The Tao of The RZA: The Man with the Wu-Tang Clan

If he were not already recognizable for his gaunt frame or the distinctive W logo on his baseball cap, it would have been easy to spot Robert Diggs — better known as the RZA, the actor, rapper and mastermind of hip-hop’sWu-Tang Clan — by the haul of vintage records and DVDs he was toting here at Amoeba Music.

Wandering between the black cinema and martial-arts video aisles, RZA thumbed through titles he already owned (“Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold”) while picking up some new additions for his collection (a boxed set of action movies produced by the Shaw Brothers of Hong Kong).

Before he exited with $402.94 in purchases, heavily tilted toward Asian action films, a smiling RZA said in his quiet voice, “You can’t say I’m not supporting the cause.”

Based solely on his Wu-Tang years, when he channeled his youthful obsessions with movies like “Five Deadly Venoms” into potent rap albums like “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” RZA, who is 43, would seem to possess unquestionable kung fu credentials.

Since then, his movie roles (as in “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”), soundtrack contributions (“Kill Bill”) and books (“The Wu-Tang Manual”) have given him broader canvasses on which to blend his hip-hop sensibilities with Eastern culture, combat and spirituality.

Now his artistic wanderings have led to a $20 million movie, “The Man With the Iron Fists,” which RZA directed and stars in, and which Universal will release on Nov. 2. As befits its creator’s eclectic style, the film is a martial-arts mini-epic set in a mythical Chinese feudal state, where a dispute between a monarch and a nefarious gang draws in a rogue British soldier (played by Russell Crowe), a madam (Lucy Liu) and a humble blacksmith (RZA).

For RZA, “The Man With the Iron Fists” is a substantial and risky step into the feature-filmmaking world, where he wants to stake out a new career. It has also been a lesson, years in the making, about which of his talents would take him furthest in Hollywood, and which parts of his gruff, street-smart persona he needed to shed.

As a chauffeured town car drove him to a favorite waffle restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, RZA said he was no longer the grandstanding show-off he presented in his musical heyday. Had this conversation occurred a few years ago, he said, “you would have met an arrogant, tough neighborhood guy — which I’ve overcome.”

Not that he makes any apologies for the 1990s peak of the Wu-Tang Clan, when albums by that New York hip-hop collective and solo…

Read more: Dave Itzkoff, NY Times


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