Legendary producer/rapper RZA, The Abbot of the Wu-Tang Clan, is responsible for creating the music behind some of the most sacred hip-hop albums of all time, such as Wu debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., and GZA’s Liquid Swords. So it was only right that he bless us with a banging soundtrack for his upcoming Quentin Tarantino-produced martial arts film The Man with the Iron Fists, which he co-wrote and directed.
The soundtrack for the film features all the original living members of the Wu-Tang Clan (there’s even one song with six of them rhyming back-to-back on it) plus production and raps by RZA, as well as appearances by seasoned spitters Kool G Rap, Talib Kweli, and Pusha T.
There's also a heavy presence of new talent sprinkled throughout the project too, with guest spots from Wiz Khalifa, Danny Brown, Flatbush Zombies, and more. Not to mentions songs with Grammy-winners The Black Keys, Kanye West, and Corinne Bailey Rae.
Last week, we sat down with RZA in the Music Hall of Williamsburg’s basement bar area before his tour performance to get a track-by-track breakdown of The Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack, which will be officially released October 23. He shared the stories behind all of the songs, from how each artist got involved in the project to how the tracks are related to different scenes and themes in the movie. Bong bong.
As told to Daniel Isenberg (@stanipcus)
the baddest man alive
The Black Keys and RZA “The Baddest Man Alive”
Producers: The Black Keys and RZA
RZA: “That song was actually made right before I went to China to make the movie, as far as recording the song. I was in the spirit of the movie, and before I went to go make the movie, I wanted to do some music, to get it out of my system. So me, Dan, and Pat, agreed to spend some time in the studio together, about ten days. And we did. We recorded about ten songs, and this was one of them.
“I was really proud of this particular song because I wrote it for me to sing it. But I can’t sing. Soon, but not yet. So Dan blessed it, and I did a rap verse on it of course. And when I was in editing of the film, my music supervisor came across the song, and was like, ‘Yo, let’s put this one in the movie.’ And this was the last song I wrote before I started the movie.
“So we had a scene where we thought it would fit perfectly. And we found the scene, and put it in there. And it worked so perfectly, so we had Dan and Pat kind of rework it to bring it up to date and make it sound good. And they did. And bong bong, it made it on the soundtrack. First song.”
Ghostface Killah, M.O.P., and Pharoahe Monch “Black Out”
Producer: Fizzy Womack
RZA: “Interesting combo. Now keep in mind, on this soundtrack, I had people working with me on the team, [supervising the music and helping to A&R specific songs]. For this song, we took one of the music cues from the movie that is kind of the underlying theme of the Blacksmith. And we had Fame [of M.O.P.] chop up my music cue into a loop. Actually, a lot of the case of this movie is us taking the score and turning it into song. And ‘Black Out’ was that.
“At first, we had Styles P on it. My version had him, but I don’t think we had enough time for the clearance. And so, we asked Pharoahe Monch to come in and bless it. And he [did]. And I told Pharoahe I’m grateful for him blessing it.”
Kanye West “White Dress”
Producers: Kanye West and RZA
RZA: “The Kanye track was actually written for the film. I invited Kanye into the editing room, and I showed him the scene [where Lucy Liu’s character comes around the corner wearing a gown], and it already had the music underneath the scene. And I wanted him to write a song for it. He came in to see the scene, and he loved it. And he was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna bless it. Trust me.’
“So I took the track, which was more score [at first], and not as elaborate as what we ended up with, it was more just the soul Stax sound that we had. [I gave him the track], and I sent him away. We would communicate every few months, because it took about eight months to get all this music together.
“And about six months in, I was inside what’s called the sound stage. See, some of these songs are in the movie itself. Some are not. This is in the movie. But the only way to get it in the movie is to have it in by a certain day, because the movie closes [production]. And about one week before the movie closed, Kanye sent the song.
“We were happy, because we already had a version of the scene without it. But I emailed him one more time, because he had told me the verse maybe a month earlier, and said he didn’t finish it, but was like, ‘I’m goin’ in, I’m goin’ in.’ And then, when he finished it and sent it to me, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he went in.’ I think he [rapped] great on that song.
“If my time allows me, I’m gonna try to slip down there to Hawaii to hook up with him.”
i forgot to be your lover
The Revelations f/ Tre Williams “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”
Producer: Bob Perry
RZA: “The song ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ is a famous track from Stax Records of course. William Bell did it, and The Mad Lads did it. So The Revelations redid it, and changed it around. For the movie, I was given some cues from Stax Records. And they let me do whatever I wanted with them. So I reorchestrated them, changed them around, and did all that. ‘I Forgot To Be Your Lover’ was one of the songs I chose to reorchestrated.
“That’s why in this particular song, it breaks into the movie cue. That’s the version done by The Mad Lads. But the version they re-cut, is a mixture of The Mad Lads version and the one by William Bell. They were both on Stax Records, done about five years apart.
“Then Tre Williams, being the great soul singer he is, and one of the few soul singers that the Stax team respects, he went in and, bong. I’m definitely a fan of Tre, and I love The Revelations. He did a song for me on the Wu-Tang Chamber Music compilation, the Al Green cut with Ghostface. This dude is good. I think he has a future, when soul music gets back out there like that.”
get your way
Idle Warship (Talib Kweli & Res) “Get Your Way”
Producers: Frank Dukes and BadBadNotGood
RZA: “That song was inspired by the movie, by Lucy Liu’s character. As you notice, the song starts off with her, and she says, ‘Power is a fickle mistress.’ It’s basically [about] the power of sex. And we reached out to Talib maybe right after the movie was kind of finished. And we wanted to have more of a female voice, and something that addressed the sex. So we sent him the trailer, and the trailer inspired him, and he came back with this.”
rivers of blood
Wu-Tang Clan f/ Kool G Rap “Rivers of Blood”
Producers: Frank Dukes and BadBadNotGood
RZA: “U-God came in last on the hook. I was on the hook at first, and my hook was terrible. [Laughs.] I wasn’t really focused enough to do the hook [because I was in film mode]. So I needed a strong voice. And U-God recorded his verse on ‘Six Directions of Boxing’ first. So I said, ‘Let’s bring him back in for the hook on this one.’
“And once again, we combined some of the score with the music. BadBadNotGood laid down the music for it, that band is hot. And then Raekwon, Ghost, and G Rap went in and did their thing.
‘And Frank Dukes, [who worked on a bunch of songs on the soundtrack], is a soul producer, and a good musician. And to me, he is someone that understands the Wu sound. He just gets it. And the minute he brings live instruments to it, it’s saving me a lot of trouble with the samples. He gets the vibe of the music, and then flips it. Real smart kid.”
built for this
Method Man, Freddie Gibbs, and Streetlife “Built For This”
Producer: Frank Dukes
RZA: “This is one of the first songs that was released from the soundtrack. And the idea for that is they are talking more about the character the Blacksmith, and he built weapons. So on ‘Built For This,’ they’re talking about how they are the weapons that are built to rap. So it starts off, ‘When you forge your weapon.’ And then these are the weapons. The MCs are the weapons.
“Bob Perry reached out to Freddie, and asked him if he would like to do a song for the RZA soundtrack. And he was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ I met him, and he looks up to me as a legend. So he said, ‘Give me a blessing,’ because he wanted to be a part of it. And we allowed him.
“When we reached out to some MCs and artists, we realized that we wanted to make a soundtrack that combines old with new. So we did that a few times on the soundtrack. And that’s the idea, to show that hip-hop is that broad. There’s a cross-section. And it’s good, because it lets the new show their respect to the old, and the old show their respect to the new. And the fans can realize that hip-hop is really one community.
“Meth is great. He just doesn’t come outside a lot. [Laughs.]"
Killa Sin “The Archer”
Producer: Frank Dukes
RZA: “He killed a verse on one of the Chamber Music album cuts called ‘Drunken Tongue.’ He ripped that. Originally, I think Bob wanted Killa Sin to do ‘Drunken Tongue 2.’ But instead, we had a character in the film that’s hired to kill named Brass Body, and basically, we let Killa Sin be that voice. His idea is to come in, and just rip that shit. And he rips it from first bar to last bar, yo.”
just blowin in the wind
RZA and Flatbush Zombies “Just Blowin’ In The Wind”
RZA: “That’s another cue from inside the movie that we took, and put it in song format. The Flatbush Zombies remind me of The Gravediggaz, so I thought it would be cool to pair with them. They were brought to my attention, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I do like these guys. Let’s put them with me.’
“I recorded my verses in California, and sent it to them, and they recorded their verses in Brooklyn. But we’ve hooked up since then.
“People say that I have an inimitable flow. But I think they kind of caught the flow on that one. So, bong bong. I like the song. It’s real good. I like the energy on it.”
Pusha T, Raekwon, Joell Ortiz, and Danny Brown “Tick, Tock”
Producers: Frank Dukes and S-1
RZA: “Crazy [lineup]. Pusha T was one of the last artists to get on the soundtrack. We were almost out of budget, and we had reached out to Push, and he said he would do it, but time was ticking, and the budget was ticking. And then there was like three days to go, and down to the crumbs. So we sent Push the track, and he aired it out.
“Joell Ortiz actually had a solo song on the soundtrack, but I didn’t want it to be where it was overkill. So we pulled it, but we didn’t want to let Joell Ortiz not be on the album. He killed the other one, too. We should make it a bonus track because with his lyrics, the kid is on fire. And Raekwon is on fire too. This dude is on fire.
“I wasn’t aware of Danny Brown, other than that he was big on the Internet, and that he was from Detroit. But he was brought to the table, and fortunately, I dug it. I heard his voice, and I said I wanted to use him on the hook, because he had an ill voice. But they were like, ‘He got a verse he recorded, too.’ So I heard it, and I was like, ‘Yo, I like the kid.’
“I think a few people in the studio weren’t understanding where [Danny Brown] was coming from. They were talking this, and talking that. But I pushed for him to be on here.”
*Version does not contain Danny Brown verse
Corinne Bailey Rae “Chains”
Produced by: Steven James Brown and Corinne Bailey Rae
RZA: “That’s an original track. She’s one of the few people who had seen seventy percent of the movie at this point. We were in California working on a few songs together. And I kept having to leave the studio and go back to editing. And she kept being like, ‘What are you working on?’ So I said, ‘Come and see.’ So I invited her and her sister. And they were the first women to see the film. And they loved it.
“It was good to have a female perspective, because we didn’t think that women were going to love it like that, and women love this film, yo. And she had called me up, and said that there was a part in the film that really moved her. She said she went home and kept thinking about it, and that she wanted to write something about this particular part. So I said, ‘Go for it.’
“I sent her a music cue from where the scene starts off, and I said, ‘Just put [your song] in the same key as this cue, and it will flow.’ So she wrote it, and sent it to me, and I said we could use it because it felt great.
“And one other thing she did that was special on this particular song is she recorded it on two inch tape. And we had to mix it that way. That was a requirement. To give it that old, soul sound.”
green is the mountain
Francis Yip “Green Is The Mountain”
RZA: “She’s incredible. This song is in the movie as well. This is a big, important song to the movie. You can feel the Asian flavor.”
six directions of boxing
Wu-Tang Clan “Six Directions of Boxing”
Producer: Frank Dukes
RZA: “U-God set it off. At one point, we didn’t have Deck on it. I was like, ‘Hold on, we need Deck on here.’ He usually starts off, but he’s at the end. I’m proud of this song because, this is one of the first songs [in a while] that has this many members of Wu rapping back-to-back. And I called it ‘Six Directions of Boxing’ because every direction is covered.
“Those brothers ripped it. And for me, it’s a privilege, because it completes having the entire Wu-Tang Clan on the soundtrack. So we got the whole Wu-Tang Clan on the soundtrack, and the son of ODB [who raps on the final song on the soundtrack].”
your good thing is about to come to an end
Mable John “Your Good Thing (Is About To Come To An End)”
Producers: Isaac Hayes and David Porter
RZA: “That’s one of those famous Stax songs that I was given to me to use for the movie, from the old days. It’s a classic that they gave me. It’s on the soundtrack, and it’s in the movie as well.”
i go hard
Wiz Khalifa, Ghostface Killah, and Boy Jones “I Go Hard”
RZA: “Wiz’s music is in the film. He came in to editing, and I showed him where I wanted his music to be. Then, I gave him the music cue, which was already kind of a drum beat [that you could flow to], and he threw a verse on it, and he caught the spirit of what was happening inside the movie. When you see the scene, you’ll see how it fits.
“Then I was like, ‘Let’s make this a full song.’ So I think we took a Ghost verse from somewhere else and threw it on there. And then Boy Jones, that’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, put his verse to the track and he got on it as well.
[The movie opens with a remix of ‘Shame On A N****’ also.] Ol’ Dirty couldn’t be here to see it with me, but he’s here.”