|© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2002-12-15
A heavy snow is still falling on GZA’s city when he calls. It’s New York City’s first snow of the season, and in the outer boroughs layer after layer is piling up. Make no mistake, New York is GZA’s city. Even though the rapper—sometimes referred to as the Grandfather—has jumped ship to live in Jersey City on the other side of the Hudson, NYC flows through his rhymes in the same way his style permeates the East Coast sound.
On “Legend of the Liquid Sword,” GZA’s new album and his first major project since Wu-Tang Clan’s “Iron Flag” in 2001 and first solo release since 1999’s “Beneath the Surface,” the one they call The Genius sets the stage immediately, on the track is called “Intro.”
In 1977, GZA (say “Jizza”) was 11 years old. He’d recently moved to Staten Island and he and his cousin Prince Rakeem (now known as RZA), began traveling throughout the city.
Those adventures laid the seeds for the formidable hip-hop collective, Wu-Tang Clan, that GZA/Genius (born Gary Grice) and another cousin, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Jones), would start 15 years later. But more than that, they exposed the young rapper to a culture that was about to explode.
When he was young, GZA says, life was pretty typical. He played stickball, tag—all kinds of games. “Doing what the average child does at that age,” he says, “but I [also] started to rhyme around that time.”
It’s this history that is played out in the first two tracks of “Legend of the Liquid Sword,” the title of which is taken from a 10-year-old kung-fu flick. The film is also sometimes referred to as “Liquid Sword,” which was the obvious inspiration for GZA’s highly influential 1995 solo effort, “Liquid Swords.” Although it was actually his second solo release, it was the first that caught fire. Wu-Tang had blown up with its debut, “Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers,” a couple years earlier, and “Liquid Swords” was one of a couple of touted projects by Wu-Tang members. It’s still held up as one of the best of the ’90s—a fact not lost on GZA in recording “Legend.”
“It’s like a fighter watching his tapes and his old fights,” he says. “He’s flashing back and he’s looking on what he can do and how he can advance.”
He didn’t have that opportunity with “Beneath the Surface,” a record he says was “banging” but rushed. Unlike the first “Liquid Swords,” “Beneath” didn’t have a theme to it, which is at least part of the reasoning behind “Legend.” Yeah, the movie “Liquid Sword” is fly, GZA says, and a lyrically sharp tongue is like a sword—an image that inspired the 1995 album. But GZA’s compelling rhymes and menacing tone on his latest album is no retread of ground already covered. The young voice that opens “Legend”—and the youth on the album’s artwork—is the rapper’s 11-year-old son. “That’s why it’s the legend; because it’s [my son] on the album cover, he’s looking in the book at the history and it’s illuminating his face,” he says.
Outside, the snow continues to pile, the drifts growing thicker like one of The Genius’ rhymes. One of GZA’s many aliases, it’s not hard to understand where the pseudonym, The Genius, comes from. GZA’s rhymes are rarely what they first seem. His knack for wordplay is legendary itself, and it’s hardly smoke and mirrors.
“I take an awful lot of time to sit down and write, but I don’t take all that time to keep [listeners] puzzled,” he says. He’s not trying to hide anything or play a game, but there is room for interpretation. “To listen to something over and over and each time you listen to it you hear something different or you catch new things—then that’s being creative.”
Written by Todd Peterson for Las Vegas Weekly