When asked for his favorite books, Robert “RZA” Diggs names the Bible, the Koran and the Lotus-Sutra. Besides hip hop history, the Wu-Tang Clan’s chief-theoretician also created the soundtracks for “Ghost Dog” and “Kill Bill” – and wrote two books. In “Wu-Tang Manual” and “The Tao of Wu”, the dedicated vegan shares his views on life.
by Stephan Szillus
In his advertisement video for PeTA, RZA points out that it was as early as 1990 that New York based rapper KRS-One first stood up for crossing animals off the menu – in a song aptly named “Beef”. He adds: “There’s nothing on this planet that doesn’t want to live. I had animals as friends, they were happy to see me in their own animal way. I’m quite sure they did not want to end on my plate”.
In “The Tao of Wu”, RZA remembers his road to veganism: How he stopped consuming red meat in 1995 first, then banning fish and chicken from his plate, as well. “I felt like an idiot – I would surely be able to come up with ideas of what to eat instead of dead meat? I thought to myself ‘I live, my flesh lives. Why would I want to eat something that’s dead?’ Starting from this day, I ate to live.”
As part of the Wu-Tang Clan, a nine-men strong rap crew from Staten Island, NY, RZA got famous in the mid-90s. A conscious approach to food has been of interest to him for a long time. In Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”, RZA and his cousin Gary “GZA” Grice play themselves, trying to convince the addicted Bill Murray to quit coffee and cigarettes. Clan-brother Method Man gave up meat after years of being teased by him when on the road, says Diggs in his book.
Why would I want to eat something that’s dead?The RZA
As a music producer, RZA cherrypicks bits and pieces of already existing records to combine those samples to hip hop beats. For him, his approach to nutrition is part of a philosophy built in the same patchwork-technique typical for the hip hop culture – merged together using elements of all world religions, spiced up with a dash of streetsmarts. His books “Wu Tang Manual” (2005) and “The Tao of Wu” (2009) consist of autobiographical anecdotes, cut with biblical analogies, far-eastern myths, rap lyrics, alternative medicine, numerology and – first and foremost – the teachings of the Five Percent Nation, which tend to be slightly abstruse.
Diggs thinks of himself as taoist and since there’s no universal taoistic set of beliefs, he’s provided with more than enough opportunities to share esoteric commonplace. The wisdom he sets out to transport sounds like simple needlepoint phrases (which do, however, contain a prosaic truth always) – tipping things into a borderline-slapstick directions from time to time. One chapter for example is named „Gangsta Chi – a meditation on Art and Violence”.
The RZA’s intentions are pure, though. He says that he found peace on a special day in 1997, which is why he praises the power of meditation today. There’s a sentence in “The Tao of Wu” that sums up the way RZA sees himself perfectly: “I’m no muslim, buddhist, christian, gangster, criminal or prophet. I’m none of that and yet, in a special way, I’m all that, as well.”
RZA is 45 years old today and keeps himself busy trying to reunite the Wu-Tang Clan in between his movie projects. The last time he was successful, the clan dropped a new longplayer called “A Better Tomorrow” end of 2014. The fact that the RZA repeated the album title in his clip for PeTA over and over again had a marketing aspect for sure – but Diggs still sent a strong message. After the homophobic tendencies in hip hop were addressed thanks to artists like Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Macklemore in recent years, maybe now is the time to rethink what’s on the menu, as well.