Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan and one of the most eccentric personalities in hip-hop, died of unknown causes on Saturday in New York. He would have turned 36 on Monday.
The rapper, whose real name was Russell Tyrone Jones, was having difficulty breathing and complained of chest pains earlier in the day, according to his spokesperson.
Dirty was at Wu-Tang’s studio, 36 Records LLC on West 34th Street, when he collapsed in the lounge at approximately 4:35 p.m. on Saturday. EMS workers rushed to the scene but were unable to resuscitate him and he was pronounced dead at 5:04 p.m., according to a spokesperson for the city medical examiner’s office.
An autopsy conducted Sunday morning revealed no conclusive results. Toxicology and tissue tests will be administered and the cause of death is expected to be known within 10 days.
Jarred Weisfeld, ODB’s manager, said that the rapper was entirely drug free and that he was committed to getting his life back on track. “He was the complete opposite of what people made him out to be. He was a teddy bear,” Weisfeld told MTV News. (Click for photos of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s life and career .)
ODB, who arrived in the New York area on a flight from Denver at 10:30 p.m. Friday, had been scheduled to perform with the Wu-Tang Clan in New Jersey that night, but missed the show.
Wu-Tang members Ghostface Killah and Raekwon were among those seen outside the studio Saturday consoling ODB fans.
Cherry Jones, ODB’s mother, was informed shortly after his death and called the phone call “every mother’s worst dream.” “My son, Russell Jones, passed away,” she said in a statement. “To the public, he was known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but to me, he was known as Rusty, the kindest, most generous soul on earth. I appreciate all the support and prayers that I have received. Russell was more than a rapper, he was a loving father, brother, uncle, and most of all, son.”
Damon Dash, who signed ODB to Roc-A-Fella Records in the spring of 2003, also released a statement. “All of us in the Roc-A-Fella family are shocked and saddened by the sudden and tragic death or our brother and friend,” Dash said. “Russell inspired all of us with his spirit, wit and tremendous heart. He will be missed dearly, and our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences go out to his wonderful family. The world has lost a great talent, but we mourn the loss of our friend.”
Before he was known more for his rap sheet than his rapping, Dirty was the most outrageous member of the Wu-Tang Clan, nine New York rappers who fashioned themselves as ghetto superheroes with magic rapping powers. As an MC, ODB was instantly recognizable with his garbled, manic and nonsensical style. His half-rapped, half-sung free-association growl was a key element in several of the Clan’s most memorable tracks, as well as hits from Mariah Carey (“Fantasy”) and Pras (“Ghetto Supastar”).
Russell Jones was born in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, New York, and was raised on public assistance. His cousins, known now as RZA and GZA, introduced him to hip-hop and by the early ’90s they had formed the Wu-Tang Clan. Jones took on the name Ol’ Dirty Bastard because there was no “father” to his unique style, although he would assume numerous monikers over the years, including Osirus, Joe Bannanas [sic], Dirt Dog, Unique Ason, Big Baby Jesus and Dirt McGirt.
After the massive success of the Wu’s debut, 1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the members began launching solo careers, first with Method Man and second with ODB’s 1995 release, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, which featured “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”
His second album, 1999’s N—a Please, featured his biggest hit, the Neptunes-produced “Got Your Money” (which introduced Kelis to the world), but by then his music played second fiddle to his odd behavior and trouble with the law.
Dirty’s best-known antic came at the 1998 Grammy Awards, when he took the stage and interrupted Shawn Colvin’s acceptance speech to complain that the Wu-Tang Clan had lost to P. Diddy in a different category (see “Ol’ Dirty Bastard Tells Why He Stormed Grammy Stage” ). Along with being awkwardly timed, the moment will be forever remembered because of Dirty’s peculiar declaration: “Wu-Tang are for the children!”
And back in 1994, ODB invited MTV News to spend an afternoon with him. On camera, he loaded several of his kids (he was said to have more than a dozen, by numerous mothers) into a limousine and proceeded to drive to a welfare office to collect food stamps.
While ODB was talked about for engineering comical moments, for a time his frequent arrests overshadowed anything else he did.
Although he was convicted of second-degree assault in New York in 1993 (the only violent offense ever proven against him) and was shot in the stomach by another rapper in Brooklyn in 1994, ODB’s real tussles with the law started in 1997, when he was arrested for failing to pay nearly a year’s worth of child support for three children he had with his wife, Icelene Jones.
In 1998, he pleaded guilty to attempted assault on Icelene and two months later was shot in the back during what he said was a robbery of his Brooklyn home (he walked out of the hospital, disobeying doctor’s orders).
Later in 1998, he was arrested for shoplifting a pair of $50 sneakers in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and accosted a security guard at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and was charged with making “terrorist threats,” charges he again faced only months later after he threatened to kill an ex-girlfriend.
In early 1999, ODB was pulled over in New York for a traffic violation and was accused of firing a gun at officers, although those charges were later dismissed when the police failed to prove their claims. A few months later, while being cited for a parking violation in Los Angeles, he became one of the first citizens arrested under a new California law that made wearing a bulletproof vest illegal for convicted felons (see “Ol’ Dirty Bastard Arrested For Wearing Bulletproof Vest” ). Two months later, he was picked up in Queens, New York, for running a red light and was arrested when police found crack in his Mercedes-Benz (see “Ol’ Dirty Bastard Arrested; Police Claim To Have Found Crack In Rapper’s Car” ).
After two more arrests for traffic violations, including another one where he was found with crack, Dirty was sentenced to three years’ probation and one year in a residential drug-rehab facility in Pasadena, California. (During court proceedings, he was scolded by the judge for falling asleep and calling a female attorney a “sperm donor.”) Ten months later, after a disagreement with the staff, he walked out of the court-mandated rehab and became a fugitive.
A month later, two days after appearing onstage with the Wu-Tang Clan in New York (see “Performance By Fugitive ODB Stuns Wu-Tang Clan Crowd” ), he was arrested in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Philadelphia by an officer who recognized him because her son was a fan.
ODB was then sentenced to two years behind bars (see “ODB Gets Two Years For Fleeing Rehab, Violating Probation” ). He spent most of that time at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York (where Tupac Shakur once served). While in prison, reports surfaced that ODB was suffering mental illness and was suicidal, although his reps denied them.
When he was released from prison and psychiatric care in the spring of 2003, Dirty quickly signed with the Roc and began recording as Dirt McGirt (see “Ol’ Dirty Bastard Hits Campaign Trail With New Album” ).
“I just want to get back out there and do it again,” he told MTV News. “You know, how Mike Tyson came back, I wanna come back the same way. I want to hit ’em hard.”
Dirty logged studio time Busta Rhymes, Ludacris and Pharrell (see “Ol’ Dirty Lays Down Track With Pharrell Before Turning Into A Pumpkin” ), and most recently collaborated with Macy Gray (see “ODB Duets With Macy Gray On ’Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ “ ).
The rapper’s manager said that several projects that Dirty was involved with will move forward, including an album recorded with his friends, Brooklyn Zoo, a DVD and a reality show that was completed for Spike TV.
Before Friday’s concert, the Wu-Tang Clan had reunited this summer, at a concert in California. A recording of the show, titled Disciples of the 36 Chambers: Chapter 1, was released in September.
“Through Wu-Tang and his own solo career as an artist, songwriter and producer, ODB came to not only define a generation, but a musical movement that continues today,” Steve Rifkind, who signed Wu-Tang to Loud Records, said in a statement. “We will miss him.”
[This story was updated on 11.14.04 at 1:18 p.m. ET.]