RZA Explains Why He Believes Roc-A-Fella Records Mistreated ODB
This Friday evening (May 10), the documentary, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men will broadcast on Showtime. Veteran music journalist and filmmaker Sacha Jenkins directs the film which retraces the origins involving one of Hip-Hop’s greatest groups. The collective of RZA, GZA, Method Man, U-God, Raekwon, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, and Ghostface Killah co-produced the film.
Notably, RZA addressed O.D.B.’s last days, which are shown in the film. The Brooklyn, New Yorker born Russell Jones died inside Wu-Tang’s Midtown Manhattan studio on November 13, 2004, from a drug overdose. In the 18 months before his passing, Ol’ Dirty had made some surprising moves with his solo career. The same day he left prison for a drug sentencing, in 2003, the gold-certified soloist signed with the high-profile Roc-A-Fella Records. He had independently released The Trials & Tribulations Of Russell Jones, a compilation of features, re-recorded songs, and previously unused material.
RZA, who later worked with JAY-Z on Watch The Throne opens up about that time in speaking with Complex. “Yeah. That was also very sad and morbid. It was very painful to watch. You have joy and pain that’s happening. You get the joy of him and his energy. And then, the documentary goes and shows the fat Dirty, when Roc-A-Fella had him. I always felt like they never treated [him] the way he was supposed to be treated.”
Setaro points out that the documentary “is not kind to Roc-A-Fella,” who was then run by its founders Dame Dash, JAY-Z, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. RZA reacts, “No. They never treated him the way he’s supposed to be treated. Even a diamond when it comes out of the ground, it’s just a rock to be polished, and then cleaned and cut right. When he came out the system they were just like, ‘No, let’s just move him here.’ When you watch it, for me it was hard. It was a joy to see my brother. And they got stuff in there that none of us had ever seen in the film, because they had a camera following him.” Setaro notes that O.D.B. was being filmed in 2003 for a never-completed VH1 reality show. Some footage was later re-purposed in a VH1 documentary. “They was doing something that he didn’t know they was doing. Reality shows wasn’t real yet like that. He became the first experiment of a reality show, and he didn’t know that.”
In some of that archival footage, O.D.B. was openly critical of his cousin, the man he’d worked with since the 1980s. RZA explains, “So he’s sitting there talking and explaining what’s on his mind, and he’s being influenced to talk. There’s one scene in there where he says, ‘RZA won’t let me out my contract. What the f*ck you doing?’ He was cursing on camera. And then [his manager at the time], Jarred [Weisfeld] just throws a pin there: ‘What, RZA wants money?'” RZA asserts that greed was never involved. “I’m never going to ask my cousin for no money or nothing like that. Out of anybody, I feel he is not supposed to leave Wu-Tang Production, because this is our dreams. I’m brought back to laying in bed at 12 years old looking up and dreaming. It’s just me and this guy.” RZA suggests that that dream began with him and O.D.B., not everybody, making that footage all the more hurtful.
RZA produced O.D.B.’s 1995 debut, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. The Abbott also worked on several songs for 1999’s N***a Please. Both LPs reached gold certification. A Son Unique, the album Dirty worked on while at Roc-A-Fella, released digitally, before being cease-and-desisted. In addition to work with RZA, that collection of songs included contributions from DJ Premier, The Neptunes, as well as RZA, Method Man, Raekwon, and Ghostface.
Complex also reports that Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men contains previously unseen footage shot by GZA during Wu’s early days. RZA told Setaro, “He never lets that go.” Notably, The Genius found this doc a fitting destination for this archival video. The documentary makes its Showtime debut on Friday (May 10).