BEHOLD: EXCALIBUR! GZA

 

 

 

 

The GZA talks about how Liquid Swords changed
his life.

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Liquid Swords changed my life.”

 

This interview, from
September 2007, was for the now-defunct Harp magazine’s back page feature, “Reflections.” Artists were asked to discuss
an album that changed their lives; GZA was hard pressed to think of an album
other than his own that qualified.  

 

“I can’t think of
any,” he said, sounding genuinely perplexed. Inside his car, where he’d moved
because a bowling alley was no place to do a phone interview, the silence
roared. Confusion and quiet are unusual for a rapper, especially one of the
notoriously and justifiably boastful Wu-Tang Clan, and who also goes by “The
Genius.” He was really stumped. He stammers about Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, but “to say somethin’ changed my life—“

 

That’s where the
confusion ended. Suddenly, he knew exactly what to say, choosing his second
solo album, which came two days short of the two-year anniversary of Wu’s
debut. It was produced by cousin and Wu leader RZA, who worked his usual magic
with classic soul—The Dramatics, Willie Mitchell, the Bar-Kays—and occasional
oddball samples like Three Dog Night. Pretty much the entire Clan made guest
appearances: Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck,
U-God, Raekwon, Masta Killa. And it was rife with themes and imagery common to
their music—Shaolin and Samurai philosophy, comic book existentialism,
redemptive thugs—it could have borne their brand. What made it bubble up to the
top of the Wu and Wu-affiliated canon, was GZA’s lyrical ability.

 

Clever, not
uncontrived but still genuine, GZA’s lines were fierce and thoughtful,
spontaneous but well-crafted, with internal rhymes that could and couldn’t be
accidents: You know your town is
dangerous when you see the strangest/kid come home from doin’ the bid and
nothin’ changes…
Fittingly, praise was slathered on Liquid Swords and GZA was crowned Wu’s craftiest wordsmith—a nice
complement to RZA the studio rat—by the press. It was certified platinum, too,
and it remains one of hip-hop’s true classics. “It catapulted me to another
level.”

 

He first heard it
start-to-finish, “right after it was mixed and mastered” in his car, driving
home from the mastering session—on cassette because CD burning technology
wasn’t so prevalent in 1995. “I was comin’ from the city,” he recalled. “I was
lovin’ every minute of it.” It was, however, not bassin’. “I don’t really play
loud music.”

 

It wasn’t about
digging his own work. Not really.
“I imagine myself as bein’ someone
else, and hearin’ it, whether a journalist… a fan… my cousin John. Each time I
listen to it, I’m a new person.” From these imagined perspectives, and
subsequent real reactions from critics and fans, it was a triumph. GZA himself saw
it that way, too. His first solo album with Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros. “didn’t
even launch itself off the ground. It was depressing.” Making Liquid Swords was redemption. “It was
like doin’ my debut album all over again. It was a great feeling.”

 

He still listens to his music “as an outsider,” and though
he puts much emphasis on how Liquid
Swords
affected his career trajectory (“It was the beginning, I must say.
The Alpha”), it’s the fan reactions that really resonate with GZA. “To this
day, people approach me… I just ran into a dude today, in the supermarket, who
said Liquid Swords was a ‘huge
inspiration on my life.’

            “I met a
female about five years ago in Virginia at a show. One time she was drivin’
home from school. It was snowy and she had an accident. Her friend died and all
she remember was bein’ out in the snow and trying to grab her CDs. The one CD
she was able to grab before she passed out was the Liquid Swords CD. And that was [what] she brought for me to sign.”

 

Although he’s released five albums since—including Pro Tools (Think
Differently/Babygrande), which came out August 19th—GZA is still
focused on the album that started it all. The Liquid Swords Tour, on which GZA
performs Liquid Swords in its
entirety, stops in at the Paladium on Friday Salt Lake.

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