When we sit down with hip-hop legend RZA in the lobby of L.A.'s fancy Arclight movie theater, he's a bit glum. It turns out the interviewer directly before us had ended on a Paul Walker question, and RZA is still preoccupied with thoughts of his late "Brick Mansions" co-star. Luckily, a little talk about reinvigorating the music business perks him right up.
How are you doing?
I'm doing good, actually. Every once in a while you feel a bit like, "Wow…", because Paul ain't here. [The last reporter] kind of left me thinking a little bit more about it. We've been through it over and over again today, and it is getting crazy when you think about talking about something that he did but something that he can't enjoy with us.
What were some of the highlights of working with him?
His energy, his spirit. He was uppity, daring. He just brings a smile to the atmosphere. One of my favorite days was when him and his other buddies joined us. Because you could meet somebody and you get a feel from hanging with them, but then when you meet their buddies you get to know even more. They all had cool energy.
This is based on a French film, "District B13," which basically introduced parkour. How do think it translates to an American setting?
What I think is this, is that us that are in the know, we are always ahead of the rest of the country. Like when "Ong-Bak" came out and "Chocolate" came out, we saw those movies, knew the moves and loved Tony Jaa. The audience didn't know. They had to wait to see "The Avengers" to see those moves. [Laughs] So for this particular film, it's more like we've got that movie in our DVD collection by now — two of them, even — yet America doesn't know what parkour is. And they'll learn now.
Let's give another example: By the time break-dancing reached “America,” we were already up to levels of spinning on our heads, you know what I mean? [Laughs] There's a second generation of parkour artists now. And it takes that. Drake just put a song out, "Wu-Tang Forever," on his new album, but it's 20 years later for us. So that's how art grows.
Does that mess with your head at all, thinking about how much time has passed?
It doesn't mess with my head. I mean, time is just the thing that you can't grab a hold of its tail, kid. You've got to accept time. So it doesn't mess with me. I just pray for 20 more, 30 more. I love this planet, I love life. I'm down to hang out. [Laughs]
What about the single-copy Wu-Tang album you've announced? Does this mean that even you won't have a copy?
Exactly. It'll be out of my hands. I've been thinking for a minute of a way to make music artistically tangible and appreciated in a way that takes it back from the digital domain. I think I've got some solutions, and this is one of them — to treat it as what it is, a piece of art. Especially a Wu-Tang album — there's so many moving parts to making it, enough for a small film. And you're telling me you want to download that for free? Or you're telling me that you don't want to have it packaged for you? You're telling me that this is not valuable to the world? It costs money to make music. But if you're not willing to pay for the music when it's done, then how is the artist going to be able to create the music?
Napster comes and the kids are like, "No, we shouldn't have to pay for it." I never argued with them; I always felt like I kind of agreed in one sense. But then all of a sudden the owner of Napster gets a billion dollars, and yet the royalties of all those artists are never calculated — to this day. My goal is to help bring that awareness back, and this is one way of doing that. The idea was that this is a piece of art that can be exhibited like a piece of art — and should be exhibited like art. So we've started working on all the parameters of what's going to make it logical, what's going to protect the integrity of the art, what's going to protect the movement that we want the dynamic shift to be as well as what's going to kind of raise the bar in the corporate world of music, kind of change the dynamic of it.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter@nedrick