Way before Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was gaining publicity by hijacking the Grammys. However, unlike Kanye’s straight to the point “Beyonce should have won” blunt message, ODB’s impromptu speech was a little more cryptic. In 1998, after losing out to Puff Daddy for best hip-hop album, ODB told a stunned audience, “I don’t know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children. You know what I mean? Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best, Okay?”. Back then it sounded a little comical, but as of 2012 I’m starting to understand ODB’s prophetic message.
I have two great passions in life: hip-hop and pondering the mysteries of the Universe. Television personalities like Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, and Morgan Freeman (with his Through The Wormhole series) inspired me to delve deeper into subjects such as Einstein’s theory of relativity and the big bang. It seems the GZA has also caught this bug after announcing his new album will be called “Dark Matter”. When I first heard of the project in 2011 I taught it was a dope idea, here was a coming together of my favourite genre of music and topics generally considered too nerdy for emcees to deal with. However I wasn’t quite prepared for just how deep the GZA was planning to run with the concept. Not content with just focusing on the hip-hop side of things, the GZA (real name Gary Grice), met up with the much loved scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson to discuss themes of space and time, ensuring his lyrics will not only sound good, but also be factually sound.
It’s a far cry from what may be conventionally expected of a street rapper from Brooklyn. Gary Grice dropped out of high school at a young age, and even when he was in school, he admitted he never went in much. Yet the GZA found intellectual growth through hip-hop, instead of conforming to what was expected of him and his group, the Wu-Tang Clan opened many doors for introspective taught. Take for example, Wu-affiliate Killah Priest’s 1998 release “Heavy Mental”, which features the lyrics:
“As we begin to blaze, through the milky ways
repenting from our filthy ways, replenish for our guilty days
the eyeballs, swell up the size of eggs, beyond dreamland
wing span, 7 feet, between the eyes is the beak
destination of the ride, is to reach is the peak, angelic landscape
takes the physical man behind the hidden gates of space
ultimate escapes as we go at a phenomenal rate
as we cruise going into magnitude
as we break up into a multitude of molecules
going through a long hollow tube with a scholars view
as we wearing the white garment, passing sound waves
that’s supersonic, passing the comets, star clusters
changing my physical structure.”
As a movement the Wu have always encouraged the exploration of expansive themes. Killah Priest in particular, inspired the GZA as an artist, so much so he gave him his own song which featured on the GZA’s debut album “Liquid Swords”. The song entitled “B.I.B.L.E” was an acronym for ‘basic instructions before leaving Earth’, it also serves as an early example of the direction in which the GZA is now taking. By elevating the standard of his lyrical content, he is laying the blueprint for which future emcees can follow. He has even hinted at the idea he’ll remove swearing from his album. Not so much a gimmick as it is a reflection of his evolution and maturity. What allows the GZA to attempt a science album without swearing, and have it be well received by his hardcore fans, is his skill level remaining true to the art form. In the wrong hands this album could easily suck, but as a lyricist
For “Dark Matter”, he plans to take the production to a whole other level. He is aiming to elevate his lyrics by enlisting violinist Marco Vitali to provide a backdrop to his grandiose themes. Similar to how The Roots used classical music on their album “Undun”, the GZA is looking to incorporate orchestral pieces to hip-hop. One avenue he hopes to explore is creating music which sounds like key moments in the history of Universe such as the coming together of matter itself. Rather than just creating beats, he is hoping to create the right vibe and aura which will enhance his vision. This is definitely a giant leap forward for hip-hop, and can also be seen in Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City”, where Kendrick’s content and production fit together in ways seldom attempted before.
Much thanks to the Boston Globe for this video ^
In keeping with his new artistic endeavours the GZA has been out and about visiting inner city schools in New York, seeking to encourage kids to stay in school and study science. The respect he generates from the children is testament to the power of hip-hop music. The hope is by laying this foundation both musically and socially, the bar will be set higher for tomorrow’s generation. It’s amazing the progression which can be achieved by replacing content which glorifies death and destruction with lyrics of real substance. “Dark Matter” due out next year, is set to be a unique experience.