RZA is fast becoming the Danny Elfman of hip-hop, the go-to guy for anyone who wants a killer soundtrack. Emphasis on "killer" — as in the martial arts heavies "Kill Bill," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and, most recently, the moody, eclectic "Blade: Trinity," which RZA scored with a classical composer in addition to cooking up a few songs of his own.
"I love hip-hop, of course — that's my roots, that's my foundation," RZA said. "I use that foundation to bring a different element to the silver screen that hasn't been brought before."
RZA doesn't consider himself a full member of the composer community just yet, but he's working on it. The rapper has been obsessively reading and listening to some unusual choices for a member of the Wu-Tang Clan — like the selected works of such notable film composers as Elmer Bernstein ("The Magnificent Seven") and Henry Mancini ("Breakfast at Tiffany's").
"I just read and read and study and study," RZA said. "I want to make sure that I'm taking this art that they created over the years and I'm becoming a member of their fraternity, but a member that's deserving, because I'm respecting the work. These guys got me by a few years, so they're my seniors, my big homies we call it in the 'hood. They my big homies, and I'm the little homie trying to get it cracking."
RZA even sat in on some sessions with Elfman himself, when he was working on "Spider-Man 2." "It was a very exciting thing to see him work," he said. "He is definitely one of the premier composers in Hollywood, in the world even. He gave me some compliments about some things I did, and I couldn't compliment him enough. He's very insightful, gave me some good tips."
Not that he needs a lot of them — RZA's bursting with ideas about what he'd like to do for future film projects, since he finds scoring films captures his imagination more than writing hip-hop right now. For one thing, there's more room.
"Hip-hop is two- to four-bar loops, but in this particular film, you know, they have musical pieces going 16, 20 bars before they repeat," he said. "There's one chase scene called 'Daywalkers,' where you see Blade running, and he's chasing Drake all throughout the city, and even though you got a constant four-bar drum template going on, you have all these strings on there, so that's actually about 20 bars because the strings never really repeat.
"They just go and go and build and build, and you take your music to the elastic point right before it's about to break, and you let it go. You don't break it. That's the whole track. It's like a relief, you know what I mean? And that's exactly how the scene ends up. When you watch that scene, you see Blade come out on the roof, and you're really thinking that the fight is gonna happen here, but it's not gonna happen there. It was all just, you know, suspense buildup."
That's not to say it's an easier process than hip-hop. From the time RZA got the call, it took him over six months to start, from writing demos, studying the scenes, showing his work to the director, having to throw it all away and try it again, to eventually recording it with an orchestra. Ideas and plans were constantly scrapped and revised, from starting with one composer who didn't work out to finding one from Hans Zimmer's camp, Ramin Djawadi, who was "more just snap, crackle, pop with it," RZA said, to planning to record the orchestra in London and then doing it instead in Seattle.
Seeing his work written out in sheet music — like his song "Fatal" — and then played by the orchestra made it all worth it, though. "I got a chance to see this big sheet, 'RZA, "Fatal," ' and all these notes that I can't read," he said. "I mean, I can read pretty slow, but it was really exciting to have all the strings put in those parts. It's like, 'Project complete, see you later.' "
RZA's next scoring job is for Jet Li's "Unleashed," due next spring, and for that one he's writing a piano concerto.
"I'm pretty proud of it," he said. "I think that fans will not expect that to be from the mind of the RZA."
Check out everything we've got on "Blade: Trinity."
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