Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA is wrapping up work on his own direct-to-video film and its accompanying soundtrack, which is building itself up to be a radical departure in sound for the acclaimed rapper and producer.
But if he seems worried about the film, "Bobby Digital," and what he calls the funk/disco-influenced music of the soundtrack -- which also will serve as his solo debut -- his fears have more to do with the money he said he has sunk into the project and less to do with the material itself.
"Wu-Tang Clan fans are going to appreciate it a lot," he said. "So I'm really asking for their support on this one."
RZA (born Robert Diggs) has recently completed filming "Bobby Digital," a work he contends was largely improvised and often filmed with both actors and camera operators under the influence of mind-altering substances. As the star of the film, he's proud of the work.
As the man who paid for it, however, he may be a bit concerned.
"I may have spent too much," he said last week from a Los Angeles hotel room. "I don't want to expose [the budget], but I know the first $200,000 was an experiment."
With the film now in the editing process and the soundtrack, RZA Presents Bobby Digital In Stereo, introducing what may be a radical new sound from the Wu-Tang Clan mastermind, he's beginning to send the word out to fans to be sure and pick up the film and soundtrack.
According to RZA, the music used in the movie was born out of the frustrations he faced when trying to get live orchestras into a studio during production on Wu-Tang Clan songs. "This music may strike you as [being as] appealing as disco when you first heard it," RZA said, "or [as] appealing as funk. It has an electric feel that people are into right now."
"Bobby Digital" is the story of a devoted hip-hop fan from the '80s who also dabbles in scientific experimentation. He produces a magical concoction called the Honey Serum, which opens up his eyes to the violence on the streets, causing him to encourage the people in his neighborhood to put their weapons down. When he is falsely accused of murder, he heads underground, only to resurface in the '90s as a superhero whose abilities and thoughts have been shaped by years of taking the Honey Serum.
"It ain't meaning to be a comedy," RZA explained. "But I don't know what they're going to say about this. There are a few pieces of info revealed in it [and] there's a few good moments in there. Will they be laughing at us? It's definitely not going for no Cannes Film Festival award," he added, referring to the famed celebration of movies, held each year in France.
Net-savvy Wu-Tang Clan fans seem to want to put RZA's fears to rest. "I definitely think people will pick it up," Wu-Tang fan Jayson Pitts, 18, wrote in an e-mail. "The Wu-Tang Clan have this whole mythology about them that fans really get into. Every new project is like another piece of the puzzle, so the devoted fans will definitely check out the video and the soundtrack."
The film is meant to prepare people for a planned RZA solo album, tentatively titled The Cure, by giving them a little taste of his background, the rapper said. "[I want to show that] I'm not just speaking from thinking, I'm speaking from knowing," RZA explained. "I couldn't do RZA first, then 'Bobby Digital' second. The RZA album is very special, very intimate, very spiritual. So I had to, like, take a sh-- first, which is 'Bobby Digital.' I had to take that sh-- first and then bring it back."
With the film in the editing process, RZA said he is focusing on putting the finishing touches on the "Bobby Digital" soundtrack.
The nine-member Wu-Tang Clan was formed in the early '90s as a kind of collective that would first establish success as a group and then support the solo work of its members. The strategy succeeded, thanks to singles such as "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)" (RealAudio excerpt). The Wu's Method Man was the first of the Clan's rappers to go solo, with his debut, Tical, in 1994, and now, four years later, RZA -- who is considered the musical force behind the group -- is finally taking his turn in the solo spot.
Featuring appearances from Wu-Tang members Method Man, Masta Killa and Ghost Face Killa, the soundtrack also includes appearances by the Wu-Tang-affiliated Killarmy, as well as Southern California hip-hoppers Black Knights of the North Star and new, RZA-produced artists Jammie Summers and Wonder Woman.
The soundtrack will feature a further exploration of the "digital orchestra" sound introduced by RZA (as Bobby Digital) with Killarmy and Method Man on "And Justice For All," from this year's Wu-Tang Killa Bees compilation, The Swarm.
With his traditional sparse-beats-and-strings production style taking a short vacation, RZA said the soundtrack is closely married to the themes of the film but can also stand on its own -- citing funk-soul artist Isaac Hayes' Shaft soundtrack as an example. "This soundtrack is Bobby Digital," he explained. "He's living his life through these songs. RZA makes a small appearance, but it mostly is Bobby Digital."
"I think it will surprise [Wu-Tang fans]," he continued, "only in the sense of some people may not believe how I can branch out. They may think I'm stuck in one scope. This is going to show them that Bobby Digital and RZA is wide-ranging."
"I'm an ocean," he concluded. "I'm an ocean of thoughts."