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RZA on Chess, His New Album, and His Favorite Broccoli Recipes

Photo: Marc Morrison / Retna


The RZA returns! And talks to us! After recently launching his online chess site WuChess (and getting stomped by New York Times chess editor Dylan McClain in the process), hip-hop’s alpha nerd has revived his beloved Bobby Digital character for Digi Snacks, his weirdest and most jubilant record yet. The rapper who masterminded Wu-Tang and (arguably) out-funnied "Ghostbustin'-ass" Bill Murray in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes sat down with a super-psyched Vulture to talk chess, vegetarian cuisine, and his thoughts on Lil Wayne. Bong bong!

I’ve never played a real game of chess in my life. How quickly would you beat me?
You’ve never played in your life?! I’ll beat you in four moves, probably. A simple fuckin’ fool’s mate.

Damn. How long did it take you to develop your skills as a chess player?
Well, I’m still developing. It took me at least two and half years of fucking intense study. I was cool as a regular player coming up as a kid, but there’s a lot of fucking things about chess that I didn’t even know about until recently. They say it’s gonna take about five to seven years for me to get to where I want to be, and I’m almost three years in. But I want to get to that master level so I’ve got another five years to go, baby.

What do you say to the people who are disappointed to have to pay a subscription fee for WuChess?
They definitely shouldn’t be bummed about that. $40 a year? That ain’t shit. You pay more for a phone call. So to be part of a chess community and to know that we’re giving 20 percent of the proceeds and giving that shit to charity to help kids in communities learn chess and build up their mental powers — that’s a small price to pay. That’s not even the price of a good meal, yo.

The new album’s called Digi Snacks. What exactly is a “digi snack,” anyway?
A digi snack is something you eat to make your day feel happy.

Speaking of snacks, are you still making your famous RZA burgers?
You mean the ones with the waffles, right? Yeah I’m definitely still making those. Those are the shit.

What other vegetarian dishes are you working on?
I’ve been really big on broccoli lately, man. Nah mean? There's a couple of ways to make it. You can sauté it with butter and olive oil together. Or I like to soak it rosemary oil and then lightly fry it. Put that shit over some rice … that shit is tasty, my nigga.

So it’s been ten years since Bobby Digital. Do you feel like hip-hop needs you right now?
Really I’m just having fun right now, yo. Just put some more lyrics out there in the world, some more beats, have fun. You know, the 8 Diagrams campaign was kind of sour, so I kind of wanted to rebound against that and shit, do something else with hip-hop. Not that the album wasn’t dope; I mean that campaign itself, the participation. We didn’t go around, talk to people, do interviews. There was just a lot of shit about hip-hop that wasn’t looked out for by the group.

So Digi Snacks is just an album of having fun. I’m trying to reintroduce Bobby Digital back into the world through more than one medium. We plan on making a comic book, a feature film, a video game. So this helps to relaunch the character back to fans and get them back in the system.

Are you cool with the Wu-Tang members after all the drama surrounding 8 Diagrams?
Yeah, everything’s pretty balanced and shit.

What can you tell us about the guest appearances on the record?
I kept it to my family, meaning the brothers that’s around me a lot. We got Rugged Monk from the Black Knights. He came off jail about two years ago, and I just kept him around me. He’s a good brother. We got Thea, the girl who’s singing from out of Holland. A beautiful singer, she’s got like, an Erykah Badu–Billie Holiday voice, nah mean? She’s a clean-cut girl so she doesn’t need to be around all the vulgarity and sex that we talk about, but she came in and helped me out and had fun with it. I had John Frusciante coming in to play guitar on a couple of tracks for me. I had George Clinton and El DeBarge come in. They did a hook for my song “Up Again.” The only Wu-Tang member on the album is Inspectah Deck.

What kind of music do you listen to while you’re making records?
A little bit of everything. I listen to funk, old soul. I got an open-minded ear towards music and shit. I listen to classical, all that shit. Recently, I’m listening to the Lil Wayne album.

Some people are calling him one of the greatest of all time. Do you buy into that?
Well, from the South, you can definitely say that. Wayne is definitely one of the top five MCs to ever come out of the South. But when it comes to MCs over the years, you still got motherfuckers like Lord Finesse! And I ain’t even mention the Wu niggas yet. Nah mean? I don’t know who can burn Ghost and Rae, really. Who can fuck with the GZA? But I really did appreciate the album. I think right now, from the music I’ve been hearing, the Wayne album and Digi Snacks are the two hottest albums of the summer. —Joe Colly