Hip-Hop Icon The RZA Authors Book On Life's Lessons
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, former Cosby kid Raven-Symone is just in her 20s, but she has already become a multimedia entertainment mogul. Now we find out what music she likes to listen to. That's a little later in the program.
But first, we hear from one of the wise old men of rap. He may have been born Robert F. Diggs of Brooklyn, New York, but the world knows him as The RZA, hip-hop's resident wise man and co-founder of the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most influential rap groups of all time.
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MARTIN: Not only is The RZA a Grammy-winning producer, he is an author, an actor, a chess fiend, the composer of film scores for movies like "Ghost Dog" and "Kill Bill."
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MARTIN: But it's actually the author part that draws The RZA to our New York studios today. He has just published his second book, called "The Tao of Wu," and it's - well, why don't we let him tell you. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. ROBERT DIGGS (Author, "The Tao of Wu"): Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: How would you describe the book, kind of a memoir, parables, book of wisdom? I mean, if you were to wander into the bookstore, where would you want them to put it?
Mr. DIGGS: I'd prefer they put it where they put the wisdom section at, because I think it definitely is a book of wisdom, and originally, that was the original working title was "The Wisdom of Wu." And we decided to called it "The Tao of Wu" because the word Tao means the way, and it's, like, the way or the path that I traveled and some of us, some of the Wu-Tang members traveled to get to where we are today, with little knowledge and precepts and parables and morals throughout the travels.
MARTIN: You traveled a number of paths. That's, I think, one of the things that people will appreciate about the book, and you're honest about all of them. Any hesitation about putting all your truth out there?
Mr. DIGGS: Yeah, definitely was some hesitation. I mean, this is not a autobiography. I mean, I could have put so much more crazy things about my life into a book, but I didn't want to do that. But even the things that's in this book, some of the things was not easy for me to express to the public, but I realized that sometimes your pain could be another man's gain in a positive way, meaning that, you know, they say, you know, anybody could learn from their own mistakes, but to learn from the mistakes of others is what a wise man would do. And I realize that experience is sometimes the best teacher. But we shouldn't all have to go through the same experiences. If I touched the stove and realize that it was hot, you shouldn't have to touch the stove. And this book is like me touching the stove first so you don't have to touch it, you know what I mean?
MARTIN: Let me just read something from the introduction, where you talk about some of the life lessons that you had to learn at a very young age. You write: Imagine you're eight years old, going to the store with 35 cents to buy a pack of Now and Laters and a bag of sunflower seeds. You get there, three teenagers choke you with an umbrella, take your 35 cents and buy cigarettes. That's the projects: Math and economics class on every block. You wonder why the jail and the courthouse are so close to the projects. When you get locked up a few years later, you learn. You learn civics, government, law and science every day.
Mr. DIGGS: That's real.
Mr. DIGGS: Yeah, sometimes, you know, I reflect on those things, and you know, like I said, it's - they're not glamorous memories. So sometimes, you know, it hits me in the heart. But like I said, if somebody else could gain some wisdom out of it and gain the lesson that I got out of it, you know, it's worth putting inside the book.
MARTIN: In the book, you lay out your seven pillars of wisdom based on seven formative events in your life, and you start off with the call, saying in every story, there's a call. Can you tell us more about that?
Mr. DIGGS: You know, I think it happens in every life, actually, not only every story, but as you go throughout the Bible, the Quran and all these wise books and even my own life, there's always a moment that you hear something that changes you. Malcolm X said, you know, he got it in prison when he heard the words of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Moses from the burning bush; the Prophet Muhammad in the cave. We get this call in your life and when you get the call, we must answer the call.
Now, I just take it to a practical modern-day thing. I'm an actor inside of movies, right? And that started from a call. Mr. Harvey Weinstein from Miramax movie called me up - RZA, I want you in my movie. You have a new career now. And I answered that call and I went, and I did his movie, and he was correct. It led to a whole new career for me. So the call comes. Be prepared to answer it.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking to The RZA of The Wu-Tang Clan and so many other lives and ventures. He's just published his second book, "The Tao of Wu."
One thing that you talk about in the book, which is also a pretty amazing episode is - I think you may have discussed before - is when you were tried and acquitted for attempted murder. But that was not your only close call with a really dangerous situation. I mean there was another incident where you talk about where you could easily have been killed in a brawl.
Mr. DIGGS: Yeah.
MARTIN: And somehow or another, it passed by you. That put me in the mind of a story that's very much in the news, about this 16-year-old boy in Chicago who was beaten to death on his way home from school a couple of weeks ago.
Mr. DIGGS: Yeah.
MARTIN: And I wonder when you look at something like that, when you look at all the things that you went through, you know, what do you think? Does it ever stop?
Mr. DIGGS: That's a tragic incident right there. And the thing of that incident that I would get out of it is, you know, the tragedy of him is one thing, but then the tragedy of the whole community is another, and he becomes now the sacrificial lamb. You know, he becomes that body nailed to that cross now because his death now brings awareness and awakens the country to what's going on every day out there, yo. That, you know, that happened to him that day but this is - you know, I got friends from Chicago. When we did the song "C.R.E.A.M" right, from Wu-Tang Clan, we had attracted kids from all over the country and we wound up having like five cool guys from Chicago, they was tough and they would come to New York with us and they would start reading books with us and things like that. Would you believe that every one of them is dead? My five friends within five years, they all were shot and killed. So this happens constantly in Chicago, Compton, and all around our country.
MARTIN: Let's see, you are a father also.
Mr. DIGGS: Yeah.
MARTIN: Do you think that when your children are the age you are now that we'll still be having this conversation? We've been having it for a long time. Do you think it's going to stop?
Mr. DIGGS: I know that - no. I do have a strong faith that it will stop because things that we didn't imagine already, you know, seeing Mr. Obama take the presidency is something that, you know, listen to hip-hop and we have songs called "Black President" or Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle got funny skits that this could never happen. But it happened in our lifetime. And so to me evil is not a natural nature. It's an alternate nature of man.
MARTIN: Well, what are you hoping people will draw from this book, and particularly, is there someone in particular you are hoping will find this book?
Mr. DIGGS: I would like the young people to find this book. I mean it's good for anybody, but definitely for young people because we are the ones that seem like we got to figure it out on our own. You know, we have to figure life out on our own when you're young. You know, me being a young man growing up in New York and dealing with sex at early age and doing drugs at early age is not really having a full childhood. It's something that deprives us of being a full man.
I look at my son, I have a 14-year-old son who's a virgin, never had a cigarette, have no desire for cigarettes. He's just a kid still, yo. He's still such a kid. He still wants a toy. He still likes Toys R Us. But, now I talk to buddy Tarantino about this, you know, about my life and my son's life, and he pointed out, he said, you know what, be proud of your son because he's having a chance to have a full childhood. But us in the hood, 12, 13-year-old, we out there sometimes trying to take care of our families - 15, 16-year-old with a baby.
I would like people to read this book and skip over some of those pitfalls that stop us from growing to our full maturity. And some people, you know, we still have a long way to go but we are now have a new plateau to measure from, a new whole way of looking at it. My three-year-old son, every time we turn the news on he goes Obama?
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Mr. DIGGS: You know what I mean? He has a new pinnacle now.
MARTIN: A black president is a fact of life for him, not a subject of a comedy routine.
Mr. DIGGS: Exactly.
MARTIN: It's the way it is. I can't let you go without asking what you think about hip-hop right now. Big debate last year, I think, was Nas with "Hip Hop Is Dead" and all this. I just feel like I have to ask, what do you think?
Mr. DIGGS: Yeah, I think hip-hop would - hip-hop would never die. I just think it needs more substance right now. The good thing about hip-hop is that more families across the country are benefiting from it, you know? It started in the East. It fed a lot of us, it fed the West Coast. Now it's feeding the brothers in the South and the Midwest, so it continues to be a great commodity for our people. But the way that it's having lack of substance, I'm disappointed and I would hope that some of the hip-hoppers out there will start adding more substance to their lyrics.
MARTIN: The RZA. His latest book is called "The Tao of Wu" and he joined us from our bureau in New York.
RZA, thank you.
Mr. DIGGS: Thank you very much, Michel.