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LA Stories: The Wacky Adventures of the RZA (featuring Sister-Luvin', the Black Tank, and Travolta in Drag)

Here at West Coast Sound we have been long-time fans of the RZA's 2005 book The Wu-Tang Manual, a really inspirational retelling of the conception and formation of hip-hop's unlikeliest spiritual gang. So we were thrilled when we learned earlier this year that The Abbot was working on a followup of sorts to be called The Tao of Wu.

The book has been out for a few weeks now and we have been enjoying it tremendously. Not only is it a better read than the previous book, but it also contains some awesome stories about the RZA as a Los Angeles dweller! The Clan is so identified with the mythos of Shaolin (Staten Island, NYC) that many people don't realize that for over a decade now the RZA has been a bona fide Angeleno.

Here are some of the LA nuggets to be found in The Tao of Wu. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy for more Wisdom, Mathematics, and Higher Learning:

  • In 1997 the RZA relocated the Wu-Tang Clan to LA to work on their second album at Amerycan Studio in West Hollywood. The rappers lived in the not-that-ritzy-but-still-amenable Oakwood Apartments in Toluca Lake.
  • After the release of Wu-Tang Forever and a chaotic, eventually aborted tour with Rage Against the Machine, the group essentially dissolved. The RZA's home studio back East, the legendary 36 Chambers, had been destroyed after a nasty storm, and his wife was cheating on him. But on 9/7/97 (numerology is always important to the RZA), the rapper had a drug-fueled vision of redemption and decided to become "a humble warrior, a student again. I became free. I found peace. And I've had it to this day."
  • Except that it was a colorful, complex version of peace involving becoming a superhero called Bobby Digital, splitting his identity, and permanently relocating to LA: "I hung out in the hood in South Central, puffin' weed, smoking sherm sticks, taking mushrooms, kicking it with the Black Knights [...]. I was teaching them Mathematics [the Nation of Islam's system of religious numerology] but also exposing them to my lifestyle--they were living the life of a hip-hop star through me, but they didn't have a record out."
  • From his LA base, the RZA/Bobby Digital became a class-morphing jet-setter: "One day you're at [his ex-wife's] home in New Jersey having dinner with your family--which I tried to keep together. The next you're in L.A., staying in the Presidential Suite of the Chateau Marmont. You got pounds of weed, bottles of sherm, and you're about to go out with a club with five girls. They're all yours, baby, and two of them are sisters--and I don't mean black girls, I mean siblings."
  • Eventually, the Bobby Digital thing got too weird even for the RZA: "I definitely took that game to the extreme. I took it to the point where I was getting ready to roll out at night on some Green Hornet shit: had a suit built for me like the Dark Knight's--literally invulnerable to .45 bullets and knives--had that Suburban, which I called the Black Tank, made AK- and bombproof up to government-security-level standards. I even had a butler almost ready to act as my Kato."

While promoting The Tao of Wu, the RZA has also been unusually candid about his perhaps surprising (though not really, if you think about it) passion for ... musicals. A few weeks ago he told Gilbert Cruz from Time Magazine about his Bee Gees obsession:

I listen to them almost every day. The arrangements were so simple, right? But they had a taste of complication about them. Grease? I watch that film over and over. The hard-core part of me, people know. But the corny side of me is what they wouldn't know. They wouldn't know that I would go by myself to watch a movie like -- what's that one with John Travolta where he dresses like a woman?

Hairspray?

Hairspray, yeah. Can you imagine me in a theater watching Hairspray? But I really appreciate choreographed music.

Is there a certain scene in the movie you love?

Every musical performance in there was great. The only one I didn't like was where John Travolta danced with Christopher Walken. That's the only scene that was a little shaky, with the two guys dancing. But to me, every scene, every dance, every lyric resonated. That and Dreamgirls -- those movies are modern masterpieces. A lot of people don't recognize the power of Broadway. When I was first successful, about 1998, when I was living very wealthy, I was always going to Broadway shows. From Chicago to Rent to Ragtime.


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