GZA (Wu-Tang)

Hip Hop Icon Series


It’s not a stretch to say GZA is the epitome of an emcee’s emcee. This man loves rhyming and takes his craft extremely seriously. card_gzaAs the ‘head’ of the Wu-Tang Clan he rose to prominence with sharp rhymes and layered lyrics that leave you discovering new meanings after almost every listen. We got up with the Genius to talk about his development as an MC, his feelings on ODB’s passing and of course rhyming, rhyming, and more rhyming. Oh did I mention his love for country music?? Enjoy.

Halftime: I’ve always thought of you as the most serious dude in the clan, but then I seen the Dave Chappelle skit and it blew me cuz it was mad funny. How come that doesn’t normally come off in your music?

GZA: I don’t know. I’m serious when I write but I do have a sense of humor. I like to have fun and joke. I think the Dave Chappelle thing was cool to do because we were being ourselves although somewhat acting. We were being RZA and GZA and it wasn’t a reach for us. We weren’t going outside of our character and I thought it was a funny skit to have Wu-Tang trying to handle people’s finances. It was a good experience and it was funny. Also, Coffee & Cigarettes with myself, RZA & Bill Murray was just as funny as the Dave Chappelle thing. It was real cool. I like to laugh and have fun but I take emceeing seriously but I like to bug out every now and then.

Halftime: I want to talk about back in the days when you used to go around town just battling cats. There was a rumor that you and Jay-Z battled one time. Is there any truth to that and if so what was the outcome of that one?

GZA: Yea, that’s true. It wasn’t like a battle but we came across each other’s paths. Actually it was me and Dirty. We ran into Jay-Z in Bushwick. We used to go to Ansar Ru Allah community, it was this whole community of Muslims, to go buy the wheat pizza and they used to have this talent show every week. We weren’t performing against each other but we happened to run into him one time out there. We were like yea we emcee and he was like he emcee and we went back and forth with a couple of darts and that was that. He was very arrogant at the time….

Halftime: At the time? haha

GZA: Aiight, he still is. He was very cocky. We weren’t as cocky but we were just as confident. So we both had the vibe like yea you ain’t do nothing to me. We had the same type of attitude but it was all cool. He was rhyming much much faster, you remember how he used to rhyme. He was super fast back then. He’s a clever emcee, he’s always got it and he’s still nice. I’ll give it to him. He put his work in. But that was that it wasn’t no Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee situation. We just went back and forth with a few verses and that was that. He was asked about it on MTV. Sway asked him like, ‘You battled GZA, you beat Genius?’ and Jay-Z was like c’mon man.

Halftime: Yea, that’s why I had to ask

GZA: It was that same cockiness. He didn’t answer the question but he made it seem like ‘c’mon man.’ Real hardcore lyrical cats know. I don’t play when it comes to writing.

Halftime: We did an interview with Inspectah Deck and he told us one thing you taught him was how to keep his freestyles in sentences. How you write your verses is almost like writing an essay. Have you always written in that complete structure or did you grow into that?

GZA: Yea, I always write like that. I’m even stronger now. As far as writing and lyrically I’m even up a notch or two. But yea I told Deck that a while ago. He’s flashing back on me saying I learned from GZA to just write strong sentences. What I grew up to know as freestyle didn’t mean off the head. So freestyle was never about that for myself, it was just rhyming about no particular subject. I’m not a great off the head rhymer. I really don’t do that. I don’t have skills. I’m spontaneous but I don’t really get down like that. I like to write and craft my work. I think a lot of freestyle stuff or off the head stuff is corny nowadays. It just be killing me sometimes like usually I’m doing a show and someone is screaming out ‘freestyle!’ cuz they want to hear me say something off the head. Not saying I don’t respect that because I heard one or two cats in the whole history of emceeing that was really nice off the head. Everything else was just bullshit to me. I watch BET freestyle Fridays and I’m like this is ridiculous man. They’d rather have two dudes come on and go off the head and not curse. Go off the head and not curse which is hard for a lot of emcees period. I don’t really respect that. I’d rather hear something well written unless you are really spitting something off the head that’s sounding alright. Especially the movie 8 Mile, it was a good flick but it brought more of that freestyle stuff out which really just messed it up. Now the majority of kids who battle are like ‘Look at your shoes kid’ and that shit is annoying. All these corny similes and fake metaphors are kinda weak. If you take the dart Jadakiss threw at 50, he wasn’t talking about his physical appearance, clothes or looks but he was spittin though. In my opinion he was really spittin some stuff, he kept his flow and didn’t get into anything personal. He kept it on some lyrical stuff and for battling that’s what it always was for us through the years. For me it’s just about writing strong lines and catchy stuff that’s witty-unpredictable. Stuff that just stands out, not just a whole bunch of similes like I’m tall like this, your bad like that, you’re a Volkswagen and I’m a Bentley. That’s corny. It’s about being brief with something but haven’t it just as powerful. I always say what the average emcee can say in ten lines I can say in four lines and still be more visual than the majority of emcees out there. That’s what emceeing is for me.

Halftime: I feel like I’ve noticed that more. I’ll be listening to some of your stuff and felt like it was too short. Even when me and Marcus were talking about Liquid Swords we were saying it felt like the album was too short. But then I started piecing it together and it’s like you said what you had to say and now it’s done.

GZA: That’s good thing when you put out and album and leaving people wanting more. Normally I always kick sixteen bars. I never go below sixteen. Some songs like Triumph I did eight because there were so many of us. If you take a song like Killah Hills or Queens Gambit that’s like fifty something bars straight through. All those songs like Labels straight through are like fifty something bars. What I mean is I don’t cut it short to say I’m just gonna do four bars. My point is if you are gonna do sixteen make your sixteen seem like thirty-two. I love talking about hip hop and rhyming. What a lot of emcees do is put too many unnecessary details trying to be visual.

‘He rang the bell / I walked to the door / opened it / he was looking at me up and down / I told him to come in and sit at the table / and I went and poured him a drink’

Come on man. You should be able to say what took you twelve lines in four lines.

Halftime: I noticed the way you had the song titles in the back of Liquid Swords that was really creative.

GZA: That was something we thought of after we finished the album. It’s just about being creative. It takes me a while to write sometimes because I’m always reconsidering words. I go line for line. Every time I write I try to go line for line. It’s a puzzle to me. That’s how I write this has to fit here and that has to fit there. If I look that to ‘Word’s from The Genius’ I could look at that now and say I could have polished that up better because I’m better as time goes on. But I was good for that time. I was probably advanced for that time. Nowadays I feel the same way when writing. There are certain things I’m not gonna do like using slang when it’s ran into the hole. You’ll never hear me refer to money as cheddar or cheese. When cheddar first came out they ran it so much it was provolone.

Halftime: What other words are on you’re do not rhyme list?

GZA: I use just about every word. If I’m using cheddar I’m talking about cheddar. I’m not referring to money. I’d rather use old slang like cash or dough. Just something simple. It’s a lot stronger depending on how you use it in the sentence. I may just say money.

Halftime: I liked how you phrased it on the latest album when you said ‘patriotic hustlers that kill for presidents.’

GZA: Conceal the truth but can’t hide the evidence. That’s a lot of cats nowadays. They always get caught. Lots of emcees use these lines but something you’ll never hear me say is you can catch me or you can find me. ‘You can catch me in the V.I.P. or you can see me on a..’ Not to knock those lines cuz a lot of people may read the article and think I’m getting at them. I’m not getting at you because hundreds of emcees use those, but its real simple and plain. It’s just something that I don’t do. I say this in every interview I don’t rhyme about clothes because in my writing it’s unnecessary. If I speak about a jacket it’s his jacket. His jacket fell off I don’t need to tell you the name, like ‘he shot up his Pelle Pelle or chinchilla.’ Knock it off. It depends on how you use it. Some people might have used it in a slick way but once I heard it fifteen times I don’t need to say chinchilla. I’ll speak about another fur or I’ll just say fur. It’s simple and plain but it would come off a lot stronger depending on how you use it in a sentence. I say vehicle or car. I might use the word ‘nova’ but I’ll be talking about a star while the average emcee will be talking about a car. There are many things to write about that’s why I don’t understand why so many emcees talk about the same shit. I said in the Masta Killa song ‘Life in the hood is an award winning film / lived out by savages who can’t escape the realm.’ It’s award winning in their eyes because it’s all they talk about. Like the one you said early ‘patriotic hustlers that kill for presidents’ that’s still in the hood.

‘I come from a place where they say death comes too soon / on the block where the hoods dance to a different tune / every night, every day hotels and foul play / it turns fatal in this hostile land of AKs.’ It’s more visual, it’s not like ‘yo son they was holding the block down / he hit him in front of the store / he was slinging keys.’
A lot of emcees think that if something is real bloody then it’s so real and so visual. I blew his brains out and they splashed on the back seat. That’s not visual.

Halftime: I just wish more cats would rhyme about what they are really doing. Then I think I could relate more. If you’re going to school then rhyme about school or if you struggling at a 9-5 then talk about that. Not a lot of people are doing that.

GZA: It’s just that most cats say they rhyme about what they live but most of it is boring. We all know somebody from the hood. If you from the hood you know people who either murdered somebody or know somebody that got murdered. We all know someone. How many people you know that say they gonna write a book about their life. We all feel that way. It’s all about how you put it. What’s gonna make your story interesting and different from all the cats that sold on the block and turned their money? It’s not only about what you lived, you should be able to use your imagination. You should be able to create stories and bring people into you’re world and make it believable. A lot of times I make up stuff and blend it in and take the best of both worlds and make it believable. That’s what a lot of artists aren’t doing. They want to write about what they’ve seen or lived and not about what they think. It’s ok to think. There are so many things to write and talk about in the world. I could write a song about being in an elevator and make it interesting. Can you imagine watching a movie that takes place in one room but keeps you interested the whole time? Artists don’t seem to have that in them.

Halftime: When we came up it wasn’t the beginning of hip hop but we were around for the Kanes and Rakims. I see the hip hop landscape and I understand it but it still strikes me like how did it get so wack. But Marcus was saying maybe it’s a generational thing and cats today are gonna be like damn this is when hip hop was dope. But I can’t help feeling like the skills have just eroded.

GZA: Nowadays it seems like its cool to be dumb. Emcees were a whole lot more lyrical back then. Like Rakim, how can you have stuff so hard but so commercial. That’s what emceeing is about. Not being commercial and watered down or gimmicky. He didn’t use profanity and I don’t think he did it on a Will Smith level like ‘I don’t curse.’ Will stressed that. I don’t use profanity either really. I haven’t on the last few albums. I might say one or two words that you can censor but it’s not in my writing. It doesn’t come out like that, but it still has that hard aura. Kane was doing lyrical songs that were hard and commercial. A lot of cats from that era were very lyrical. You can name at least ten emcees back then that was in the spotlight at the same time that was all lyrical and all different. Try to name ten now in the spotlight. They are all similar. Everyone is following and biting. No one is really writing anything lyrically profound. We are giving emcees the title of greatest and they weren’t lyrically skilled like that. Come on now.

Halftime: I guess that’s what’s really getting to me. Back then the dopest artists were in the forefront. Now you can find dope artists but you have to search mad hard to find them.

GZA: I used to walk around town battling cats on some lyrical stuff. The song I did off the last album called ‘Audo Bio,’ that was my introduction to hip hop. How me and RZA used to go to the Bronx. I said

‘Me and RZA made trips to the BX / a mass of ferocious emcees, a town of T-Rex / giants in every way / rap flows for every day / we knew we would get a reward with a price to pay / the basic training was beyond entertaining / just a cadence of a verbal expression self explaining / I wore my boots out from constant walks across the borough.’

That was our history. We used to challenge brothers. We kept it lyrically sharp, challenged the best, walked all around and kept it respectable. Battling was on a respectful level. It was about verbal skills not smashing a cat out. Emcees just don’t have it nowadays. A lot of songs sound like they are off the head. ‘Here I am doing an interview / asking me a question don’t know who / I’m sitting in my crib / inside my son’s bedroom / ladies on the front…’ That’s how most rap sounds nowadays. It sounds ridiculous. That’s why I said ‘half these rap lyrics ain’t thought provoked / just a lot of beef till they get caught and smoked.’ That’s a metaphor cuz you smoke beef. Then I said the problem is never cured like you gotta cure pork or beef. That’s how I write.

Halftime: Where do you get your inspiration to write stuff like that. I heard you watch a lot of the History and Learning Channel.

GZA: Yea, I watch a lot of that. First, I think it just has to be in you. But emcees have to watch more stuff that you can learn from to expand your mind. I got a demo from a kid the other day and he’s talking the same shit on every track. ‘Ya’ll don’t want it, ya’ll don’t want!!’ Just beefin. Every track was and we sling those things and we bag those things. That’s not the visualz.

Halftime: I said that about how Houston is coming back right now. Some of them can rhyme like I feel like Slim Thug can rhyme but I peeped the album and by the fourth track its like son you’re really saying the same shit over and over again.

GZA: It’s like a repeat

Halftime: They even used the same slang. It’s like candy paint, trunk waving, sipping on some sizzurp. I’m alright already. Everything is candy paint. Even cats who can rhyme aren’t even advancing it.

GZA: You just gotta tap into your brain. I used a word like pyroclastic. That’s how I describe my flow. A pyroclastic flow is something that’s sparked from a volcanic eruption. It moves tremendously fast and its hot hot fire. Everything in its path turns to ash right away. That’s how I describe my flow as far as slang. Rakim had a song where he said ‘I’m the creator of the alphabets let’s communicate / when I translate the situation straight / no dictionary is necessary to use / big words do nothing but confuse em or lose.’ You know simple, but killing them though. I don’t even gotta rhyme against a cat. It’s how you use your words. As far as inspiration I get inspiration from many things because I’m in tuned with nature to a degree. I love the way things look the trees and the colors. I love how the universe works. I love water. I’m attracted to these certain things so I can incorporate them into my rhymes without actually talking about it in that sense. I have a rhyme where I say:

‘My universe it runs like clockwork forever / my words are pulled together sudden change in the weather / the nature and the scale of events don’t make sense / a storm with no warning you’re drawn in by immense/ gravity that’s gone mad, clouds with dust and debris / moving at colossal speeds that crush an emcee / Since this rap region is heavily packed with stars / eternal mirror and telescope known as the gods / from far away we blink as a light that strobe / with great distance of space between precise globes / that travel in a circular order like the tape in your cassette recorder / filled with corporate slaughter.’

So I’m able to watch a program on the universe and still incorporate it into emceeing without actually saying Mars is here or whatever. It’s not about being preachy or coming off like a teacher. It’s being able to incorporate stuff into the rhymes. On the Wu Banga 101 song I said ‘My too advanced digi stance made the CD enhanced / I move with the speed and strength of ants.’ People sleep on ants but no one would think about using an ant. Ants can carry 100 times their weight moving at the speed of a human going 100 miles an hour. I’m able to watch something and get a whole lot from it. I can speak about water and not come off as scientist or come off nerdy. I never come off like that but at the same time I want to entertain and have you be able to listen to something over and over and always catch something new in the writing. That’s how it should be.

Halftime: What are some things you’ve watched recently where you’re like damn that could be something nice to try and incorporate into a verse or a song?

GZA: Everything. Everyday it’s something it all depends. Sometimes it’s a phrase or action of someone. Sometimes it’s a story. When I wrote Killah Hills 10304 I was watching something about Pablo Escobar. I have a few tapes. I have some DVDs called ‘Lords of the Mafia’ where it goes into Columbia and Mexico where they was really getting it but you would never know I was talking about him because I didn’t mention any names. I just created a story. What made me write that song was I wanted to show these cats that talk all this gangsta stuff that this is the real level of getting it. So I put lines in there like ‘He planted bombs in bottles of champagne…’

Halftime: That’s my shit ‘When they popped the cork niggas lost half they brain.’

GZA: That was part of my imagination because he never did that in his story. Like I said I usually incorporate my imagination and then part of other stuff. Then I took stuff that he was doing when I said ‘The sharpshooters hit the prosecutors and judges were sent photographs of they wives taking baths.’ That’s what he was doing. He was sending judges photographs of their wives taking baths with a briefcase filled with $1.5. That’s the level of hustling. If you want to talk about hustling put it on a real high unique level of getting it, not just on the street. There are not too many street songs that are about hustling and getting down that can match the level of the Killah Hills song. Then I said, ‘His man who bought land from Tony Starks / while we were contracting brick laying jobs in city parks.’ It’s on a construction level but I’m still using bricks as a metaphor because most cats refer to bricks as kilos. ‘He’s a loan shark interest rates a grand to a finger.’ So for whatever grand over they took a finger but it was a run on sentence cuz I said he had a ‘finger in the garment district and got it sewn like singer’s.’ Singer is a well known sewing machine so it’s all in a metaphorical way. I said ‘this ex worker tried to smuggle a half a key / in his left leg even underwent surgery / they say his pirate limp gave him away as the feds rushed him / coming through U.S. customs.’ Then I went on because he got caught. I said ‘look who’s on the witness stand singing, a well known soprano, a smash hit from Sammy Gravano.’ I used the word soprano like four or five years before that show came on HBO. [The smuggler] was something I saw on another program about this kid who tried to cut his leg open to smuggle stuff in that way. He cut his leg open, put in half a brick and stitched it back up but his pirate limp gave him away. So its things like that. There are many ways to tell a great story. It doesn’t have to have a lot of killing, just certain twists and plots that raise the hair on your skin. You know how you watch a movie and it just has something so chilling but a lot of artists get the wrong idea. One time we had horrorcore. They said the Gravediggaz started that. A lot of cats be trying to scare you in that way and other emcees try and talk all that murder stuff but it’s just about creating an interesting story. That’s like when you said if you going to school why don’t people talk about school, it’s because they don’t know how to talk about school and make it interesting. We always did that when we were young. That’s why Dirty had the rhyme:

‘Approach my school 9:30 I’m late / but the time doesn’t have me to lose with the date / Get to your class walk up to your chair / flop in your seat and officially stare / at the teacher, the board but students are blocking you / lean back on the girl that was clocking you.’

That rhyme was written in ’84, he used it in ’95 because his flow was so incredible and with his style he was able to do that. Even routines like ‘When the emcees came’ we wrote that in the eighties. Not the rhyme the hook. We took a bit of the stuff from the past and incorporated it into the future. Sometimes we recycled stuff and used it for the right time. It’s all depends on how you write it. Writing is not a problem for me. I know I can tell an interesting story without going into detail. If you listen to ‘Exploitation of Mistakes’ I heard the beat and knew where I was going. I knew it was a story off top. Usually, when I hear a beat I know where to take it. When I heard that I knew it was a story, some type of murder mystery or something. I didn’t know exactly what I was gonna talk about then the first thing that came into my head was ‘two individuals found in a lake / inside a vehicle one had his foot on the break’. Then you weave the tale ‘The windows were fully up and the doors were locked / the news made the headlines and the town was shocked. / The driver was clutching a can of Hi-C / and his jacket was tied to a nearby tree.’ So I draw you in. I don’t have to tell you everything but you sitting like his jacket’s tied to a tree? You buggin now. I don’t have to give you details because we’re trying to solve a mystery. I just give you clues. That’s how it is with rhyming I just give you clues. If I was a flossy cat I’d blow half these cats out talking all this material shit. They don’t understand that. There are ways to kick a rhyme. I can be inside a Bentley but you may think I’m in a fly ass apartment by the way I’m describing the interior. A Bentley is plushed out so it’s how you deliver the words. There not supposed to know where you’re at till you roll the window down at the drive-thru at the end of the rhyme. You’re talking about carpet but not in a material way. You might speak about the blunt ash that fell on the carpet so the listener is like aiight there’s carpet around. You might talk about the sofa like I threw my book on the sofa. So now you know he sitting on a plush seat and he has carpet. Then you might mention the curtains. Some Maybachs have curtains so you can have a person think you’re in an apartment but all the while you’re in a vehicle. That’s how writing should be. You don’t have to be straight out and tell them I’m in my Audi or I’m in my Benz 600. It’s all in the writing but most writers aren’t going to take the time to do that you know what I’m saying.

Halftime: You mentioned ODB and I noticed on the joint with Muggs you have ‘All In Together Now,’ the dedication to Ol’ Dirty. That’s the first dedication that I’ve heard from the Wu camp. What did it mean for you to write that and what does his loss mean to the clan overall.

GZA: Well, his loss was a devastating blow. It was a shock to myself as well as the clan I’m sure. He was a good brother and we have a lot of history and memories of rhyming. The first time I went into the studio was in 1984 and it was me and Dirty recording a song together. We actually did a clan dedication song and it was supposed to come out on his album on Roc-A-Fella. I don’t even know if they used it but that was one song after I did this song. Actually, ‘All in Together,’ was written for Dirty way before he passed. I wrote that rhyme for him. Maybe about a year or two before he passed. The only thing I did after he passed was change everywhere it said I to he because now it’s me talking about him. Originally, it was like ‘I got my hands in everything including some pussy / from the Brazilian wax to the uncombed bushy / I was in King State psychiatric / they tried to put a code on my brain till I cracked it.’ Then I just changed the words like me and my to him or his. That was written for him. I couldn’t let it go to waste. I felt it would be good to dedicate it to him. The reason I wrote it is because of the state he was in at the time being locked up and in the psycho ward and all that. Dirt was somewhere else by the time he passed. I heard some of the songs he was doing and I’m pretty sure he might have had some people writing. As far as lyrically it wasn’t what it should have been. So I was writing. I tried to get with him. One time I called him because I heard some of the stuff he was doing and I said whoever is writing that is bullshit because that’s not you. I called and said yo I got some new songs for you and he was like ‘you got me some party shit?’ I was like fuck that party shit. See that’s probably where they was trying to get him to go that direction. Some of the songs I heard he was talking about champagne and clubbin. I mean he did love to party but I said Dirt that’s not you and I know you better than anybody as far as emceeing. People want to hear you and your experiences. You the type of nigga who said I came out my mother’s pussy, I’m on welfare! That’s what they want to hear not no back of the Vip champagne bubblin. I was like don’t try to be like these times and blend in with this shit. You have a story to tell and it was easy for me to incorporate because I visited him a few times and I know him. So that song was perfect for him. I wrote a few others for him that I haven’t used yet. They weren’t dedication songs. What makes this song different is I’m speaking about him. It’s like I jumped inside his body. A lot of dedication songs are like ‘I remember when we first did this’ Not to knock that but their so simple. I don’t talk about it in that sense. I just go to the scene or for the moment. Even in the third verse I said ‘That’s why the judge took a look at he and threw the book at the / the sentencing would have made the average crook happy.’ That’s him talking.

‘They put me in a box I was wrapped like a gift / in a straight jacket watched by two workers a shift / they gave no phone calls I saw no sunlight / I was like Billy the Kid in my last gunfight. / My days became weeks, my weeks became months / I carved a calendar on the cell wall with my fronts / my food was pushed in on a tray as it was shoved / through the cell by hands covered with latex gloves / the cooks in the kitchen had laced my drinks / them wild as physicians they was off the brink / I got visits from shrinks who came with the ink blots / moving with they own plot but the Dirt I think not.

That’s him. It wasn’t any problem for me to write anything for him. It was like we were writing together. I knew it was needed at the time. He was speeding and running around and he wanted to get an album out. He was over at the Roc and they didn’t know. They wouldn’t know him like I did. Maybe they were looking for party shit. A lot of times instead of letting him be himself they probably were looking for shit to bang in the clubs. All that shit you do when you chasing stuff. Fuck chasing shit. If I put out a song and it happens to be a club banger then it’s a club banger because of the beat. A lot of artists think that if you get a club beat that you automatically have to be in the club on it when you’re rhyming. If you listen to songs I grew up on in the 70s, we had songs with messages that were dance tracks. You’d be dancing but the song is a message.

Halftime (Marcus): McFadden & Whitehead

GZA: Yea, come on ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.’ ‘I Love Music’ by the Ojays.

Halftime (Marcus): ‘Love Train’

GZA: ‘Love Train,’ Teddy Pendergrass, Bad Luck, all that crazy shit. It was up tempo but it had lyrics and verses. That’s all I really listen too. I don’t really listen to hip hop nowadays. I listen to old school hip hop or better yet classical hip hop because I don’t want to say old school. I listen to the classical shit. I just came off the road driving from state to state out west and in some towns you can’t even get radio driving through the mountains. You not getting anything but country which is good. I listen to country music. I like country music.

Halftime (Jbutters): Word??

GZA: Of course. Lyrically, c’mon great stories man.

Halftime (Marcus): Yo, while you said that I might as well say I like Toby Keith.

GZA: Oh, Oh, ‘Tequila Make Her Clothes Fall Off’!!

Halftime: Hahaha

Halftime (Marcus): Hold up, you the only brother on the east coast that has said something about that. I usually can only talk to white boys about that.

GZA: Oh come on man. That song is banging!! And in some cases that’s probably true. And the clothes were probably a subtext to draws. So its Tequilla make her draws come off. Well written song though. I write man so I appreciate all kinds of music. I’m not crazy about the instrumental parts of country but lyrically there’s a lot of good shit out there man. When I heard that song I was like Oh shit he’s killing it. I can’t name the artists and all that but I check out country music man. Lyrically, there’s some really strong stuff. Stuff from the 70s and even 60s stuff I got put onto in the 70s like The Beatles, Otis Reddings and the Sam Cookes. That’s my favorite music. I love hip hop don’t get me wrong. I’ve been rhyming before hip hop was on wax. It started with Mother Goose nursery rhymes for me. When I was eight or nine I knew everyone of them and would change those around and put them in my own words. I was rhyming right around the time hip hop started. I didn’t officially start writing rhymes until like ’76 or ’77. But a good song with some lyrics there’s nothing greater than that. I just get sparked. I like a lot of jazz instrumentals. I like some blues. I like pop depending on what it is. I like country, R&B, very little R&B nowadays but I like soul from the 70s. R&B is watered down like hip hop is now. R&B artists are talking about the same bullshit or they trying to talk some thug shit and sing it. Even with the females, they trying to kick slang and sing it and its not coming off because no one is writing from the heart. Like we was saying it’s hard for a motherfucker to rhyme about school and make it interesting. It’s not hard for me to do that like Queen’s Gambit with all the NFL teams. Come on man. That’s a story about a female and even without the teams it’s an interesting story. It’s also not a stretch like how guys be saying we need to make songs for bitches cuz they buy songs. It wasn’t that for me. I just thought of an interesting story and a way to incorporate the teams. So I started with:

‘She dated Jolly green GIANTS that flew on JETS.’ And the way I weaved it ‘She loved stuffed animals especially BEARS / she was a role model like a CARDINAL to her peers / A PATRIOTic tomboy like Mary Ellen from the Waltons / former lifeguard had the skills of a DOLPHIN / when I met her she was in drama school and wore BENGALS / drove a BRONCO and she was far from star spangled. / Had basic skills worked part time in mills / she raised buffalos plus she was behind in BILLS. / Her man always roared like LIONS / a domestic violent cat who tackled the girl and kept her crying / He couldn’t care she was losing her hair from depression / she was in the air and there was room for interception. / I tried to stay strong not to be ashamed / you’re a ten hi-c you just need to tighten up your game.’

All through it but I’m not even a sports person. I don’t follow football or basketball. Maybe the Super Bowl, championship or World Series but I am able to incorporate that stuff into a story just from knowing just a little bit of it.

Halftime: Yea, you seem like a cat that can make a rhyme about anything if you around something long enough.

GZA: Yea, and not make it gimmicky. If that were the case I could have made fifty songs about that. I could have been like I’m gonna do a song about cars. You couldn’t really do it with cars. They way I was able to do it with Publicity with the magazines and Fame with the names is because I had use names that were like action words. Like ‘Larry’s bird flew out of Nicholas’ Cage,’ I don’t have to separate the name. I don’t have to say Larry was chillin out with his bird. That’s the real corny way. I met Tyra while she was walking to the bank. That’s how most artists would do. I just said Tyra banked him for the money Chaka khanned her for / Alicia keyed his car for giving Melba more.’ It’s about just taking the names and crafting them and putting them in the right form. Like take the line I said ‘I run on the track like Jesse Owens / I broke the record flowing without any knowing / that my wordplay won a 400 meter relay / it’s on once I grab the baton from my DJ.’ Simple but it’s in a visual way. I said a wireless nigga who spring off the gun sound.

Halftime: Do you get pleasure from cats coming up to you like yo I just caught something you said from a rhyme you dropped in ’96? Does that mean you accomplished what you wanted with the writing?

GZA: Of course. I hear that all the time. Sometimes it could be discouraging to some emcees. I always hear ‘Yo man its messed up you’re not getting what’s due to you.’ Then I have people come up to me all the time saying you inspired me. I was just on the road and I was getting gifts on the regular. A guy had a snowboard with my face painted on it. A beautiful portrait. Another show a guy had a portrait of me painted on a ‘No Parking’ sign. Then I went to another show and this girl baked a GZA cake with the G and all of that on some Liquid Swords anniversary. These people were like you inspired me. I hear it so much it makes me feel good and lets me know I’m doing the right thing when I take the time to sit down and do what I do. I’ve ran into well known comedians and they’ve told me Liquid Swords is in my top five. I ran into one brother and he asked me do you read astronomical books. I said nah not at all. He was like well you said from dark matter to the big crunch. That’s from all darkness to the big bang theory but it was just that one line. ‘From dark matter to the big crunch / the vocals came in a bunch without one punch.’ That’s a metaphor because I said the vocals came in a bunch without one punch because a lot of artists punch. The planets and stars came in a bunch also, but I said the vocals because I know some artists who punch in on every line. They say a line, they hold that and then they do the next one. I don’t do that. I go in and do the whole verse. So he asked about the astronomical level because it seemed like I was reading a lot of astronomical books. But I wasn’t. I don’t read a lot but I like to scan through a lot of information and I take certain things from here and there and I incorporate it.

Halftime: I kinda thought that you would read a lot also, especially since you seem to be so captivated by good writing. I could see you getting caught up in a good book.

GZA: No. I mean I am captivated by certain stories but I don’t read like that. I’d be more of an audio book person to get more into it. I do scan through information and I watch a lot of the History, Learning, Science, and Discovery channels and I get a lot from those channels. It helps me out but it may not help out the average person if they don’t know how to use information. If it’s not gun talk then he don’t know how to use that. I know how to use it and tell a vivid story.

Halftime: We know you’re not into sports but you’re really into chess. Do you incorporate the game of chess into your daily life and if so how do you do that?

GZA: I do all the time even in the decisions I make. Chess is the ultimate board game. Monopoly is not in its league and Checkers doesn’t compare at all. It’s civilized war. It’s a mathematical thing, its science, and it’s strategy. That’s life all the time. Just planning your day, being ten steps ahead and seeing the moves ahead. That’s what chess is about. I’m not the greatest player. I’m not a master or a grandmaster. I lose a lot but I learn. I’ve been defeated plenty times. I play online and I might have 900 wins and 850 losses but I play all the time. The game is fascinating and I am captivated by that. The album I just dropped is called Grandmasters. That’s the highest level you reach when playing chess and it’s also the highest level of emceeing, producing and deejaying. Most of the titles are chess slang ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ ‘Destruction of a Guard,’ ‘Unprotected Pieces,’ and ‘Illusionary Protection.’ I incorporate chess into certain rhymes. One of the rhymes on Gold off the Liquid Swords album was ‘he got swung on his lungs were torn / the kingpin just castled his rook and lost a pawn.’ I use chess all time. I have a line where I say ‘I stay on the sixty-four squares while controlling the center / I trade space for material the time zone I enter / is calculated by movement of pushed pieces.’ That’s what it is transferring the energy trading space for material. That’s the thing about chess is that you could trade space for material and vice versa. You have time, force and space. The force is your army, your pieces. Your space is the squares you control. Sometimes you may give up a piece to gain better position on the board because it’s about controlling the center. That’s why I said I stay on the sixty-four squares while controlling the center. The time zone I enter is calculated by movement because your time is the amount of moves you make. Chess is a big part of what I do.

Halftime: If you could describe yourself as one of the chess pieces, which one would you be and why based on the moves that you could make, the purpose and the importance of the piece in the game?

GZA: The king! I’m definitely the king. The king is the most important piece and it’s all about protecting him. He’s in charge. The queen is the most powerful piece by far but the queen doesn’t move unless the King tells her too. He gives her that power, just like a lot of drug dealers or people that hustle they put all their houses, money and cars in their women’s name. She has all the power. I just used that term as an example but it could also be your wife. She runs everything in the house, writing checks, and taking care of everything. She has the most power but you give her that power. The king can only move one space at a time but he’s powerful too. They can move in any direction. They don’t have long range like a bishop but they don’t need too. They just need to be up close to do their damage. So I would definitely be the king. Other pieces are just as important. Rooks are important and bishops do they thing. Everyone plays a certain role.

Halftime: Where are you right now in terms of spirituality? Were you ever a five-per center?

Yea, you could say I’m apart of the five percent nation. I was introduced to that at a young age and that’s when I changed my name to Justice from my birth given name. Getting knowledge at a young age and being introduced to this from a cousin named Life Allah and a brother named Infinite who I grew up with. Without having that type of knowledge we wouldn’t be who we are today. That’s why I’m Justice, RZA is Prince Rakeem and Old Dirty was Unique Ason. It was great coming into that. We stopped eating pork. We don’t eat meat period. RZA and I don’t eat meat, fish, or chicken. I haven’t eaten pork since the 70s. I stopped eating beef in the 80s and I stopped eating chicken and turkey and all that around ’95-’96. So that was a spark just from being introduced to the Gods at a young age. That enlightened us to many different things and caused us to be in tune with many different things. Even Rakim being God body opened up a whole new thing in emceeing as far as cleverness and wittiness. That opened us up to reading a lot of books and going to the Ansar Ru community. The Muslims used to sell a lot of books and we got a lot of knowledge and information from them. They had books on all types of things that we had no knowledge of and it was interesting to read and gain knowledge from that. We were just opened and enlightened to a certain type of knowledge about ourselves and we grew with that. Now the nation has been made into a many different things. You got a lot of people who are god body and part of the five percent nation running around not living right and doing foul stuff. Sometimes it’s been made into a cult. I’m not apart of all that negative shit but that’s where I got my spark of knowledge from. I must say that.

Halftime: Do you see yourself as a political person?

GZA: No. I may come off as political with some of the things I speak about and stand for but I’m not political. I can’t tell you the difference between a democrat and a republican. I’m not political in that sense. I do believe and stand up for certain things. As far as government and politicians that’s a whole other interview off the record. That’s when we start going into other worlds. It’s just for us to kick it on. It’s not for the public. It is for the people but it’s not for the public in that sense because a lot of people don’t know how to take it. To some I may come off as political but I don’t know much about politicians and voting and all that. I’m not big on voting either. I once heard a man say it’s not who you elect is who they select. I believe that’s true when it comes to the real big office so the vote doesn’t mean anything to me. Maybe in certain towns yes but on a large scale they are gonna put whoever they want in there and they are gonna play the same game as every other individual. If you don’t play the game then you are gonna be out of here in some kinda way.

Halftime: What’s your favorite Wu song?

GZA: I don’t know if I have a favorite. I love ‘Triumph.’ I think that’s an anthem for WU. I do that song every time I perform and I always have the crowd do Deck’s verse then I do my verse. You know when Deck spit on that track I didn’t even want to go anywhere near it. I didn’t even know how anyone could come after him. How? It was just bugging me out. It’s hard. Nothing on that song compared to that rhyme. It’s a great song but I don’t think anything on there holds that down. That’s’ one of the greats. If anything it would be that one right there.

Halftime: Wu seems like everyone is on their own thing now. Do you see cats that often and is there gonna be another WU album anytime soon?

GZA: I see brothers every now and then. We all spread out. Everyone is recording their own album. I probably see Rae more. RZA is in L.A. and I’m in NY but I talk to him all the time. Always have for many years. When we were teenagers we used to kick it on the phone for two or three hours talking about all kinds of shit. I see him every now and then. I see Masta Killa a lot, I see Deck every now and again and I see Rae often lately. I see Cap every now and then. I haven’t seen Meth in a few months because he’s been away. I haven’t seen Ghost in a few months because he’s on the road. I see brothers and we stay in tuned. As far as another album I don’t really know. I think things have to be settled with certain individuals. Not myself because I’m ready to do it but if it don’t happen I’m gonna continue. I’m working on something big right now. I’m about to do an album with Shavo from System of the Down. That’s gonna be crazy,

Halftime: How far are you into that?

GZA: I’m just in the writing process right now. I want to record by at least January or February. That’s gonna be big and different. And I don’t mean different as in not like GZA, I just mean on the writing level. I’m on another level right now. It’s gonna be a good book.

Halftime: When are we gonna get the GZA country album?

GZA: I don’t know I wouldn’t mind hooking up with Toby Keith or somebody like that.

Halftime: Like Nelly did.

GZA: Yea, mine would probably be a little different though. I wouldn’t mind me and Toby Keith bringing those two worlds together.

Date: April 10, 2006