By: Andrew Bruss
The RZA, born Robert Diggs, has spent the last 20 years building what he refers to as "the mother brand" into what most people know as the Wu-Tang Empire. After the Wu-Tang Clan dropped their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in 1993, the RZA began producing and self-promoting the Wu-Tang brand until it was both a cultural and capitalistic enterprise that has spawned comic books, a clothing line, video games and everything else short of a Wu-Tang breakfast cereal.
As consumer-based as this may seem, the RZA's musical impact on the hip-hop community in the 1990's is unparalleled. He followed 36 Chambers by producing the debut album of the soon-to-be Wu-Tang superstar, Method Man. Meth's album, Tical, was followed by an array of debut albums from Wu-Tang members who went on to play a vast role in the world of hardcore rap. The GZA/Genius released the linguistically astonishing Liquid Swords. Ghostface Killa started building his discography with Ironman. Raekwon put out Only Built For Cuban Linx (widely credited with giving birth to the Mafioso hip-hop sub-genre) and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard started making headlines after coming out with Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, all produced by the RZA.
Interestingly enough, when the RZA felt it was time to start his own solo career, he veered away from his leadership position as the abbot of Wu-Tang, and began releasing outside-of-the-box character-based albums under his comic book-esque alias, Bobby Digital. On the heels of his third Bobby Digital album, Digi Snacks (released June 24, 2008), he talked about his alternate persona with JamBase.
"Bobby Digital is more fun. It's more of an original style, more original talent," says the RZA. "I've been trying to make another album for people who are trying to get into my world. This is a great opportunity to get into a fun and entertaining world of lyricism and music."
When compared to past Bobby Digital albums, such as his 1998 debut, Bobby Digital In Stereo, the RZA says that the new album "is real different. It's a lot more focused. It's a lot more in the natural parameters of thought; this one's not as out-of-the-box."
Tru James, the frontman for Stone Mecca, a Wu-Tang affiliated "future soul band" that performed on Digi Snacks and will be backing the RZA on the upcoming Bobby Digital tour, says that the RZA's development as a musician makes Digi Snacks one of the better albums he's ever made. "I think a lot of people don't know that the RZA plays instruments. He plays piano and you'd be like, 'Wow, I didn't know you could play like that.' He plays guitar and a bunch of different instruments," says James. "The same way he used to sample albums that had musicians on 'em playing and messing with different things, now that he's a better musician he doesn't have to use those samples and pay people for stuff like that all the time. He still does a bit, but he doesn't have to."
Regarding the heavy emphasis of live instruments on Digi Snacks, James says, "His sound quality is going to be different than it used to be. With the samples, they became a part of hip-hop, but it left room for the producer to have something to manipulate. Now that he can break up the instruments and make the bass do this, and change the guitar over here, and change the EQ, he has more freedom to be the free artist that he is."
"We do the Wu-Tang sound, and he told us we both came with the same idea, and the same thing," James says about his group's relationship with the RZA. "Being a part of something as huge and worldwide as Wu-Tang itself is an honor, and we really appreciate that the RZA came around and dug what we were doing enough to let us be affiliated with everything he has going on."
Although they aren't a hip-hop act, James felt that when the RZA took Stone Mecca under his wing, he effectively helped diversify the brand. "He feels like his fans that love hip-hop would love what we do because we do the same stuff that he samples." Helping the RZA make his new album, James says he learned one thing: "Trust the RZA's Judgment. He knows what he's doing."
As far as the role Bobby Digital plays in the Wu-Tang universe, the RZA says, "Bobby Digital exists within the framework [of the Wu-Tang brand], of course. Bobby Digital, and everything I do, is founded in Wu-Tang when it comes down to it. Wu-Tang is my foundation. I'm the founder of Wu-Tang. Anything I do is going to be a part of that brand."
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