The Wu-Tang Clan member caught up with Boardroom about his role as music director for the Hulu series, Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
You can’t have a conversation about hip-hop, especially in its birthplace of New York City, without bringing up Wu-Tang Clan. Since its 1992 foundation, Wu-Tang Clan introduced industry veterans RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa, and later Cappadonna. The hip-hop scene is forever grateful. Fast-forward from the debut of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and the iconic hip-hop collective is taking their narrative into their own hands with their cult-favorite hit Hulu original series, Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
“I’m excited to share this season with the world and continuing the saga. I’m really excited,” The RZA told Boardroom via Zoom about the final season of the show, which originally debuted in 2019 starring Shameik Moore, Zolee Griggs, TJ Atoms, and New York-bred rapper Dave East. While he noted that fans raved about the success of the first two seasons, with actor Ashton Sanders portraying young Bobby Diggs on-screen, the rapper is excited to see how the next season will be received.
“I think that we really mastered the craft and this season is the best one to date. It’s so much fun and so unpredictable — unpredictably entertaining.”
Ahead of the third and final season premiere of An American Saga, Boardroom caught up with The RZA to discuss how Wu-Tang Clan’s legacy will continue through the Hulu original series, his experience stepping behind-the-scenes as the series’ music composer, and what piece of advice he would give to his younger self about navigating the entertainment industry as a rapper.
D’Shonda Brown: What do you hope that the audience will learn about you and Wu-Tang during the third season?
The RZA: I hope when the audience watches our show that they of course learn about us and learn about our history and our legacy, but I hope they also see the parts of us that resonate with them. It’s called An American Saga, and growing up in America and thriving for the American dream is something that we all do no matter what field we in, right? I think Wu-Tang Clan is a great example of that. I don’t care if you was on a hockey team, a basketball team, or working as a team at Starbucks — it’s a collaboration. It’s people and how do you navigate each other’s personality, success and non-success.
DB: I want you to take me back to before the series even aired on Hulu. How did you go about pitching and creating the series, and how did you land at Hulu?
RZA: Me and my partner [screenwriter] Alex Tse, the first thing we did was meet with Imagine [Entertainment]. Brian Grazer‘s partner, Ron Howard had option in my book, and we was looking for writers. I’ve met a few writers [and] they were good, but it just wasn’t this gel. When I met Alex, we gelled and we also came to the realization of, Let’s write it together. Let’s take my talent and what I know his talent [is] and what he knows, and let’s merge it. We did that even before we had a deal and by us doing that, we’ve created something almost like we made our demo tape all under the umbrella of Imagine Studio. Once we went back to Imagine and showed them what we had and told ’em what we had, they was like, Okay, let’s take it out to the industry.
We went [to] a few places, but Hulu [is] definitely a beautiful big platform and, for me, the unpredictable place for it. When we got to the building, the Hulu [sign] had those two U’s in it. I was like, Yo, one of those U is for the Wu-Tang. One of those belongs to us. I’m glad the executives over there appreciated the pitch and gave us the opportunity to tell this story with them.
DB: How would you say that your passion for music translates into your appreciation and love for film and television?
RZA: Hand-in-hand. We always try to tell stories and paint pictures with our words. Now we are able to paint pictures that put words back into your head. They say a picture is a thousand words, so it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to do both and to evolve, to understand how to translate it. To me, it’s very synergetically seamless.
DB: What is the significance of the music selection in the third season, and how hands-on are you when it comes to the music programming and direction for this season specifically?
RZA: I wear a lot of hats. I’m the composer of the show, so I get to write the music. We had a great music supervisor with us this season. My buddy Adrian Miller, who actually started as Anderson .Paak’s manager.
This season, we wanted to move up a little bit in time. When you think about the music scene, Brandy’s on the music scene, 112 is on the music scene, hip-hop is is on the scene, but R&B is on the scene as well. We brought in Adrian to help navigate and find selections that’ll match the opposite pole of the hip-hop vibe, which I had total control of. As far as on the composing side, I’m excited to say to you that we actually looked at the Wu-Tang catalog and found the way to reinterpret it like no other season. There’s a couple of episodes this season where there’s some of the best reinterpretations of Wu-Tang to date and I’m so happy to share that with the fans and the audience in particular.
DB: How does it feel to go from being talent to being somebody in the composer’s chair, behind the scenes, and really having a hand in how your narrative is being told?
RZA: Of course it’s an honor and a privilege, but it’s also something that I felt that I realized was a necessity early on. When you watch season one, you see me as a young man trying to get into the industry and actually being puppeteered and allowing myself to be puppeteered; and I will say it’s okay to be puppeteered. A lot of our biggest heroes and biggest stars don’t write their own songs. They sing them, they don’t write ’em, they don’t produce them, and we love ’em, so there’s nothing wrong with that.
For what my energy was bringing to the world, it had to be for me; it was something that had to be naturally grown and brought out of me. I was able to do it, of course, when I helped create the Wu-Tang Clan and help produce all those songs and sounds. I realized that with whatever I do, that is something healthy about me putting my DNA in it; it’s a little something like seasoning salt. Some of that hot sauce in your bag.
DB: What elements of Wu-Tang would you say were the most essential to the creation of the series?
RZA: Well, it’s called Wu-Tang: An American Saga. When you look at these individuals [of] the Wu-Tang Clan, we all going through this American experience, chasing the American dream, trying to save our families, but yet also when you look at America, America is a diverse nation of many cultures. That’s why you watch our show. You see my mother worked with the Italian Mafia man; you see the infusion of our Asian heroes like Bruce Lee and the artists [of] the kung-fu films; you see our Latin brothers’ presence in New York City. New York City’s a melting pot in America, but even America itself as a whole is that. That’s the joy of the show is that it’s an American saga. It’s an American story and it is an unlikely success story, but even when things are unlikely, there’s a chance and we are living proof.
DB: How would you describe the bittersweet feeling of the final season? What is on the horizon for you that you can share?
RZA: Look, this season, this series has been one of the most challenging jobs that I ever took and that I endeavored on. What a journey I’ve been on; I put five to seven years of my life to this. There’s definitely some moment of closure, like, Okay, I did that. It’s scary to talk about yourself too. I just wanna let you know that it’s cool, but it’s scary. First of all, I’m thankful that we’ve captured 30 hours of TV and I’m looking to bring another form of entertainment with my DNA in it that hopefully doesn’t have to totally rely on my personal experiences like that.
DB: If you could give your younger self advice about navigating the industry, what would you tell him?
RZA: Try your best to stay pure and true to yourself.
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