NEW YORK — RZA said he realizes most people who pick up "The Wu-Tang Manual" are just looking for some fun facts about the rap collective — why ODB changed his name so many times, what the 36th chamber really is, etc — but he's hoping readers will come away with a little something more: enlightenment.
"This book is a test," he said, squatting on a stool in an East Village Shaolin temple. "Maybe you'll agree with it, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll just read the book and have fun, but more than that, it's a key to open the door to get on the path of knowledge and wisdom."
That's because RZA — who named one of his sons Understanding — jam-packed the book with aspects of his various beliefs and philosophies. He originally wanted the tome to be just about that, but his literary agent convinced him the way to get fans to read it would be to include the band's adventures as well. So he divided up "The Wu-Tang Manual" into 36 chapters (or "chambers," as he calls them) and they break down into four books of nine chapters each: one about Wu characters, another on Wu lyrics, one on the Wu lexicon, and one on what he calls the "grand spiritual megamix."
Sandwiched in between his thoughts on martial arts and organized crime are mediations on divine mathematics, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, you name it. "I think all religions have the same core, are founded on the same principles," he said. "It's the languages and the people who make them different. Freedom, justice, equality, what all religions teach, is what I stand for. Everyone's talking about the same thing, the prophets all live the same thing, and that's a life based on peace.
"One of my goals in life is basically to represent righteousness," he continued, "but also to break down the barriers we all put up on each other. I'm not trying to be Martin Luther King and all of that, I'm not going to fight for civil rights or nothing like that, but I think it's just a misconception of religion and cultures that's got us all boggled with each other. Let's at least know about each other, and then if you want to smack me after that, then all's fair in love and war."
RZA wrote the book with music journalist Chris Norris, who patiently listened to the rapper/producer expound on his beliefs for weeks and months on end, flying back and forth between Los Angeles and New York for their sessions. RZA said he admired the time his collaborator put into the effort, because transcribing his speech isn't the easiest thing to do. "I talk so fast and funny sometimes," he admitted.
The Wu-Tang producer didn't want the book to come across like it was just a really long interview, so the real task was making all the different beliefs and topics and trivia work together, without being preachy. After all, he hasn't lived the life of a saint — he admits to getting in race-related fights and womanizing and all sorts of other indiscretions in his youth. But when the Wu-Tang Clan started becoming popular and he realized that their audience included every ethnic background, he said, it made him "realize what time it is. ... Time to spark that energy, and whoever don't want to be a part of it, let them cast themselves out."
"A lot of hip-hop fans and listeners, we could be a very terrible, wicked, cruel generation, because of so much partying, sex, drugs, violence, egotism, what we portray in hip-hop," he continued. "But we've also got people in hip-hop who care, and who could read this and get sparked on a path. And we could use that balance more than anything."
While RZA did delay the release of the manual for "sentimental reasons," he deliberately did not dedicate the book to his late cousin and collaborator ODB (see "Ol' Dirty Bastard's Death Stuns And Saddens His Peers"), despite the publisher's request.
"Listen, ODB remains in life," he said. "It's like a comic book, or like the heroes in the Bible are heroes, or the heroes in Greek myth are heroes forever. We don't have to be like 'Rest in peace, Hercules,' or 'Rest in peace, Jesus.' We know their time is passed, but we don't write it like that, because we know life is eternal."