By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Miami hip-hop heads, you've been waitin' and debatin' for oh so long. Saturday it's finally here — the local stop of the Rock the Bells tour, a day-long festival of so much non-bling-blingin', non-booty-bass hip-hop, it hardly seems real. Okay, so the New York and California shows get the elusive, recently reunited Rage Against the Machine, and we don't, and that's disappointing. We don't get EPMD or Public Enemy either.
But what we do get, on the main stage, are Nas, UGK, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, David Banner, Immortal Technique, and Jedi Mind Tricks along with hometown heroes ¡Mayday! with the Fresh Air Fund. Oh, and all surviving members of the Wu-Tang Clan. And on the second stage, a long list of some of the finest homegrown talent, MCs and DJs alike. Here's a closer look at a few of our favorite acts on the bill. For a complete schedule, visit www.rockthebells.net.
RZA, born Robert Diggs, goes by many names: the Abbott, Bobby Digital, Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig, Allah, Bobby Steels, Rzarector, Prince Rakeem. According to The Wu-Tang Manual, Volume One (Riverhead Books), he's also the mastermind behind the legendary supergroup's revolutionary business plan. At Wu-Tang Clan's inception, RZA promised the members that if they followed his five-year plan, they would conquer the world of hip-hop. His prediction came true.
Solo, RZA has appeared in movies (Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog) and in skits on Chappelle's Show, and has composed music for films such as Kill Bill and Afro-Samurai. On a recent Tuesday, this interview with him was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. RZA had just returned to New York from Europe, with the master copy of the new Wu-Tang album, 8 Diagrams, in his hands. RZA's assistant got on the phone at 4:10. "RZA is still talking to the lawyers. Can we push it back?" The album was born purely of creative hunger, with no label advance. The tracks were all done, but the man was still trying to broker a record deal. At 5:30 the phone rang.
RZA: Yo, what's up?
Thank you so much, RZA. Miami loves Wu-Tang.
Our area code is 305. Three plus zero plus five ...
That eight, baby.
The title of the new album is 8 Diagrams?
Yep. It is an ode to hip-hop. Hip-hop could use my services right now.
The name 8 Diagrams comes from a classic kung fu film. But I have also been studying the I Ching. It is an ancient way of predicting the future. I Ching is about change, and it contains eight diagrams. Each diagram represents the way the stars are, the way life is, the destiny of a person, the destiny of a nation, and the destiny of our planet. The ancient Chinese used it over 4000 years ago to predict and calculate harvests, good times, bad times. Each diagram represents a Wu-Tang member and our position.
It is time for a change in hip-hop. We look forward to ushering in a new change with this album. Nothing happens by chance or coincidence. Everything in the universe travels in a circle. The Earth goes in the same circle every year; you understand ... there are small circles and big circles.
There are eight points of the sun. In my lyrics I say, "I am the seven in the center of the eight-pointed sun." I see myself as the center of Wu-Tang. The eight points are the members that shine out. We are like each point of that sun, shining in all directions.
Well, I have to ask about Ol' Dirty Bastard.
His death was a wake-up call for a lot of people. How does his spirit or legacy affect Wu-Tang, now that there is one less member?
His presence in my life has been tremendous. He was such a unique individual. His ways, his vibe, his presence has rubbed off on each one of us Wu-Tang members. Everybody has a piece of ODB in them. ODB is not physically on the new album, but you will feel his energy and presence coming through the other Wu-Tang members. There is a lyric that Meth says on the album in a song about life changes: "Now that you're gone, ODB, in your honor I've grown a fetish for loose women and babies' mamas."
I've heard about ODB's son....
Yeah, he's 16 years old and I'm nurturing him right now. We're taking him out on tour with us. He's writing lyrics. He acts like his father, which is so crazy ... but he does it soberly. He is ODB's first son, and I helped raise him since ODB is my cousin. I am guiding him towards a better way. He calls himself "Young DB." We've recorded over 20 songs. He will be carrying on his father's legacy in his own way. I want him to be around his uncles. We all rub off on each other. When you rub metal against metal, it gets sharper, know what I mean?
Almost ten years on, Talib Kweli can hardly be mentioned without appending the phrase "formerly of Black Star." Well that's what he gets for being half of one of the most influential groups of the late-Nineties so-called "conscious" rap underground. On the duo's landmark 1998 self-titled debut (and only) album, Mos Def had the half-smiling, direct delivery, while Kweli was a stealth force. He punched out powerful, multisyllabic turns of phrase in a melodious, pure Brooklyn semi-rasp.