GZA Opens Up About Writing Some Of ODB’s Classic Verses

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Over the last decade, GZA has been one of the most reserved members of Wu-Tang Clan. The legendary Brooklyn, New York lyricist participated in this year’s Sacha Jenkins-directed documentary, Wu-Tang: Of Mics And Men. He will also be portrayed in next week’s dramatic series, Wu-Tang: An American Saga. However, The Genius has not released a solo album in more than a decade. Additionally, on recent Wu releases, his contributions have been relatively minimal. In a new interview with Sherron Shabazz for The Real Hip-Hop, the renowned MC opens up about why he’s been less prolific in the 2010s, and how that will soon change. He also provides some fascinating facts about writing several rhymes used by Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Shabazz asks GZA if it is true that he penned rhymes for O.D.B. “Correct,” confirms The Genius. Elaborating, the Liquid Swords creator details, “This is how it happened: some of the rhymes that he used on his [Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version] album were written by me—but they were written by me as a teenager. They were routines we used to do. As we got older, and Wu-Tang formed, we started doing solo projects.” Ol’ Dirty released his solo debut in 1995, the same year that GZA released his acclaimed sophomore solo LP. “He wanted to go back and touch on those [rhyme routines]. I felt we were grown men at the time, and those types of rhymes didn’t fit me [anymore]. Dirty, his whole style was different and unique. His [original] name was [Ason] Unique, and he was able to pull it off. That’s how that came about. Those were rhymes I wrote as routines with Dirty when we were in our late teens that he just happened to use. I wasn’t in the studio sitting down with him.” In the 1980s, before Wu-Tang Clan was founder, GZA, RZA, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard made up Brooklyn trio, All In Together Now.

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Getting specific about his contributions, GZA says he authored parts of “Don’t U Know.” “If you listen to the rhymes, ‘Sittin’ at my class at a quarter-to-10 / Waitin’ patiently for the class to begin,’ I was in high school when I wrote that! He was able to use those [bars]. I had verses and lines on my Words From The Genius album, before Wu-Tang even existed, that Dirty had written. We did them as routines, but he wrote the rhyme, and I was able to use it.”

He also points to “Damage” from O.D.B’s ’95 Elektra Records LP. “I wrote, ‘I grab the mic, and I’ll damage ya / Crush your whole stamina.’ That’s a verse that’s straight through that we did together on his album. But he was able to flip it in a way that he out-shined me on the track, and took over! We did use each other’s rhymes, but it wasn’t like when he did Return To The 36 Chambers [that] I went in the studio and wrote for him. No, those were routines we did as youngsters, and he was able to flip them. ‘Approach your school, 9:30, you’re late / The time doesn’t have you disillusioned with the date / Get to your class, walk to your chair / Flop in your seat and impatiently stare / At the teacher, the board, students who were blocking you,’ quotes GZA from “Don’t U Know.” “That’s a rhyme from high school. That’s his own flow; that’s how he flipped it. I wasn’t rhyming like that; he put his own touch on it.”

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GZA adds that the “Liquid Swords” chorus is another derivative from All In Together Now’s routines. “It used to be a verse that said, ‘When the MCs came / To live out the name / Some rocked the rhymes that was all the same / And when I elevated and mastered time / They were stimulated from the high-powered rhyme / They was shocked, ‘cause they knew they were rocked / Like the sucker MCs from off my block.” He explains, “Those were just routines that we used and revamped, and they worked. I didn’t even want to use that. RZA was the one who said to use that. I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t wanna use that routine for a hook.’ He was like, ‘Nah, I’m telling you, just do it!'” That song was recently the basis of an homage by Rapsody. The 9th Wonder-produced “Ibtihaj” features GZA on the song and in the video. D’Angelo, who worked with GZA on “Cold World,” also provides vocals to the track.

While looking back at the 1990s, GZA also confirms that 2005’s Grandmasters contains lyrics he wrote that were intended for O.D.B. “I wrote two rhymes for Dirty that I wanted to present to him. And then he passed, and never got to use them. I actually used one of them on the Grandmasters album with DJ Muggs; it was called ‘All In Together Now.’ That was a rhyme I had specifically for him. I’ve used some of his rhymes also, but he didn’t write them for me.” The Genius does not elaborate which of his songs contain Ol’ Dirty-penned verses.

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Notably, Shabazz also asks GZA about when fans will get a follow-up to 2008’s Pro Tools. “The time just has to be right,” he responds. “I know it’s been several years, but it’s coming soon. I’ve got a lot of stuff written. There’s a lot of stuff I want to release and let out and get back again. I look forward to that.”

Elsewhere in The Real Hip-Hop interview by Sherron Shabazz, GZA discusses enjoying his recent Rapsody collaboration. He reveals that O.D.B.’s brother Ramsey is in his current touring band. The respected lyricist also addresses potential retirement after his upcoming release plans. GZA and his live band are co-headlining this week’s Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, Tennessee.

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#BonusBeat: Some 1991 Video Music Box footage of GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard freesyling. For more VMB videos, visit AFH TV. We are currently offering free 7-day subscriptions.