Ol' Dirty Bastard Not Such A Bad Guy, Really, Friends Say

Despite his arrests and anti-social behavior, Wu-Tang co-founder is described as 'misunderstood.'

LOS ANGELES — In Ol' Dirty Bastard's world there are no set

rules.

He makes them up, it seems, as he goes.

Even as a Santa Monica, Calif., court judge is about to scold him for

being late to a hearing on charges that he threatened to kill

nightclub security guards, the Wu-Tang Clan rapper is busy gawking at

women outside that judge's courtroom.

At the moment, he's more concerned with the contours of the female

form than he is about the charges at hand, or about the charge he'll

face in nearby Compton the following day for allegedly threatening to

kill the mother of his year-old child. A conviction in either case

could put him behind bars for some time, but right now, ODB seems

unconcerned.

Instead, he scopes out a middle-aged Asian woman dressed in a gray

suit and overtly sizes her up through his gold-rimmed glasses. He

smacks his lips, making a loud suction noise and revealing teeth

encased in braces.

When she is about to pass him, he grunts, "Very nice." She stops, turning her head to reveal an alarmed glare. But the Wu-Tang Clan founder seems immune to her apparent rejection, pinching his goatee with his hands like a calculus professor considering an unproven theory. He stares her down even as she continues down the hallway.

"When I was 7 years old, I had 40 girlfriends," he boasts. He adds with a smirk, "In the closets and under the tables."

Yet if you ask his friends, and those closest to him, they'll tell you there's much more to ODB than a rapping Casanova who can't stop getting into trouble. They talk of a side of ODB that people rarely see, the side that has made him a top-selling artist and co-founder of one of the premier rap acts of the era.

Their descriptions of him are complex and occasionally ironic — a man who likes to drink but is so health-conscious he refrains from eating meat, a relentless prankster who is, at heart, kind and considerate.

"Dirty's a good guy, very courteous, but he's misunderstood," tour manager Jeremy Larner said recently, while charges of attempted murder of a police officer were still pending against ODB in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Dirty for some reason has this stigma around him that he's the new bad-boy of rap. For a while it was Dr. Dre, and then Snoop [Dogg], and then Tupac [Shakur]. Now it's Ol' Dirty Bastard, unfortunately. ... But Dirty's a good guy."

Whether he's playing the "courteous" clown, the frequently incarcerated free spirit, the vegetarian party man, the perpetual playboy who objectifies women, an artist who appears to engage in conversations with himself, or a frequently troubled court jester who falls asleep on the courthouse bench, he is obviously one of a kind.

Clearly, the man who helped create the Wu-Tang Clan, one of today's most influential musical acts, and who has dubbed himself Big Baby Jesus, Osirus, Unique Ason, Joe Bananas, Dirt McGirt, and DJ Coolie Hot, does what he wants, when he wants.

And, in doing so, he seems to create the classic ODB moment at every turn. Unfortunately, sometimes his actions also get him in trouble.

In the past nine months, he's been robbed and shot, reported a car stolen and had at least two impounded. He's been accused of failing to pay child support in New York and of shoplifting tennis shoes in Virginia, in addition to the two terrorist-threat charges pending in California. Most recently, he was charged with attempted murder when Brooklyn police claimed he shot at them Jan. 15. He announced plans to sue after the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

While he admits to wearing a bullet-proof vest the night of the arrest, he insists he never had a gun and that police shot at him without cause. But it's not just the police ODB shows little patience for these days. In a conference to announce his plans to sue, ODB scoffed at frustrated radio and television reporters who were looking for a useable quote amid the rapper's stream of vulgarities.

"That's how I motherf----in' speak," he told them.

Still, despite his bad-boy reputation, ODB says he's grown up over the years.

"You don't hear too many bad things about ODB," he says. "Back in the

days, yeah, I would do stuff — I was a kid; I didn't know better. But

nowadays, you won't hear nothin' bad about Ol' Dirty Bastard. If you know about ODB, you know he's for the children; you know he's a good guy. He's a great entertainer."

These days the rapper can often be found dressed in Wu-Wear — a line of clothing the rap collective is trying to market on a wider scale — and oversized jeans that he constantly tugs at to keep from falling around his ankles. With his hair in braids — sometimes positioned to loom precariously above his head, the rapper moves with an exaggerated, almost cartoon-like strut.

ODB is an enigma who seems to happily exist in a world all his own.

During a recent impromptu interview, he stopped mid-sentence to tenderly touch his cheek and mutter something about an abscess. But when asked to explain, he was decidedly vague. "It's gonna be in the papers," he said. "I think someone punched me in the face — no, no one punched me in the face. Ain't nothing really happened.

"It's just going away; no more infection," he continued after some silence, adding that he would see a dentist later that day. "Please don't study it."

Cathy Jones, who has known ODB for six years both professionally and

personally, calls him "a hip-hop version of Lucille Ball. ... A little

bit of the Three Stooges, a little bit of Charlie Chaplin, all in one. If someone could attach a camera to his back and just run around with him throughout the day, they would be dying, non-stop laughter, because he does so many crazy, zany things," said Jones, who runs Threat Records, home label to Wu-affiliates Sunz of Man.

And even ODB's mother, Cherry Jones, confirms that ODB's particular brand of charisma goes a long way back. "Oh boy, he was the clown," she says of the young ODB. "He was the clown in the family."

Born Russell Tyrone Jones in 1968, ODB was raised in the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Fort Green. He is one of eight children born to William and Cherry Jones, who split 15 years ago, leaving ODB's mother to raise her children.

His mother, who says she believes ODB's R&B flavored "Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie)" (RealAudio excerpt) is about her, has shown a powerful devotion to her rap-star son in his recent troubles.

She appeared at his criminal hearings in New York and came to his defense when police claimed he shot at them after they pulled him over for driving erratically. She insisted ODB has never owned a gun and would never use one and that officers shot at her unarmed son for no good reason. Police have admitted to using gunfire, but say they did so in self-defense.

Today, Cherry Jones and ODB still live together in Brooklyn. Her intense bond with her boy goes back to his childhood, she said. She tells a story of dropping her kids off at camp one summer, hoping to both offer her children a safe haven from city streets and to give herself a break from the rigors of parenthood.

In her case, however, no sooner had she driven off from the camp, she said, than she decided to turn around and get them because "I missed them so much." ODB says it is from his mother — also a singer — that he developed his love of music.

He started to rap at age 10 and continued developing his style even as he co-founded the Wu-Tang Clan with old friend Genius/GZA (born Greg Grice) in Staten Island's Park Hill projects.

Taking their name from a mythical kung fu sword used by an unconquerable group of warriors, the Wu-Tang Clan eventually solidified with nine MCs. While their lyrics reference comic books, gangster and kung-fu films, Islamic beliefs and street life, their sound transformed old school into new school rap — a menacing, murky and multi-layered hybrid of hardcore beats and piano.

Their 1993 debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was

preceded by the underground hit "Protect Ya Neck" (RealAudio

excerpt) and produced such large-scale ones as "C.R.E.A.M."

(Cash Rules Everything Around Me) (RealAudio

excerpt). By the mid-'90s, the group stood at the apex of hip-hop,

having earned themselves a reputation as one of the most revolutionary

rap groups of the decade.

Though producer-MC RZA (born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) often is said to

be the creative backbone of the group, ODB just as often is credited for personifying the group's character. His mother certainly thinks so: "To me, [ODB] is the Wu-Tang Clan."

It was when the Clan's second album, Wu-Tang Forever, was

nominated for a Grammy in 1998 that ODB delivered a moment he may

never live down. Interrupting the Song of the Year presentation to

singer Shawn Colvin, ODB hopped up onstage to speak about the injustice he perceived when the Wu-Tang Clan lost the Best Rap Album Grammy to Puff Daddy & the Family. For the first time, perhaps, the world got to see ODB in action.

"I went and bought me an outfit today that cost me a lot of money, because I figured that Wu-Tang was gonna win," ODB explained to a billion-and-a-half viewers via TV cameras. "I don't know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children. Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best. I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all. Peace."

In addition to his Wu-Tang rap mates, the rapper has been building another large clan.

It is believed that ODB has fathered as many as 13 children — a number he has refused to confirm, because, as he explains, the women around him might hear. "I'm not being accurate right now because there's too many things running around here as we speak," he says, as he waits for the court to go into session.

"I love the munchkins," he continues a minute later. "I love the children. In reality, I love everybody, but the people that don't love me, I guess I maybe don't."

Even some who don't know ODB well say that his troublemaker image has tainted the public's impressions of the rapper.

"I think he's been a victim of circumstance," says No Limit rapper Silkk the Shocker, who has hung out with ODB on a few occasions. "I don't think he's had a fair shake at society, he's always at the wrong end of the stick, but he's a cool person — not at all like they say he is."

These days, Dirty says he's focused on his plans to sue New York

authorities over his arrest last month — and is looking forward to

wrapping up his forthcoming album, Nigga Please,

(formerly titled God Made Dirt and the Dirt Don't Hurt.) It is

the follow-up to his 1995 debut, Return to the 36 Chambers: The

Dirty Version, which produced such hits as "Brooklyn Zoo" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Having recruited such hot producers as RZA and Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean, ODB describes the sound of the album as "more hip-hop" than its predecessor and "more crazy ... in respect to myself, in respect to African people."

True to his reputation for making his own rules, ODB says he's determined to steer hip-hop in a new direction with Nigga Please.

In the meanwhile, outside the courtroom this day, he's busy looking at women, muttering to himself and just being ODB.

"I'm going my own way," he says. "I'm the direction. I'm gonna make hip-hop what it is."