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GZA Biography

GZA Biography

Born in Brooklyn, GZA spent his childhood living with various groups of relatives in the other New York boroughs. During this time began to visit the Soundview Projects in the Bronx where he became fascinated with hip hop. Influenced by the early MC's of the time he began to write his own rhymes.

Also sharing his interest in hip-hop were his cousins Robert Diggs and Russell Jones. The three performed together as the group All In Together Now with Grice going under the alias The Genius; Diggs and Jones performed as The Scientist and The Professor respectively (It should be noted these names weren't meant to be permanent according to Rza, e.g. Jones was also known as the Genius for a time). After gaining some notoriety in the underground Grice and Diggs were signed as solo artists. Grice managed to ink a deal with legendary hip-hop label Cold Chillin' Records. In 1990 Grice released his debut album under the moniker - The Genius with Words from the Genius.

The album was produced by Easy Mo Bee and was heavily influenced by the style of Cold Chillin at the time. The corporate heads of that label wanted to make Grice a commercially viable artist like Big Daddy Kane. However critical reception for the album was lukewarm at best and sales were disappointing. Eventually Grice was dropped from the label. Grice's experience with Cold Chillin was shared with Diggs' experience at Tommy Boy Records, who had only managed to put out an EP under the alias Prince Rakeem.

Disillusioned with the recording industry Grice and Diggs got back together with Jones and decided that they would make the music they wanted, rather than what label executives made them create. Calling themselves the Wu-Tang Clan, based on the movie Shaolin v. Wu-Tang, brought together the most talented MC's in the New York underground and began making music. It was at this time that Grice took up the moniker of GZA, which derives from the sound made when the word "Genius" is scratched by a DJ on a record. Diggs became known as RZA (Rakeem scratched) and Jones the Ol' Dirty Bastard, after a character in "Ol' Dirty & The Bastard" another one of the Kung-Fu movies so influential to the group and based on the fact "he has no father to his style" according to Method Man.

The group debuted in 1993 and their album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) took the music industry by storm. Produced entirely by RZA, it was like nothing that had ever been heard at the time. GZA was featured throughout the album. The whole album was hailed by critics as a masterpiece, and GZA was touted by many as the best lyricist of the group.

Building off of that success GZA signed a new deal with Geffen Records and in 1995 released Liquid Swords. Again produced entirely by RZA and featuring a plethora of guest appearances from his fellow Clanmates the album was lauded by critics as a hip-hop classic and was certified gold by the RIAA. The album took the dark, foreboding atmosphere found in previous Clan releases to a whole new level. GZA's lyrics are still considered some of the sharpest ever created, combining vicious battle raps, mind-bending word-play and rich visuals. In 1998, the album was selected as one of The Source Magazine's 100 Best Rap Albums of all time.

After appearing on the Wu-Tang Clan's second album, Wu-Tang Forever, GZA released Beneath the Surface in 1999. Reviews were mostly positive however it failed to live up to Liquid Swords acclaim and commercial success. Critics pointed to production as the albums main weakness, noting a distinct lack of RZA produced tracks, resulting in a messy collage of beats rather than a cohesive sound. There were also complaints about the needless skits and the vast number of guest spots which allowed little time for GZA to actually rap.

GZA laid low for the next few years, only appearing on the Wu-Tang Clan albums The W and Iron Flag. However in 2002 he dropped Legend of the Liquid Sword. The album was received well by critics most agreeing it was an improvement on its predecessor with its improved production fewer guest appearances. However the album lacked commercial success and failed to go gold as his previous two releases had. GZA spent most of 2004 touring both solo and with the Clan. He also made an appearance with RZA in Jim Jarmusch's film Coffee & Cigarettes opposite Bill Murray. In 2005 GZA and DJ Muggs (the producer for Cypress Hill) released the LP Grandmasters. Muggs provided all the beats for the album, which saw GZA using chess as a metaphor for the rap game, exercising his story-telling muscle and commenting on his place as a senior member in the hip-hop community. The album received overwhelmingly positive reviews and decent commercial success.

2005 also saw GZA ink a deal with indie label Babygrande Records to release a new LP. The album, referred to at various time as The GZA Presents..., Return of the Genius and More Words from the Genius, was originally scheduled to drop sometime in October 2006. After that time passed with album no there was no news or information regarding the LP for nearly a year. However, recently it was announced that album will be called Pro Tools and that it has a release date of January, 8 2007. In an interview with XXL magazine GZA stated that RZA will be producing the album and that he also has plans to release a collaborative album with his son Young Justice afterwards. GZA will appear on the Wu-Tang Clan's newest album 8 Diagrams, set to be released in December 11, 2007. He was also said to be featured heavily on fellow Clansmen Raekwon's new CD, the highly anticipated, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. However, the state of that album including GZA's role is currently unknown. GZA partook in the summer 2007 Wu-Tang tour of Europe and the Rock the Bells tour with the rest of the Clan. It has also recently been announced that GZA and Killah Priest are set to begin work on a collaborative album of their own.

GZA uses the sword as a metaphor for the tongue, and sees his raps as deadly sword techniques. His own technique is self-described as visual and descriptive, yet at the same time succinct. He is a firm proponent of "less is more" when it comes to rapping. He is also highly adept at using similes and metaphors. Here is an example of his lyrics taken from the first verse of the song "Gold" from his album Liquid Swords:

    I’m deep down in the back streets, in the heart of Medina / About to set off something more deep than a misdemeanor / Under the subway waiting for the train to make noise / So I can blast a nigga and his boys / For what? They pushed up on the block / And made the dope sales drop Like the crash of Dow Jones stock / I had to connect and cross seals, to catch more mils / Than hoe bitches got birth control pills / I’m in the park, setting up a deal over blunt fire / A bum nigga sleeping on the bench, they had him wired / Peeped my convo, the address of my condo / And how I change a nigga name to John Doe / And while he set up camp he got vamped / Put the stake through his heart / I ripped his fucking fangs apart / Snakes got smoked on the set like Brandon Lee / Blown out the frame, like Pan-Am flight 103 / He got swung on, his lungs was torn / The Kingpin just castled with his rook and lost a pawn / A regular on the block, he played look-out / For playing predator with the glock he should have took out

GZA is also known for his wordplay where he takes various groups of objects and gives them double meanings such as animals (on "Animal Planet" from Legend of the Liquid Sword) and NFL teams (on "Queen's Gambit" from Grandmasters). The most famous example of this is "Labels" a song, again from Liquid Swords where he weaves the names of record labels in and out of the verse. A sample:

    TOMMY ain't my motherfuckin' BOY / When you fake moves on a nigga you employ / We'll EMIRGE off ya set, now ya know God damn / I show LIVIN LARGE niggaz how to flip a DEF JAM / And RUFF up the motherfuckin' HOUSE / Cause I smother you COLD CHILLIN' mother fuckers / I'll still WARN A BROTHER...

GZA covers a diverse range of topics in his raps. Mainstays include life on the streets, crime, chess, 5 Percenter teachings, and the always relevant "wack MCs". He raps with a methodical, mostly laid back delivery.


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