What Makes Wu-Tang Clan rapper ODB, ODB?

Reflecting on the man who calls himself Ol' Dirty Bastard, a.k.a. Big Baby Jesus, a.k.a. Osirus.

Ol' Dirty Bastard and I weren't five minutes into our interview backstage at the Key Club in Los Angeles when the Wu-Tang Clan rapper stopped me mid-question to tell me I have a nice ass.

It was the same day (July 28) that a Virginia court had ordered a bench warrant for his arrest, after ODB failed to appear at a hearing regarding his alleged theft of a $50 pair of sneakers. His comment came shortly after I'd asked him whether he'd had any plans to head to Virginia that day to face the charge, to which he responded, "Nah, not today. I love it in L.A. The girls' asses look tight. Not a lot of cellulite."

Though I'd moved on to the next question, Ol' Dirty Bastard -- a.k.a. Big Baby Jesus, Osirus or whatever name he fancies on a particular day -- decided to tack on to his earlier statement, "Your ass ain't looking bad yourself."

Sitting in a chair and clad in a blue athletic outfit, the 29-year-old rapper twisted his head to get a better view, and, tugging at the goatee hair on his chin in a college-professor kind-of way, he mumbled the specifics.

Admittedly, I was a little thrown off, and I responded in a way that I still don't understand. "Thank you," I said and bit my lip to restrain myself from cracking up.

"Thank you"? -- oh, Big Baby Jesus, how could I? That was just not the kind of professional response that moment called for. But what was? What's the right way to respond to a rap star who's just playing up his own self-devised caricature? And, after all, what could I possibly expect from a man who calls himself Ol' Dirty Bastard?

Talking to ODB was like talking to a cartoon character, with his exaggerated movements, mawkish expressions and cheeky responses. "They hands are in the air," he said when I asked him how Wu-Tang fans have reacted to his solo tour.

ODB replied to each of my questions with such sarcastic, irreverent, non-answers that, with each one, I wondered, "what's the point?"

But that is the point. That's what makes ODB, ODB. This is a man who's gotten more notice for his recent personal dramas -- which also include an incident in which he was robbed and shot and his subsequent decision to walk out of the hospital in the midst of his recovery -- than he has for his actual music or for his first solo tour.

This is the man we watch in wonder and wait for whatever goofball thing he's going to do next, for what kind of insane notion will strike him tomorrow. This is what makes ODB notorious. Why would a platinum-selling rapper feel the need to steal a $50 pair of Nike tennis shoes? (By the way, wouldn't that be the bottom-of-the-line style?) Why did he interrupt the 1998 Grammy Awards ceremony to complain, in front of millions of television viewers, about Wu-Tang losing to Puff Daddy in the rap album category?

Why, why, why, we ask? Why does Sylvester always try to eat Tweety? Because he doesn't have enough Fancy Feast in his cat bowl, or because Tweety's really that irresistible? Or because Sylvester just wants Grandma's attention?

When ODB persisted with his anti-eloquent asides, I eventually gave up, thanked him for his time and marched on out of his dressing room. He looked baffled as I walked away.

I headed into the crowd and began talking to his fans, asking them for their reactions to ODB's decision to continue his tour as a fugitive. Almost invariably, their responses were, "That's just ODB," or something similar.

As James Ford, 28, of Los Angeles, put it, "I wouldn't expect any less of him."

And who would?