Q&A: Rapper GZA discusses science, generational differences in rap and his role with the new Wu-Tang Clan album

Chris Duncan

Rapper GZA, also known as the The Genius, visited UT on Thursday to discuss the role of science in his music and using hip-hop to educate. Since the beginning of his professional career almost 30 years ago, he’s helped found the New York rap group Wu-Tang Clan as well as start his own successful solo career. The Daily Texan sat down with him for a Q&A.

DT: The theme of your talk today is the juxtaposition of science and music. What is it about science that intrigues you?
GZA: Everything. Science is a way of understanding yourself and your surroundings. The universe is such an interesting place and everything that’s in it, from the microscopic world of the atom to the galaxies. Different forms of science are interesting — it’s a way of knowing.

DT: Was science an interest of yours at a young age?
GZA: I didn’t want to become a scientist, although we all are by nature. That was never in my mind, but I’m a science enthusiast, and it’s just interesting. Everything, as far as matter, has its own background, book or code. But growing up as a child, you ask many different questions. I was told by my uncle that I asked too many questions, but that’s what children do. You question who we are, where we come from, what is this, why are we here. Those questions lead to science.

DT: Throughout your releases, there’s been a specific scientific theme in all of your albums. Is there a specific theme in your upcoming album,
Dark Matter?

GZA: It’s mostly physics. But, as I said, I can pull from anywhere. I incorporate sports a lot, and I’m not even a sports person. I could pull from cooking if I wanted to — it’s just my way of writing. Nowadays, artists are so used to being literal about things — they just let you know they’re in the car or that the car is $300,000. It’s almost like Twitter or Facebook; people just let you know everything they’re doing throughout their
whole day.

DT: You’re notorious for having a large vocabulary. Is that a result of all of these influences?
GZA: I never really saw myself as having a large vocabulary. But then again I never went around counting the words. Rakim once had a rhyme when he said “Creator the alphabet, let’s communicate / When I translate, the situation’s straight / No dictionary’s necessary to use / Big words do nothing but confuse and lose.” So it’s not really about the words. But then again, it may be because it’s good to learn different words, so you can extend what you’re writing about. That way you can construct something well. It’s not the words but how you construct those words.

DT: There’s a ton of stuff in your life that goes into your music — chess, the five percenter teachings, samurai films and more. Do you think there’s anyone else in rap right now that’s doing something similar, pulling from so many areas for their music?

GZA: So many artists get inspired by the things around them, and I’m sure some of them are pulling from all sources of information to be inspired by. Rappers have been doing it for years though. Back in the day, if you ran into an emcee, and he was quite good, and he was pulling from everything. That’s what an emcee does, he doesn’t just rhyme about cars or clubs or clothes or girls or partying. He mixes it up with a little bit of everything, and he also tries to teach and educate while he’s entertaining.

DT: How much influence did you have on Wu-Tang’s most recent album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and what do you think about Martin Shkreli buying the only copy of the album?

GZA: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you much about it. I haven’t heard the album. I did work for it, but I haven’t heard it, so I don’t know what songs I’m on. Whether or not [Shkreli] releases the album is up to him, that’s his decision. I know he has his other issues with the whole pharmaceutical thing, but because of that, should he give it for free? It really doesn’t have anything to do with the pharmaceuticals, as far as the music, so that’s on him. I haven’t heard it, and I’m not stressing hearing it right now.