During the weekend of May 16th-18th, I had the pleasure of attending Sha Money XL’s One Stop Shop producer conference, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Phoenix, Arizona.
I’d originally ventured to the conference under the pretense that I’d be moderating one of the variety of panel discussions, but wound up as a panelist on the management/A&R panel. Why? Your guess is probably as good as mine, but I imagine it had something to do with Sha Money wanting a 3rd party perspective up there with the A&Rs, someone to sort of balance out whatever information they might be giving. I was on the panel with Gene Nelson from Atlantic Records, Step Johnson Jr. from Interscope Records, Serge who’s an A&R with Jermaine Dupri’s publishing company, Dre McKenzie from G-Unit and a few other folks who– pardon me– I just can’t remember at the moment (my mind’s going blank in my ripe old age ha!).
The highlight of the event was having the opportunity to meet and share a few words with The Rza.
Too often in the music business, people who work in the game tend to spend their time grandstanding and not wanting to show love. I’m guilty of that myself, considering that, admittedly, I don’t have nearly as much respect for the newer acts as the older ones. I mean, I’m just not impressed by these guys. They don’t move me.
Rza moves me.
Maybe not as much as he once did, perhaps maybe not at all right now. But most of my desire to even want to make music comes from being that kid in junior high school, headphones on during the bus ride home, bumping Wu-Tang songs I taped off the radio. Wu-Tang was and still is the illest shit I’ve ever heard in music, period. At the time, I thought Rza was a grand scientist with the beats. It wasn’t until later on in my own production career, when I realized a lot of those incredible beats he was “making,” were in fact just loops he’d expertly dug up from a dusty record bin nobody else was looking in. There’s something to be said for that though. Wikipedia defines a genius as:
…an individual who successfully applies a previously unknown technique in the production of a work of art, science, or calculation, or who masters and personalizes a known technique. A genius typically possesses great intelligence or remarkable abilities in a specific subject, or shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect and/or ability, especially in the production of creative and original work, something that has never been seen or evaluated previously. Traits often associated with genius include strong individuality, imagination, uniqueness, and innovative drive.
Suffice it to say, I’ve admired his craftiness for all these years. I remember arguing with kids in high school about the first Bobby Digital album, how it was far superior to whatever Ruff Ryders material they were bumping. It was that classic backpack vs. underground war, and the late 90s was when it was in heavy bloom.
Rza and Wu-Tang, in a lot of ways, defined what I wanted my hip-hop to sound like. If it wasn’t Wu-Tang, at a certain point, I just didn’t want to hear it anymore. Their sound was so in its own lane, in its own pocket, in its own little world.
And then my own production career started. I’d been making beats since back before I had even hit double digits in age. I figured out multi-track recording techniques by simply using the microphone portion of a boom box my dad had. I would play a drum pattern out with a juice bottle, record it through the mic on a blank tape. Then I’d take that tape, play it in another boom box, while I was tapping out another pattern, and record the two sounds now playing at once back on the original boom box. *Sigh* My how far we’ve come with the technology, to the point where all I ever wanted to do back then was loop something up, and now all I want to do is figure out how to NOT loop something.
But I digress.
As I entered college in the year 2000, I got more serious about being a producer. Because my girlfriend at the time didn’t get into the same college I got into, I decided to stay local for school. Back then, I still rapped. I was actually pretty good, although I could never get over my tiny white guy voice, which always made me rather unconvincing, no matter how ill the punchlines were. I didn’t really want to rap though, I just wanted to produce. Making the music itself was more aligned with my interests back when I was a quiet 18-year old college student, who spent his free time listening to avant-garde jazz records and reading Herman Hesse novels in my spare time.
That I would go on to work with some of the guys from Wu-Tang was beyond me at the time. But lo and behold, a few years later I was cutting records with Rza’s brother, 9th Prince, of Killarmy, which at the time was one of my favorite offshoots of the Wu brand. I also produced a few songs on Shyheim’s “Greatest Story Never Told.” Raekwon spent some time in the studio I co-owned with my partner at the time, recording “Castle to Castle” with DJ Doo Wop, and I even wound up engineering a recording session for Raekwon in his house some time around 2004. I produced a song called “Shine” for U-God, and he did most of his Hillside Scramblers album in my studio as well, working with my then partner Cue. The Wu-Tang guys would come and go, one day it was Cappadonna, the next it was Inspectah Deck and so on. I have stories for days.
Still, I’d never met Rza.
People would come through to my studio, say they had tracks of his, but you could never tell what was what. I seriously doubt anyone ever came through with an authentic Rza track. I imagine most of what was labeled as Rza stuff was just a collection of tracks that someone swiped from the hard drive at the old 36 Chambers studio.
Ah yes, 36 Chambers. Which is now called something else– the name escapes me at the moment– and at last check, was being leased to Swizz Beats.
Before it became Swizz’s spot, I even put some time in over there, working on some records with various people. Still, no Rza.
When I went the Wu offices that used to be on 34th street and the west side highway (the “new” 36 Chambers) a few years ago, my close buddy, former Trackmasters A&R (read: 50 Cent’s A&R) Gello Jones and I kicked it with Rza’s other brother, Divine. We were meeting to try to come up with a mixtape marketing plan for, you guessed it, Raekwon’s OB4CL2. This was 2005!! Four years, the album is now finally set to drop. Divine even came to my 2nd studio, Lifestyle, when he was trying to buy a building from my business partner, William Martin. To hear him tell it, he wanted to buy a building, put a new studio in it, offices, and so on, raise the Wu flag, and call it a day. Never happened.
Still, hadn’t met Rza.
To go back in time just a bit, there was a brief moment where Rza and I did meet, although it wasn’t anything formal. It was backstage at the Wu concert, at Continental Airlines Arena, the day before ODB died. I remember that concert like it was yesterday because earlier that day I was staring at a computer terminal, taking the GRE exam, which would determine a lot about where I was going to head to grad school. See, I was out of college for roughly 6 months back then, and it was a trying time. I’d lost my mother about a year prior, and although I’d just received my first paid placement (on Freeway presents Ice City: Welcome to the Hood), and was beginning to write here and there for XXL, I wasn’t making much money, and was still living at home. You think post-college, and a lot of times all that is on your mind is getting out there in the world, starting your career, your life and so on. And that wasn’t really happening for me. My partner had bounced to Florida, we closed our studio, and I was back at square 1. So here I am, months in advance, trying to prep for the GRE, studying math and things that I hadn’t looked at in years (god forbid I were to take that exam again now, yikes!), pondering my future and wondering what the next was going to be.
And so I walked into that exam room, not as well-prepared as I would have liked (read: no study), and took the test. It was pouring that day. It was quite depressing actually. I didn’t think I did too well (ended up with a 1090, 6 out of 6 on the writing part though, go figure), and to blow off some steam I decided to hit up the Wu-Tang concert.
If there were any doubt in my mind as to what I was going to do with my life, Wu-Tang cleared it all up that night. All I needed to do was see a sea of heads bobbing in unison to “C.R.E.A.M.” and my mind was set.
Hip-Hop was going to pay the bills.
Backstage Rza gave me a pound real quickly, a little head nod, and kept it moving. That was it. I don’t even think at the time I could really reflect like I’m doing right now. Maybe the moment didn’t mean as much to me five years ago. I wound up in Ghostface’s little corner of the dressing area, chilling with his manager Lord Mike, Trife and the rest of the Theodore Unit dudes, who I obviously knew from cutting records with them.
We had one other moment where we briefly exchanged head nods as well, after a press junket for the H20 Hip-Hop Odyssey Film Awards, where he was also being honored. Again, no real convo though.
Fast forward to a week and a half ago, and here’s Rza on stage, being honored at the One Stop Shop. Tall and wiry, he’s wearing a shirt that says “The New Negro,” and has on his customary black-rimmed glasses. He’s on a panel with production luminaries such as Just Blaze, Hi-Tek, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, Needlez, Nottz, Don Cannon and Drumma Boy, but to me, he just sorta sticks out amongst the crowd up there. It’s like he doesn’t belong, like he’s in his own class. And that’s no disrespect to anyone else that was up there. I just feel like he fathered a lot of people’s styles. Even Pete Rock’s work, to some extent, started sounding all Wu-Tang-ish in the late 90s (“Strange Fruit” anyone?). It felt like he needed a panel of his own. A friend of mine said he had seen Rza deftly breeze through the lobby the day before, almost unidentifiable. He wasn’t seen again until this panel. Whereas everyone else was mingling with others for the whole weekend, he off on his own, maybe too cool, maybe too accomplished, maybe just too tired, to socialize.
When the panel was over, I walked up to him and said:
“I’m Gooch, the producer from Staten Island.”
His eyes lit up.
“Oh, you from the island? That’s peace.”
“Yeah, I produced a bunch of the songs on your brother 9th’s new album [“Prince of New York“], the one that just dropped on Babygrande.”
“No doubt, he told me about you. Good shit.”
“What’s been going on with you though?”
“Shit, I’m chillin.”
We took a picture, and our conversation ended.
I met Rza.
me on the A&R/Management panel