feel this knowledge and this spark in yourself, you've gotta continue feeding it. The best thing, like I already said, is to spend time around other wise men, that keeps it burning. That keeps it in every degree sharp as steel, but make sure you absorb enough to find out how it sparks from yourself, how the self starts the self. Once you've got that you should be free. That's freedom, to me. Let's look at ODB, a free man for real. His expression of freedom, his way he wanted to do was very free. One out of a million people could deter him from an idea, 'cause he was free to express like that.
Complex: Who are the people you consider most wise?
RZA: In this world? There's strong men of wisdom in many different fields. They say 5% of the people are wise and righteous and 10% are wise but use their wiseness for wickedness or to deceive others. It's like a magician: he knows the answer to the trick, but you don't. He has to keep you blind to the truth in order for the illusion to work. When you've got that kind of wisdom and somebody else doesn't, you can always take advantage of them. There's the 5% of the people that are wise and righteous and I'd definitely be amongst them, building, communicating, and continuing to try and figure out how we can awaken the 85%. The 85% are walking around [like] cattle, not realizing the things we do, the violence we do; you see people falling victim to all sorts of unnecessary things because they just don't know the way and nobody is showing them the way.
Complex: Do you feel like that's the fundamental message of your music?
RZA: I wouldn't say that. The fundamental message of the Wu Tang music is as vast as the ocean in all reality, but it's still a straight path. You can take one lyric and by researching what that lyric is giving out to you, it should give you more than a day's worth of school, maybe three days' worth of school. I can give an example. I won't be selfish and use myself, but I'll just say when we say:
The pre-existence of the mathematical biochemical equations
The manifestations of God, planet air fire and water
Which are in its basic formation, solid liquid and gases
That caused the land masses, and the space catalyst
And all matter that exists and is dense
Third dimension, that must be observed through physical comprehension
It takes a nerve to be struck, wisdom is the wise
Poet spoken to wake up, the dumb who've been sleeping
The fourth dimension is time, it goes inside the mind
When the chakras energize up through the back of your spine
So observe as my qi energy strikes a vital nerve
One swerve of the tongue it pierces like a sword through the lung
Have you not heard, that words kill us faster than bullets
When you load negative thoughts, into the chamber of your brain
And your mouth pulls the trigger that propels
Wickedness straight from hell
From the pits of of your stomach where negativity dwell
[-From The Gravediggaz' "Twelve Jewelz"]
That's just one verse out of Wu Tang Clan's catalog, more than a thousand songs. That one verse alone is enough to go ahead and do a scientific experiment to see what is going on. What is the preexistence of the mathematical biochemical equation? You gotta prolly ask me for the answer, you know what I mean?
Complex: Why do you think enlightenment is hard to get across to the people given that the situation is this drastic?
RZA: In today's society, the forces against you are heavy against you. The whole goal is to get knowledge of yourself, but people are so far from themselves that they don't believe themselves. In the old days, there wasn't no more than 11 TV channels. That's enough to save you. Now having 400 frequencies floating by every day when you walk out to every house. These different airwaves being sent out, thousands and thousands of kilowatts of energy being pushed out, whatever these ideas are. They happen everyday and you're breathing them in. You see things on TV you wouldn't want your children to see on Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network started as a place that showed cartoons and they had kids watching it, about 8 years later you wouldn't really want your kid to watch it because the content is adult.
Complex: Do you feel like drugs are a tool that confuse or clarify?
RZA: Drugs depend on individuals, actually. It depends on your chemical makeup and all that. Drugs can lead to enlightenment; they got whole ceremonies for certain drugs that take you to this other world of enlightenment. When LSD was made, people thought they were getting enlightened. People say Einstein was taking it. Drugs hurt, though, whether they give you enlightenment or not; they have their own effect, the side effect.
The side effects of whatever you doing is gonna determine how long you're gonna enjoy your enlightenment. Drugs definitely induce that in people. That's why people take drugs. You could be sitting there doing nothing, and smoke a blunt and then be sitting there doing nothing, but swear you're doing something. When you're bored it's like that, but when you're working, you don't really get as high and you still go to enlightenment; that's why you got the kung fu. Kung fu was made so the monks could train their bodies and move their bodies with strength, so they could be physical enough to gain mental enlightenment. Before that, they kept falling asleep when [masters] were trying to teach them.
Let's look at some of the enlightened statues. You see Buddha, you see laughing Buddha, you see the crying Buddha, you see the sleeping Buddha, you see the tall Buddha, you see the female Buddha, you see all these different variations, these are all different kinds of personalities of different kinds of ways that they reached enlightenment. You can laugh yourself into enlightenment, you've got the drunken Buddha, the drunk monk, you know what I mean? That's why you can drink yourself into enlightenment.
Complex: You got the fat Buddha, the drunk Buddha...what's the RZA Buddha?
RZA: [Laughs.] That's the universal Buddha.
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