Sunday, March 05, 2006

RZA Lecture @ Corwin Pavilion, 3/2/06

Not surprisingly, the RZA's blinged-out watch remains on Wu-Tang Standard Time -- not sure what the time difference is with Pacific Standard, but trust me, it's different. The lecture was scheduled to start at 7, and there's a DJ spinning records (which doesn't come with many lectures, by the way) well past 7. Fortunately, all the songs are Wu-Tang classics, with a few other gems thrown in here and there. One girl seated behind me wonders why the DJ is playing so much "old shit" -- safe to assume she tagged along with friends.

Clearly, the Wu-Tang phoenix shines brightly into the sky off the coast of Isla Vista, as the crowd includes many familiar faces -- my freshmen-year R.A. Iheanyi, co-workers, last year's neighbor who never had a piece to smoke out of and always used ours, the dude in my Cold War History class who looks exactly like Keanu Reeves (star of the big screen, as well as the smallest of screens). Also in attendance: a dude in front of me with his girlfriend, repeatedly kissing her on the top of the head, also known as her hair, for some reason (at one point he gets a strand in his mouth and doesn't even notice, on some "Lady & The Tramp" shit); a bitch to my left repeatedly flashing pictures; and a fat dude who just occupied the empty seat to my right, as well as a portion of my own seat. If I weren't listening to the RZA preach, I'd probably be really uncomfortable. Except that RZA didn't come out until at least 7:25. Solid.

Some lady with some organization with some college (lucky guess, UCSB) comes out first to introduce the RZA, running down some of his accolades. But first, allow me to transform into the Wu-Tang fanatic I am most of the time, so as to be overly critical of her errors. [Transformation complete] First, she mentions his role as producer of the Wu's critically-acclaimed early work, then lists him as a producer for the likes of Raekwon and Masta Killa, as if they aren't members of the Wu-Tang Clan themselves. Then, in an ultimate "slap yourself" moment, she pronounces the "G" in "GZA" like the "G" in "give" or "ginsu", as opposed to like the "G" in "gelatin", the right way. I'm not the only one disturbed by this, as there are multiple moans in the crowd following her repeated mistakes. Before this lady can further shove her foot down her throat, she introduces the surprisingly-attractive Dr. Gaye Johnson (who may have the worst phony name to have actually been intentionally given to someone at birth) and the focus of her long-winded questions, the RZA, who receives a standing ovation and a few awkwardly-placed "W's".

Because UCSB is willing to splurge on celebrities to give lectures but not on tall chairs and working microphones, the first few minutes are a scrambled, mostly-unseen mess. Finally, people get their act together and the audience is finally able to get their $5 worth and then some. The rest is history... because it already happened. That's what history is. But anyways, here's what RZA had to say, other than "Bong bong!" very often:

-- Some of RZA's book, "The Wu-Tang Manual", focuses on the study and meaning of numbers and mathematics. Apparently, 1 stands for knowledge, 2 for wisdom, and 3 for understanding. Thus, just like 1 + 2 = 3, you can't have understanding without knowledge and wisdom, just like you can't have a child without a man and a woman. RZA also had some fun with words, defining "freedom" as having a "free dome" (or being "free" from "dumb") and "wisdom" as having a "wise dome". There were plenty of references to these symbolizations as a "philosophy" or "way of life", and though I haven't read RZA's book, these don't seem to me to being anything more than clever wordplay, maybe some cool conversation starters. Maybe it's because I don't know where all these meanings and definitions of numbers come from, because I feel as if I could go ahead and say that 11 stands for bread, and 12 stands for meat, so therefore 23 stands for sandwich

-- He talked a lot about important moments in his childhood, like when GZA took him to a block party @ 8 yrs. old and he vibed with the energy that hip hop provided, seeing dudes spinning on their heads to breakbeats. It could've made for a great "Boost Mobile" ad. He talked about selling newspapers with Ol' Dirty to save up money to buy records and equipment, and how he came to view hip hop as an "ocean" because you could basically make a breakbeat out of any record, from rock and roll to samba. Perhaps the "ocean" symbolizes sample clearance. When asked where he would keep all his equipment considering that he grew up living with 10 brothers and sisters, he said he kept it all in the dining room, which was also the living room. Since most of us in attendance live in IV, I think we could all understand what he meant

-- Proclaiming himself the "common denominator" of the Clan, he talked about the role he played in bringing the would-be greatest hip hop group of all-time together. He talked about the beef between the neighoring Stapleton (where he lived) and Park Hill projects in Staten Island, and how his house was like the anti-war zone where people from both sides met up to make music. Surprisingly, Raekwon and Ghostface, whom RZA referred to as the best duo in hip hop after EPMD, were sworn enemies at one time, and RZA felt they would've killed each other if he hadn't brought them together. On a lighter note, Cappadonna (whose mentioning sparked a dude in front to whisper "cab driver" to his friend) and Ol' Dirty had also wanted to knock each other back in the day

-- He got into Kung Fu movies as an alternative to going to school, as he was enrolled in school in Staten Island when his family moved to Brooklyn, only to transfer to a Brooklyn school as soon as his mom got evicted and was forced to move back to Staten. He talked about ditching school to watch Kung Fu flicks at local theater, 3 (sometimes 6) for $1.50. He got inspiration for them as being the closest thing to black history he had found; despite his interest in Greek mythology, its focus was too much on Gods with non-man-made powers and ability, and black history at the time was either about slavery or pimps. He liked the fact that the characters dealt with struggle, from rival gangs, cops, friends and family getting killed, as well as the "bugged out" shit they'd say. He talked about having the idea of combining his love for Kung Fu with hip hop as a way to prosper, and when explaining it to a friend, he was criticized for being on some "Chinese shit" -- then went on to say that that friend of his still lives in Stapleton to this day

-- He didn't so much urge, but rather suggested that women "preserve" their "jewels", mentioning that dressing in tight jeans and short skirts with titties hanging out is only equating foolishness (their dress) with foolishness (dudes' reactions). Also, he believes that it only adds to guy's disrespect of women, as they use words like "bitch" and "ho" because they're attracted to it but often can't get it, like the snake who couldn't reach the grapes so decided that they were sour and didn't want 'em anymore, or some silly Biblical reference like that. He then got into some Muslim stuff about Muhammed saying that since women were the bearers of the earth, they should cover up 3/4ths of themselves just like the planet is 3/4ths covered up with water, and dig the earth for the treasures they seek rather then expect them to come to them

-- He asked how many of us smoked weed, to which he got a sizeable response, then told us that he smokes "pounds" (not sure if that means weekly, monthly... daily??). Relating back to the foolishness aspect, he said that we're triggered to let the positives (getting high) outweigh the negatives (the number of brain cells we're killing). He refrained from saying he, or anyone of us, should stop, though

-- The talk turned to government for a moment, and RZA expressed his belief that America is a corporation (hence our Vice-President making millions), and was slow to react to Katrina because it didn't stand to make profit from it. He brought up the fact that New York was actually sold to the U.S. by the Dutch corporation that had owned it previously. He remained hopeful that New Orleans would emerge again as a better place, that the water would serve as a solvent to the city and wash away the bad attributes of its past, saying that New Orleans had looked like a "3rd world nation", as well as being a past U.S. murder capital

-- He discussed the personal stake he holds in the success of European rap, as Wu-Tang was one of the few major rap outfits to tour Europe back in the '90s. He feels they inspired the rise of the foreign-language MC in countries like Germany and France, and has gone back to work with such rappers, helping some emerge from selling 20,000 units to having earned gold plaques

-- When asked who he admires, he mentioned Quincy Jones, Bill Cosby, Oprah, Stevie Wonder, and Dave Chappelle, whom he called a "scientist". Somehow, it came up that Ray Charles used to look into a mirror when he'd fix his hair, and that Stevie Wonder used to measure the distance his voice would travel as a kid in order to be able to jump across building roofs with the other kids in his neighborhood, and furthermore, was encouraged to do so by his mom (yikes)

-- Towards the end, they allow people in the audience to approach two isolated microphones to ask their own questions to the RZA, which, in retrospect, was probably the worst thing they could've done. Despite being told to keep questions brief so as to keep the ever-growing lines moving, the 1st girl asked 3 "questions" about the image of women in rap videos, and some ill-conceived notion she has that rappers are closet butt-pirates because they make videos with their "shirts off, hugging each other". Like most of us in the audience, RZA wasn't sure what videos she's been watching, but removes his name from any such images and doesn't comment on it. The girl remains insistent on getting RZA to admit that commercial rap is homo by nature or something, and eventually the crowd gets restless and boos her until Dr. Johnson has no choice but to ask her to leave. The girl, who was of immense girth, then rolled down the aisle, looking dejected and possibly confused by what she was even trying to say

-- Questions from the audience eventually got better. One asked about RZA's view on the "hip hop police" and task forces intended to target rappers specifically, and RZA viewed it as an extension of the drug task forces of the '80s, targeting whichever way blacks were getting money. He was asked about his view on the Southern hip hop of the moment, which one could say is "less inspired" than other hip hop out right now (or, "shitty" is another word you could use), and RZA said he couldn't bash it because it's feeding hundreds, if not thousands, of families

-- Perhaps the greatest moment of the night came with one of the final audience questions, with a dude asking RZA how he felt about rapper "coming out of the hood" and "forgetting where they came from". RZA replied that no one wants to lives with "rats and roaches, broken elevators, and pissy hallways" their whole life, and proceeded to question the dude's intelligence -- his exact words were, "Yo, you stupid, B?" Nothing like seeing a guy get publicly chewed out by someone he probably had previously idolized

At 8:50, the question-asking session, as well as the entire event, was shut down for some unknown reason, considering that the event was advertised as going from 7-9 (and we all know what happened with that "7:00 start time"). On the bright side, I couldn't imagine RZA having much else to say without just trying to fill time. All in all, it was fresh to hear someone in the rap industry with something intelligent and enlightening to say, someone who hasn't let money change them, and someone who isn't ashamed to admit to smoking pounds of herb. RZA -- UCSB salutes you. Except that one dude you called stupid; he hates you now.