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Interview with RZA Print E-mail
By Jason Handelsman   
October 9, 2007
RZAslide.jpgIn the Wu-Tang Manual Volume 1, RZA writes an entire chapter about Chess. RZA has appeared in movies (Coffee and Cigarettes, Ghost Dog) and in skits on Chappelle's Show, and has composed music for films such as Kill Bill and Afro-Samurai. RZA is increasing the attention he gives to chess, and not only on his albums. He is working with Josh Waitzkin to improve his game, and he is also one of the Hip Hop Chess Federation's most active particiapnts. On a recent Tuesday, this interview with him was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. RZA had just returned to New York from Europe, with the master copy of the new Wu-Tang album, 8 Diagrams, in his hands. RZA's assistant got on the phone at 4:10. "RZA is still talking to the lawyers. Can we push it back?" The album was born purely of creative hunger, with no label advance. The tracks were all done, but the man was still trying to broker a record deal. At 5:30 the phone rang. 

RZA : Yo, what's up?

Jason Handelsman (JH)- Thank you so much, RZA. Miami loves Wu-Tang.


JH-Our area code is 305. Three plus zero plus five ...

RZA-That eight, baby.

JH-The title of the new album is
8 Diagrams?

RZA- Yep. It is an ode to hip-hop. Hip-hop could use my services right now.

The name 8 Diagrams comes from a classic kung fu film. But I have also been studying the I Ching. It is an ancient way of predicting the future. I Ching is about change, and it contains eight diagrams. Each diagram represents the way the stars are, the way life is, the destiny of a person, the destiny of a nation, and the destiny of our planet. The ancient Chinese used it over 4000 years ago to predict and calculate harvests, good times, bad times. The right time to do this, and the right time to do that. Each diagram represents a Wu-Tang member and the position that we play.

It is time for a change in hip-hop. We look forward to ushering in a new change with this album. Nothing happens by chance or coincidence. It's actually based on experience. Everything in the universe travels in a circle. The Earth goes in the same circle every year; you understand ... there are small circles and big circles. I use the I-Ching to stay in tune with things.

There are eight points of the sun. In my lyrics I say, "I am the seven in the center of the eight-pointed sun." I see myself as the abbot, the center of Wu-Tang. The eight points are the Wu-Tang members that shine out in all directions. We are like each point of that sun.

JH-In the Wu-Tang Manual Volume 1, you discuss chess as a game and its role in the Wu-Tang philosophy. As a chess player and a Wu-Tang fan. I have always wanted to see the algebraic notations of some of your best games.

RZA-Oh! (laughter) You know what? We're gonna start doin' that. I've actually joined the Hip-Hop Chess Federation.

RZA and Josh Waitzkin. Photo Shaminder Dulai
There's a few grandmasters involved with it. Josh Waitzkin, the subject of that movie, Searching For Bobby Fischer...is a buddy of mine now. He's helping me improve my game. There is Maurice Ashley, of course. He came to the studio while we were doing the album actually and busted everybody's ass (laughter). At the same time, he actually came there to measure our strength. He thinks that some Wu-Tang members...me, GZA and Masta Killa are at tournament level now. We didn't have no real chess training, our ratings would probably be around 13...1400. Not bad though, you know?

JH- Not bad at all...The Chess Hall of Fame is in Miami.

RZA-Oh really? I didn't know that.
JH-They have the table that Bobby Fischer played Spassky on...

RZA-Whoa. I almost had the chance to meet Bobby Fischer. But, I didn't have the time though. He lives in Iceland, and we were gonna hook up. I actually chose to go to the Blue Lagoon instead (laughter). I made a bad decision after all. I just couldn't resist those women in the Blue Lagoon (laughter)... I would've liked to talk to Bobby Fischer.

So is there a Volume 2 coming out?

RZA-Yeah, Wu-Tang Manual Volume 2, the Book of Wisdom.

JH-What are some of the subjects?

RZA-Aw, man.

JH-Wu-Tang diet?

RZA-(Laughter) Nah....It is going to spread knowledge. It will be more in-depth and less autobiographical.

JH-I know you were supposed to do the soundtrack for Miami Vice...

Yeah that got cancelled.
JH-Any new film music in the future?

RZA-Yeah, definitely always on film music. The one that's out right now, Afro-Samurai....the DVD is out. You gotta definitely get yourself a copy of that. That shit is hot. I'm talking with a couple of directors about scoring for future movies, but my main focus has been on hip-hop for this year. I was in Hollywood for a minute, got into that world. I acted in some movies, scored a few movies.  But I realized that hip-hop could use my services right now. 


RZA- The 8 Diagrams also relates to chess. The 8 columns lined up, create 64 squares. That still relates to the I-Ching, which has 64 hexagrams. That same 64 deals with life itself. If you take 64, that's the year that Mathematics was brought to the surface for the Nation, you know what I mean?  64 is also...when you first have sex with a woman and you fertilize the egg it goes through the mitosis and meiosis process. It actually forms 64 cells before it becomes one embryonic cell. They just split and split and split.  So, the I-Ching, chess board, life itself....its on that eight.  Eight is the number of infinity. You know, we always say Wu-Tang is forever. Here comes that eight again. This new album definitely has a mathematical meaning to it. The energy of it is beautiful. I wanna say one thing for you to write: Wu-Tang recorded this album without one dollar being paid to any member. That's a big thing, it goes back to the first album. It means that this album was made for real. This album is made with the real Wu-Tang spirit. There hasn't been an album made like this in a while, because we always got paid up front to do our shit. We took it back to the bottom where it didn't take money for us to put our hip-hop into it. 

Portions of this article were originally published in the Miami Times. RZA wiill play on October 13 in San Francisco in the Hip Hop Chess Federation's 1st King's Invitational. The belt below is at stake!

Photo Me'ko Gaborski

For more information, check out the flyer below as well as the HHCF's myspace page.


Here is a video of a panel discussion from the Hip Hop Chess Federation's last event on May 19. It features RZA, HHCF founder Adisa Banjoko and Josh Waitzkin.