It's the anniversary of his death and Wu-Tang's chief clown might have been madder than sack of leathered Tasmanian Devils, but he could MC with the best of them...
Eight years ago to the day, an integral member of one of the most influential rap collectives of all time, one of life’s genuine lunatics and a rapper who could flow with the best of them, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, died of a drug overdose in his recording studio, aged 35. Here’s an appreciation of the man who owned every song he rapped on.
ODB’s official biog reads as follows :
“Born Russell Tyrone Jones, on November 15, 1968, he was a founding member of the influential American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. The Wu-Tang Clan was formed in the early 1990s at Staten Island, New York, by ODB and two cousins, Gary Grice (GZA or The Genius) and Robert Diggs (RZA). All shared an interest in Oriental martial arts, and claimed to adhere to Shaolin philosophy, twin influences evident on their debut LP, Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers), released in 1993. Its pared-down sound and RZA’s use of samples from 1970s kung-fu films provided an appealing contrast with the then-dominant lusher West Coast beats pioneered by Dr Dre. Meanwhile, its theological underpinning, in which Staten Island was reborn as a Shaolin temple (“36 Chambers” refers to the body’s nodes of power as delineated in Shaolin teaching), certainly added novelty value. The album’s success and that of its follow-up, Wu-Tang Forever (1997), which entered the American charts at No 1, duly allowed the group’s personnel to embark on solo projects. Those of ODB, notably Return to the 36 Chambers (1995) and Nigga Please (1999), sold reasonably well and yielded several hit singles such as Got Your Money (1999), which featured Kelis.”
All well and good but, quite frankly, it doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Wu Tang was ostensibly about kung fu, shaolin philosophy and black consciousness. Dirty must have missed that particular memo as his muse tended more towards matters of a carnal and / or scatological nature. Whilst RZA would be waxing philosophically about being “the original man, the Asiatic black man, the maker” ODB would be in another studio scatting, probably literally, about defecating on someone’s lawn. Take the lyrics for his imaginatively titled “Dog Shit”. “…Here comes Rover sniffing at your ass, pardon me bitch as I shit on your grass, that means bitch, you been shitted on, I’m not the first dog that shitted on your lawn” he spits before throwing in a curt “this is dedicated to all y’ll bitches” & finishing with a spirited “fuck y’all”. By his standards, these were relatively straight forward. Lord only knows what was going on in his crack addled mind with “Please Nigga” but its jaunty refrain of “I kill all the government microchips in my body, I’m that paranoid nigga, at ya party, I kill all my enemies at birth, SHUT THE FUCK UP, bitch and let me stick my hands up your skirt” suggest he may not have been entirely copos mentis at the time.
However, he was about far more than just the lyrics. Imagine Shaun Ryder in the most outrageous Blaxploitation movie you ever saw? Not even in the same postcode. He changed his name more often than his underwear and counted Dirt McGirt, The BeBop Specialist, Big Baby Jesus, Super Bastard, Freeloading Rusty and Peanut the Kidnapper amongst his better monikers. When quizzed on his most well known, Dirt McGirt, he said it “….comes from Dirt McGirt Island. It’s a place that’s right off the block from the next island off of Batman Island. I can’t let you know exactly where it is––it’s a secret, you know.” He’d probably have elaborated but “Wonder Woman told me not to say nothing….” Despite being riddled with the clap many times – a fact he wasn’t shy of boasting about lyrically – he managed to father 12 or 13 kids (estimates vary) with different women. Those were just the ones he acknowledged. He thought nothing of taking a shit in a pint pot in front of a group of models then carrying on as if nothing had happened or asking Vice President of Elektra records Beth Jacobson to watch him get a blow job from a hooker.
Spike Lee created a TV programme where he offered $25,000 to any contestant who could manage to stay within 10 feet of him for a full 5 days. No one managed it. Whilst being filmed for an MTV documentary, he took the cameras with him as he and 5 of his kids picked up food vouchers from the welfare. In a limousine. Using the same food stamps card he was later to put on the cover of “36 Chambers”. He declared that Manhattan should be returned to him as he was a descendent of American Indians and his piece de resistance probably came at the 1998 Grammy Awards where, after Wu Tang lost out to P Diddy, he hijacked the stage in a Cockeresque manner whilst Shawn Colvin was receiving her award. He proceeded to tell the audience Wu Tang were more deserving than the Puffmeister partly because they were “for the children” but primarily, one suspects, because he’d “spent a lot of money on new clothes ‘cause I was sure Wu tang were gonna win”.
Amazingly, he was sadly no stranger to the American judicial system. He’d already been convicted of assault and survived being shot by a fellow rapper when, in 1997, he was arrested for failing to pay child support to his wife and convicted of threatening her. The following year, soon after being ejected from a Berlin hotel for sunbathing in the nude, he was again shot whilst carrying out a burglary. The year after, it was his turn to do the shooting, this time at the NYC police dept. Arrests soon followed on an almost weekly basis. Shoplifting, missing court appearances, threats against his wife, illegally wearing body armour in Los Angeles. Run of the mill stuff really. When the police stopped him in an unlicensed car and found him in possession of 3 crack vials, 20 bags of coke & a bag of weed he, perhaps a touch misguidedly, asked the cops to “make the drugs disappear” because “the kids look up to me!!!” This landed him before a judge, whom he did not impress by making lewd suggestions to the female District Attorney – asking her “Do you find me horny?” - yelling out “sperm donor” then falling asleep in the dock.
In 2000, after several attempts of his own to kick his habit, he was compulsorily incarcerated in a drug rehabilitation clinic. He soon broke out and while on the run appeared in New York at the public launch of the new Wu-Tang LP, sidling up to the mic and whispering “Don’t tell no one I’m here’. Given there was a $100,000 bounty on him at the time he lasted about 2 mins before the stage was stormed. He was finally apprehended in the car park of a McDonald’s in Philadelphia, the police’s attention having been drawn by the size of a crowd of fans for whom he was signing albums. ODB was subsequently given a prison sentence and was released in 2003 to work with Damon Dash at Roc-a-Fella Records.
He died 2 days before his 36th birthday on November 13th 2004 of a drugs overdose.
Keeping it real? They’re not even fit to rinse his crack pipe.