Carmella Crinnion talks to Wu-Tang Clan founding member GZA about science, martial arts and brotherhood
Gary Grice, a.k.a the GZA (said Jizzer) has oft been hailed as the most cerebral of notorious hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang clan, the one who most effectively developed beyond the gratuitously violent lyrics of some of his fellow clanners (insert lyric from ‘Method Man’). While this reputation is undoubtedly perpetuated by Grice’s other stage name, ‘The Genius’, his 1995 album ‘Liquid Swords’ is widely regarded as one of the best albums to come out of the Clan, exhibiting his effortless flow and knack for original metaphor.
Upon speaking to the GZA, it’s not hard to understand where this originality comes from. ‘I can find inspiration and inspiration can find me, almost anywhere. Lately, I’m very inspired by science and nature. I find the earth and the universe fascinating – how everything is truly connected: from a microorganism in the sea to a black hole in the sky’. This interest in science explains his recent visit to MIT where he met with geneticists, quantum physicists and marine biologists before giving a lecture at Harvard. Lecturing is something that the GZA has become increasingly passionate about; he has expressed a desire to speak at Oxford, which, fingers crossed, will materialize.
Science and nature aside, martial arts’ imagery abounds in both the work of the Clan and the GZA’s solo albums with ‘Liquid Swords’ heavily referencing and sampling dialogue from the 1980 film ‘Shotgun Assasin’. Asked about its significance the GZA explains, ‘When we were younger we were drawn to the incredible action, like anyone is. As we got older, though we still enjoyed the fighting, we also started to identify with certain common themes like loyalty, discipline and brotherhood’. This maturity is reflected in what he does when he isn’t touring or recording. ‘I enjoy playing chess, reading, watching tv, the Discovery channel and National Geographic and of course spending time with my family’. Where’s the honeyz and cristal now? He’s no diva; when asked about his rider he remarked, ‘if you’re asking whether or not I insist on no green M&M’s, you’re asking the wrong person’. Citing his favourite artists as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, The Beatles, he surprisingly cannot name a song or album from last year. One gets the impression of an artist who is comfortable in his own style, developing within himself but unaffected by the continuously changing scene around him. ‘I would hope my lyrical content has evolved and gotten more sophisticated over the years. But I don’t think the content has changed as much as the approach’.
While the GZA is now in the midst of a solo tour, he hopes that the Clan will continue to tour and make records. ‘The tours are always fun. There’s nothing like being on stage with the guys and the times between are just as important, when we’re bonding on the bus or in the hotel’. The Clan’s most recent tour, last year, was somewhat haphazard; all of the members were not always present (Ol Dirty aside, R.I.P) and rumours of various conflicts bubbled. Is it difficult to stay together when everyone is busy doing solo projects? ‘The dynamic is incredible between us. We’re brothers and that will never change. Of course we don’t spend as much time around each other anymore because we’re all grown men with families. But just like with any old and true friend, once we’re reunited it’s as if no time has elapsed’.
The GZA’s next solo album is rumoured to be ‘Liquid Swords II: Return of the Shadowboxer’. First announced in the spring of 2010, but postponed at the beginning of 2011, ‘Liquid Swords II’ is the first time since 1995 that the GZA and fellow Wu co-founder the RZA (Rizzer) have worked together. ‘My favourite collaborations are always with the Clan’ he says but ‘Liquid Swords II’ is only a concept at this point’. Disappointing, but if its prequel is anything to go by it will certainly be worth the wait. Until then make sure you catch the GZA at the Oxford O2 Academy on 28th January. He is a truly interesting character, producing the cream of slick and clever hip-hop but thinking and behaving completely contrary to any of your Wu-Tang preconceptions.