Robert Fitzgerald ‘RZA’ Diggs does whatever it takes to complete an artistic endeavour. As the mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan – one of the most successful and, with nine members, one of the largest groups in the history of hip-hop – he convinced other alpha males to suppress their egos, trust in his vision and fall in line behind him.

Having been a leader and teacher in hip-hop for many years, RZA’s transition to film forced him to become a student, adapt to the collaborative process, and submit to authority as he never had before.

In the Wu, you’re known as the abbot, the teacher and the leader. In film, you had to be a student and defer to others. How do you balance those two roles?
Popa Wu [an affiliate and mentor of the group] used to always say that a good listener is a good learner… I still tell my son the same thing: there’s always someone among you who’s the best. At any given moment, you could be the student, and at any given moment, you could be the teacher…

How difficult was it to accept someone’s artistic authority over you?
Some lessons are hard lessons. When I was the composer on Kill Bill, that was the first time in music that somebody told me what I [produced] wasn’t [good enough]. Quentin was like, “Nah, Bobby. I don’t think so.” So I tried it again. Twice. “Nah, that’s not it.” I was discouraged. I didn’t know what the f--k he wanted. But I came in the next day with a little foundation that I’d started at home, and I continued building on it. Quentin’s editing room was maybe two doors down [the corridor], but he could still hear the music, and he busted in. “That’s it! Keep going in that direction!” That’s when I realised – he’s the director and he knows what he wants; I’m here to facilitate his vision. Hopefully our vision as artists is the same, but if not, I have to be willing to sacrifice my vision, because at the end of the day, it’s going to say “Directed by Quentin Tarantino” in the credits. That was one of my first lessons in submitting to authority. You have to accept the fact that it’s all about what’s best for the film, and you have to give your all to improving it.

How did your experiences as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan come into play on the set while directing Azealia Banks in your new film, Coco?
Azealia is looked at as a badass right now, but she really submitted herself to this role. She has a vulnerability that she hides, and I thought that I could get it out in the film. I think I did that. Being an artist, I know the things that make us excited. I used that philosophy. I know that we do what we do because we appreciate the attention we get for doing it. You could make all the records you want, but there is no bigger medium of appreciation than the movie. When I was working with Azealia on Coco, I said to her, “Everything you give me is money in the bank.” That’s my slang to her. “Everything you give to me, it’s just putting more money in this bank, and I’m going to make it worth something for you.” She trusted me. The talent has got to trust you.

Speaking of trust, when you were recording the secret Wu-Tang album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, neither the other members nor affiliated artists were told what they were working on. Why?
A few people have voiced opinions as if they were deceived, and I could understand that. But, on the business side, you were compensated for your time and for your work. I wish I didn’t have to do it that way, but I had to because, especially in the last 10 years, look how much information comes out [prematurely]. They destroyed 8 Diagrams before the fans even had a chance to hear it [Raekwon and Ghostface Killah were publicly critical of the Wu-Tang Clan’s 2007 album prior to its release], so when you hear it, you’re already biased. Why would I take a risk like that [again]? I’m not taking a risk like that.

Find the full article on The Red Bulletin here.

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