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RZA 2009 (cropped).jpg
RZA in 2009
Background information
Birth name Robert Fitzgerald Diggs
Also known as Prince Rakeem, Bobby Digital, The RZArector, Abbot
Born (1969-07-05) July 5, 1969 (age 50)
Brooklyn, New York
Origin Staten Island, New York
Genres Hip hop
Occupation(s) Musician, rapper, record producer, actor, filmmaker, author
Instruments Rapping, keyboards, zither, sampler
Years active 1989–present
Labels Soul Temple Records, Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records
/Razor Sharp/Epic/SME Records
Virgin/EMI Records
Koch Records
Gee Street/V2/BMG Records
Sanctuary/BMG Records
Associated acts Wu-Tang Clan, Gravediggaz, Easy Mo Bee, John Frusciante, James Blake
Notable instruments
E-mu SP-1200
Roland MC-909
Roland MV-8000
Roland MV-8800
Ensoniq-16 plus
Akai MPC2000

Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (born July 5, 1969), better known by his stage name RZA (/ˈrɪzə/ RIZ), is an American rapper, music producer, multi-instrumentalist, author, actor, composer, and filmmaker. A prominent figure in hip hop, RZA is the de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan.[1] He has produced almost all of Wu-Tang Clan's albums as well as many Wu-Tang solo and affiliate projects. He is a cousin of the late group-mate, Ol' Dirty Bastard and GZA (who also formed the group with RZA). He has also released solo albums under the alter-ego Bobby Digital, along with executive producing credits for side projects.

In addition to the Wu-Tang Clan and his solo releases, RZA was also a founding member of the horrorcore Hip Hop group Gravediggaz where he used the name The RZArector. Furthermore, he has acted in several movies, including Coffee and Cigarettes, American Gangster, Gospel Hill, Life Is Hot in Cracktown, Ghost Dog, Funny People, Derailed, Due Date and Repo Men. He also appeared in the Showtime TV series Californication. His directorial debut is for the film he co-wrote and in which he plays the title role, The Man with the Iron Fists, also starring Russell Crowe. On November 1, 2012, he introduced the movie at a preview screening in the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, the evening before the Universal picture opened nationwide.

The magazine The Source placed him on its list of the 20 greatest producers in the magazine's twenty-year history.[2] He also made the "Elite 8" in the search for The Greatest Hip-Hop Producer of All Time by Vibe.[3] NME placed him on their list of the 50 Greatest Producers Ever.[4]

Early life

RZA was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He lived in North Carolina with his uncle from age three to seven, who encouraged him to read and study.[5] RZA was introduced to hip hop music at the age of nine, and by eleven, was competing in rap battles. He relocated to Steubenville, Ohio in 1990, to live with his mother. He spent weekends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father ran a convenience store in the city's Hill District.[6]

RZA got involved with petty crime and drug-dealing, and was charged with attempted murder while in Steubenville. He was acquitted of the charge, giving him what he stated was a "second chance".[7] He is named after Robert Kennedy and John Fitzgerald Kennedy.[8] His mother greatly admired the Kennedys, the RZA has called his given name an "honorable" name, given the legacy of both brothers Robert and John.

Music career

1991: Before Wu-Tang

Robert Diggs formed a rap group with his cousins Russell Jones and Gary Grice called All in Together Now. They enjoyed local success but never signed a record deal.[9] Diggs later debuted on Tommy Boy Records in 1991 as a solo artist under the name Prince Rakeem and released the Ooh I Love You Rakeem EP.

After a shoot-out in Ohio in 1992, he faced eight years in jail. "When they said 'not guilty', my face stuck in a smile for three days," he recalled. "I was just walking around town, thinking about my daughter and my wife. Right then I said goodbye to anything that would put me in that situation again. I was up on trial on an attempted murder charge. I was a motherfucking fool, with all that knowledge in my head and ending up there."[10]

Diggs formed a new group with his cousins and five other childhood friends. This group would be named Wu-Tang Clan, releasing their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers in 1993.[11] RZA operated as Wu-Tang Clan's de facto leader, producing and rapping on the group's songs.

1994–1996: Gravediggaz and Wu-Tang solo projects: Round one

As each of the group's members embarked on solo careers, RZA continued to produce nearly everything Wu-Tang released during the period 1994–1996, producing in both the hip-hop producer sense (composing and arranging the instrumental tracks) and in the wider music producer sense (overseeing and directing the creative process as well as devising song concepts and structure in addition to being responsible for a recording's final sound). RZA's rule over the Clan at this time is described in 2004's Wu-Tang Manual book as "a dictatorship". Yet he still released a hit single of his own, in the form of Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance. The song was featured on the High School High soundtrack, and was then released to coincide with the Wu-Tang clothing brand. It peaked at #60 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #6 on the Hot Rap Singles chart.[12]

When it came time for the Gravediggaz, Prince Paul was thinking about putting a group together. He wanted to get some good MCs. Poetic was another dope MC who was underrated out in Long Island. He had one single out on Tommy Boy that didn't take off, but he was a dope MC. As the Grym Reaper, you know how many dope lyrics he dropped. Frukwan, one of the top lyricists out of Stetsasonic. He and Paul were friends already. He told him about me. He said, "I know this one guy who is super-dope."

At the same time, I was also trying to do Wu-Tang. I was trying to start my own company and stuff, so when Paul called me up and invited me to his crib in Long Island and told me his idea for forming this group, I thought it would be an honor to be in a group with him. But I told him, "I'm also producing a group, and I'm also part of a family that I'm building." He said, "Yo, that's crazy." We would talk a lot of times. [Ol' Dirty Bastard] came to his house a lot of times with me. [Method Man], too. We all would just go there and try to find ways to get out of the streets. Me, I was trying to get out of the ghetto. Paul had a lot of respect for me, so he helped me break out of it. I think he liked that I was so dark, but I didn't know I was dark.[13]

1997: Wu-Tang Forever

This had already to some extent begun on Wu-Tang Forever, which for the first time featured RZA delegating a small number of beatmaking duties to other producers in the Wu-Tang camp, such as his protégés Mathematics, True Master and 4th Disciple who are known as the original Wu-Elements, and Clan member Inspectah Deck.[14]

1998–1999: Gravediggaz and Wu-Tang solo projects: Round two

During the 1998–2000 period RZA ceased to produce every Wu-Tang solo album as he had done previously, but continued to contribute usually one or two songs on average to each record as well as receiving an Executive Producer credit.

I had to put out Bobby Digital instead of The Cure because if I didn't do that I would've suffered two things. First, I would have revealed where I was musically too soon. Wu-Tang is the perfect medium to expose anything new because I got the most people coming together to buy it. For me to expose it for my own self, I don't think that would've been a wise thing for me to do. I might've caught more people than Bobby Digital caught, but I still wouldn't catch the magnitude of what the Wu-Tang could catch. Maybe this year or next year the game may be different. The Cure is so intimate in writing that you gotta live that Cure shit. I was living like Bobby Digital in '98, '99 na'mean? So if I put "The Cure" out, then I wouldn't even be able to get on stage and perform it for ya'll cause I'd be lying."

2001–2004: Post The W solo projects

In 1999 the RZA moved into composing film scores. His first work, Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), earned praise; he also had a brief cameo in the film itself, as a fellow samurai wearing camouflage. The experience was positive and, as he noted during an interview on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, the work with traditional musicians gave him the desire to learn how to read and write music.[15]

This is one of my biggest adventures, and one of my [best] feelings. We watched Kill Bill in Manhattan. At the premiere, that happened, but you know, that's Hollywood. But in Manhattan, a theater, just a bunch of kids coming from wherever New York, inside a movie theater and the movie's coming on. They don't even know that I'm the man with the music, and when it said, "Original Music by The RZA", we hear the audience clapping. And they didn't clap for nothing else, because the movie's just coming on. I was like, 'Wow, what the fuck is that about?' That's different. It actually might be something special. You never care who did that... Once you see who stars in the shit, you don't read "edited", you don't read all that. You be eating your popcorn and it go right by you. But, for somebody to see that and then clap, that's a different thing right there. That felt pretty pleasing.

2005–present: Solo projects: Round three

RZA at the 2007 Eurockéennes.

He has also stated that the long-delayed The Cure album will now be his final solo album, for he will end his career as MC and move on with his movie directing career.[16]

Before signing with SRC Records in 2007, RZA was flooded with offers from Bad Boy Records, Aftermath Records, Interscope and Def Jam among others for the Wu-Tang Clan super-group.[17]

In 2007, he did the score of the Japanese anime Afro Samurai starring Samuel L. Jackson. He recently and quietly released an instrumental album entitled, The RZA-Instrumental Experience, and worked with Raekwon on his highly anticipated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. Talks are on between System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian and RZA regarding a collaboration between the two artists called Achozen.[18] RZA has stated in an interview that he is involved in the project.[19]

RZA performing with Wu-Tang at the Virgin Music Festival.

"The time is right to bring some older material to the masses digitally. Our fans have been dedicated and patient, and they're hungry to hear the music that has set us apart from so many others. Hip-hop is alive in Wu Music, and with The Orchard, we've got a solid partner that understands our audience and is committed to doing all they can to help us reach the fans. I'm definitely looking forward to working with them to see what else we all come up with. There's much more to come."[20]

Music from Achozen also appears on the major motion picture, Babylon A.D., on which Achozen song "Deuces" is heard blaring at the introduction of the film. The four principal members feel that their unique sound is not only spiritual in nature, but a new genre of "heavy hip hop", not "rap-metal". Achozen's first live show was at the Key Club in LA on December 1, 2006. On Friday, November 13, 2009 the second Achozen track "Salute/Sacrifice" was released exclusively as a free download on Odadjian's online art district and networking site, Ursession from the upcoming Achozen debut album.[21] The Achozen album was anticipated to be released in mid-2010[22] but no firm release date had been scheduled by the end of 2010. In 2015, the album by Achozen was released in a boombox version of 8 songs with potentially more to come.

He has also confirmed that he will be solely producing Liquid Swords II with GZA, which was tentatively due in Fall 2010,[23] but the status of the album has not been updated since the release date passed. RZA also worked with Kanye West on the latter's fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,[24] as well as Watch The Throne by Kanye and Jay-Z.

In a recent interview discussing the producer's new line of headphones, RZA revealed that he recently decided to clean out his beat machines of instrumentals he made for the Wu-Tang Clan that were never used; as a result, he has so far given away ten beats each to Nas, Busta Rhymes and Talib Kweli, as well as 20 beats for Kanye West, including the two that were used on the artist's most recent two albums.[25] Since early 2011, RZA has been producing UK artist Josh Osho's debut album.

RZA also contributed vocals to three songs on John Frusciante's 2012 EP Letur-Lefr and in 2013 he contributed vocals to one song on Kid Cudi's 2013 album Indicud. In August 2012 RZA founded a new record label Soul Temple Records with a distribution deal from RED Distribution. On September 28, 2012 he hosted a show "Equals Three" replacing Ray William Johnson. He appeared on Earl Sweatshirt's album Doris, contributing a verse on the track "Molasses". Despite artistic disagreements with Raekwon, RZA and The Wu-Tang Clan released their sixth album A Better Tomorrow in 2014.

Various Wu-recording labels

Since the early 1990s, several 'various Wu recording labels' were established. The earlier labels are believed to be dissolved. The connection that RZA had to these labels were unknown.

Other record labels were later founded in the early 2000s, and are still active in the present. Very little is known about these labels, other that the fact that RZA produces music on them. It is unknown if RZA is CEO, or has high position within these labels, considering that he was never known to have a CEO position of any recording label.


RZA's production technique, specifically the manner of chopping up and/or speeding or slowing soul samples to fit his beats, has been picked up by currently popular producers – most notably Kanye West and Just Blaze, the two main producers behind Roc-A-Fella Records. West's own take on RZA's style[26] briefly flooded the rap market with what was dubbed "chipmunk soul," the speeding of a vocal sample to where it sounded as though the singer had inhaled helium. Several producers at the time copied the style, creating other offshoots. West has admitted that his style was distinctly influenced by the RZA's production,[27]

Said by Kanye West:

Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time... We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement. From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that.[28]

In response, RZA himself has spoken quite positively of the comparisons:

All good. I got super respect for Kanye. He came up to me about a year or two ago. He gave me mad praising and blessings... For people to say Wu-Tang inspire Kanye, Kanye is one of the biggest artists in the world. That goes back to what we say: 'Wu-Tang is forever.' Kanye is going to inspire people to be like him." After hearing Kanye's work on The Blueprint, RZA claimed that a torch-passing had occurred between him and West, saying, "The shoes gotta be filled. If you ain't gonna do it, somebody else is gonna do it. That's how I feel about rap today."[29]

His Bobby Digital albums introduced tweaked-out new age elements to his sound; these have incorporated themselves more fully into his beats on newer albums such as Method Man's 4:21... The Day After.

The way I produce now is I produce more like a musician", RZA said. "In the old days, I produced more like a DJ. I didn't understand music theory at all. Now that I do understand music theory, I make my music more playable, meaning not only could you listen to it, you could get someone else to play it. Before, you couldn't even write down Wu-Tang music. I think almost 80 percent of this record can be duplicated by a band, which is important for music, because that means 10 years from now, somebody can make a whole song out of it and cover it like how I'm covering The Beatles song.[30]

In a recent 2010 radio interview with UK hip hop station Conspiracy Worldwide Radio, RZA spoke in great detail about the homemade, candid ethos of much of his classic work, including the organic creation process behind ODB's debut album.[31]

Alter egos

RZA is known for having multiple aliases, for different lyrical styles and personalities: Prince Rakeem, The Abbot, Bobby Digital, Bobby Steels, the Scientist, Prince Delight, Prince Dynamite, Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah.[32] During his time with the Gravediggaz, he went by the name the RZArector, which is for waking up the mentally dead.[33]

Film career


Originally, he was offered the role of "Brown" in The Departed (2006), but turned it down because of scheduling conflicts.[34]

He performed cameo roles in Funny People, Due Date, Gospel Hill, Ghost Dog, and Life Is Hot in Cracktown. He was also said to be attached to friend Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill project in one way or another, featuring as a solo artist on the soundtrack to Kill Bill: Volume 1 and selecting some other songs for the soundtrack. In 2010, RZA appeared in the science fiction action film Repo Men.[35]

RZA appeared in Derailed, Coffee and Cigarettes, and American Gangster.

RZA directed and played the role of the Blacksmith in The Man with the Iron Fists.

RZA appeared in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, as the character Blind Master.[36]

In 2014, RZA took on the role of Tremaine Alexander in the film Brick Mansions opposite Paul Walker and David Belle. Brick Mansions is a remake of the film District 13 (French title, Banlieue 13).

RZA played the role of Samurai Apocalypse in the television series "Californication" in 9 episodes.[37]

RZA played "Mr. L.C.", the main antagonist, in the martial arts film Tom Yum Goong 2.


RZA at The New Yorker in 2005

I made my albums like movies, you know what I mean? I wanted people to be able to listen to a movie in their car while they was driving. "I want to start off making movies where people will know they're at a movie. Like my man Tarantino, he did that movie Pulp Fiction – classic movie, man. Every time it comes on TV or cable, I have to stop and watch it. And it's based on nothing, really. There's only a few people out there that are able to do that, where it comes from nothing but the vision and imagination of the artist.[38]

In the late 90's RZA began production of a feature-length film based on "Bobby Digital", an alias he used on various albums. Though the film was never completed, he continued shooting music videos for his side projects and solo tracks.

RZA directed his first feature film, The Man with the Iron Fists, in 2011, from a script he wrote the previous year. Directors Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth were involved in production, writing, and casting according to several movie Web sites.[39][39][40][41] The film was released in fall 2012. Eli Roth said:

This movie will have everything martial arts fans could want, combined with RZA's superb musical talent. This project has been his dream for years, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. And fans should know that yes, there will be blood... This ain't no PG-13.[40][41]

Personal life

RZA is a Five Percenter and is usually seen wearing the 5% nations flag necklace around his neck. He is commonly seen and heard dealing with 5% culture (which include the Supreme Mathematics and the Supreme Alphabet). He also has taken on various aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity as stated in his book The Wu-Tang Manual which he talks about thoroughly in The Tao of Wu to expand his spiritual growth. He has described Qur'an, The Bible, and Lotus Sutra as three of his favorite books, stating that each contains enlightenment. His hobbies include watching martial arts films, and he is considered an "encyclopedia of martial arts films", owing to his knowledge of the genre.[41] His favorite movies include Five Deadly Venoms,[42] The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,[42] Ninja Scroll,[43] Fist of the North Star.[43] His second well-known hobby is chess, and he is a Director of Development and champion of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation.[44][45][46]

On children and domestic problems, RZA said:

I got children of my own, you know what I mean? Domestic problems at home. If you start coming home at night from helping all your fans and people and then you've got problems at the house, that will kill any man's spirit. Say you're Bobby Digital, you're RZA, and your girl fornicates on you—you feel like shit. 'Who the fuck? How the fuck?' And say it's some nigga who sells weed—'I'm a millionaire and you're fucking with a regular motherfucker?' That takes a lot from your spirit. That slowed me down, and then the passing of my mother—the two big blows of the year 2000. It really kept me back a few years—I had to go and find myself again. I never told anybody that. You got an exclusive on that one! And I think that's enough right there.[47]

RZA is vegan[48] and has promoted the vegan lifestyle on behalf of PETA.[49] "I tell you one thing I did used to like: the fish and chips," he said in 1997. "But I stopped eating fish this year. One day I just felt the death in it."[50]

RZA has been a resident of Millstone Township, New Jersey.[51]


In 2000, he made an appearance in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. In 1999 he shot a self-financed film on his "Bobby Digital" persona. In the late '90s and early '00s, he began shooting his own music videos, including "Tragedy" and "Chi Kung". He had a cameo in the film Due Date. He also played the role of Det. Moses Jones in the film American Gangster in 2007. Eventually, in 2012, he released his feature debut, The Man with the Iron Fists.

Year Film Role Notes
1999 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Samurai in Camouflage
2003 Coffee and Cigarettes RZA
2005 Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure Stake Video game voice over
2005 Derailed Winston Boyko
2007 American Gangster Moses Jones
2007 The Box Duece
2008 Gospel Hill Lonnie
2009 Afro Samurai: Resurrection DJ Voice over
2009 Funny People Chuck
2009 Life Is Hot in Cracktown Samy
2010 Repo Men T-Bone
2010 Due Date Airline Screening Marshall
2011 A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas Lamar
2012 Californication Samurai Apocalypse TV series (nine episodes)
2012 The Man with the Iron Fists Blacksmith Lead actor, director, and co-writer
2013 G.I. Joe: Retaliation Blind Master
2013 Tom Yum Goong 2 Mr. LC The Protector 2
2014 Brick Mansions Tremaine Alexander
2014 Gang Related DEA Agent Cassius Green TV series
2015 The Man with the Iron Fists 2 Blacksmith Lead actor and co-writer
2015 Mr. Right Steven
2016 Coco Director




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External links