RZA was born Robert Diggs in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. After an impoverished childhood in a family of 11 children, RZA began his hip hop career in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a member of the trio Force of the Imperial Master (which subsequently became known as the All in Together Now Crew after they had a successful underground single of that name). The group consisted of future Wu-Tang members and his cousins GZA (then known as the Genius) and Ol' (then known, respectively, as Ason Unique, the Specialist, and the Professor). Once this acclaimed local band dissolved, both he and GZA attempted to kick start solo careers. With the help of GZA's friend Melquan (then owner of Jamaica Records) they both secured single deals with album options at successful labels, GZA going to Cold Chillin and RZA to Tommy Boy. GZA ultimately released the Words from the Genius album, but RZA's stint at Tommy Boy ended with only the EP Ooh I Love You Rakeem to show for it when he went to jail soon after its release. GZA's album flopped, and the two cousins became determined to conquer the hip hop industry on their own terms.
In 2005 RZA released the long-gestating book Wu-Tang Manual, an in-depth discussion of the Wu-Tang's virtues, vices and philosophies. RZA continued to act in and score movies such as Derailed, Blood of a Champion and Miami Vice. In 2006 he contributed four beats to Method Man's latest album 4:21...The Day After and also executive produced the project.
Currently he is working with Raekwon on his highly anticipated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II . He has also recorded with the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and is set to contribute to Cannibal Ox's upcoming album, along with Pete Rock and El-P.
Talks are on between System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian and RZA regarding a collaboration between the two artists called ACHOZEN. GZA is also involved in the project and has stated so in an interview.
Before signing with SRC Records in early 2007, RZA was flooded with offers from Bad Boy Records, Aftermath Records, Interscope and Def Jam among others for the Wu-Tang Clan super-group. In late January of 2007 he announced that he was working on a new Bobby Digital Album tentatively titled DigiSnacks. Also in 2007 he did the score of the American adaptation of the Japanese anime Afro Samurai starring Samuel L. Jackson.
The Wu-Tang Clan and their associates are being investigated by the FBI for weapon trafficking in Staten Island and their relationship with the Gambino crime family. RZA admitted to being friends with several members of the Gambinos in The Wu-Tang Manual, both before and after his rise to fame.
John Gotti, "The Dapper Don"
John Gotti, "The Dapper Don"
In 2000 the Village Voice ran a story about the FBI infiltrating the Wu Tang Clan through a criminal-turned-informant named Michael Caruso who got a job as the personal manager for Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna. Several other members of the group did not like Caruso, however his ties with Ghostface and Cappadonna got him into the inner circles of the Wu.
Due to Caruso's criminal past he was prohibited by law to associate with felons (which many members of the Clan are) or leave the state of New York, however these restrictions were lifted in return for providing information on the group. The federal government turned their head and allowed Caruso to tour around the country with Wu-Tang as long as he was kicking back info on their involvement in gunrunning and the Gambino crime family.
Caruso was subsequently fired from all duties regarding The Wu Tang Clan's business when these allegations came to light. RZA forced Cappadonna to fire him as his manager, however Caruso still works with Ghostface and is on his new poker team.
The report rules out the majority of Wu Tang affiliated performers and focuses on those running the business aspect of the Wu empire, Oli "Power" Grant and Mitchell "Divine" Diggs (RZA's brother) and The RZA himself.
The issue was recently resurfaced by FOX News in mid-2007 after RZA attended one of Hillary Clinton's parties and donated money to her 2008 campaign. FOX News criticized the fact that Clinton took money from The RZA, claiming it was contradictory due to RZA's felony record, FBI investigation, ties to the Gambino family and his music lyrics.
RZA referenced the investigation in one of his lyrics, "Feds had one ad saying I gun traff'/I sold 20 million records bitch! You make me laugh."
RZA has stated Ennio Morricone, Syl Johnson, The Fall, Marley Marl, Augustus Pablo and Danny Elfman as musicians he is fond of and has taken influence from. During the Enter the Wu-Tang period, RZA's production consisted mainly of stripped-down, frenetic piano loops and finger-snaps with heavy bass and drums, though he experimented with more melodic sounds on the album's "Method Man" and "C.R.E.A.M." He also began incorporating skits consisting of clips of old kung fu movies.
The next two solo albums from the Wu, Method Man's Tical and Ol' Dirty Bastard's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, featured versions of the same style of production from the RZA; the former delved somewhat into old soul records and became somewhat bouncy rather than quite as gritty, while the latter was at times even more simplistic than the group's debut.
On Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and GZA's Liquid Swords, RZA would immerse his beats in dark, sinister soul sampling, pioneering the technique of speeding up or slowing down samples to fit the beat. He also fully realized the potential of the skit, using old kung fu clips to string the Cuban Linx album together into a loose storyline.
RZA's production technique, specifically the manner of chopping up and/or speeding or slowing soul samples to fit his beats, has been picked up by currently popular producers - most notably Kanye West and Just Blaze, the two main producers behind Roc-A-Fella Records. West's own take on RZA's style briefly flooded the rap market with what was dubbed "chipmunk soul," the speeding of a vocal sample to where it sounded as though the singer had inhaled helium. Several producers at the time copied the style, creating other offshoots. West has admitted that his style was distinctly influenced by the RZA's production, and RZA has acknowledged his influence in an issue of Scratch magazine, saying he wished he had produced "Jesus Walks" and "Breathe", two 2004 hits produced by Kanye West and Just Blaze, respectively. Said by Kanye West:
Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time... We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that.
Subsequent Wu group albums saw RZA become even more experimental, usually with soul samples as well as the layers added his beats. Around 1997 he began tutoring 4th Disciple, True Master and Mathematics in production. The early-mid 2000's have seen him move more toward smoother and more tightly-assembled productions, where the melody, drums, bass and other elements play more off each other than they previously had in his beats.
His Bobby Digital albums introduced tweaked-out new age elements to his sound; these have incorporated themselves more fully into his beats on newer albums such as Method Man's 4:21...The Day After.
RZA was not the first hip-hop artist to use aliases, though he did become known as having a great number of them. These include: The Abbott, Chester Benningston (not to be confused with Chester Bennington), The Razor, Bobby Digital, BZA-Bobby, Bobby Steels. Prince Delight. Prince Rakeem. Prince Dynamite, RZArecta (from resurrector - waking up the mentally dead),The Scientist, Bob Digi, Robert Diggs, Bobby Boulders, Bob Digitech, The Kid Wit Braids.