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From his nursery-rhyme retelling of the Five Percent Nation's tenets ("Alphabets") to his quick-turn criticism of G-Unit ("Paper Plate"), GZA proves again and again on his latest album, Pro Tools (Babygrande), that he's hip-hop's true lyrical sniper — fast, hard, direct, without fuss or muss. Of course, if you've long been a fan of "the Genius" (as he's known to his Wu-Tang Clan brethren) and his mystical murky works, you already knew that. Before tackling Pro Tools, he's in town on his Liquid Swords tour, playing the entirety of the 1995 classic.
City Paper: Have you ever been a flashy guy, writer or otherwise? From Liquid Swords to how you cut through "Alphabets," you seem very direct and precise.
GZA: I've been MC-ing for years, and I come from an era where rapping was about being lyrical, sharp and on point. That's what it means to be the best; being able to take eight bars of something and say the same thing in four. Get brief. I may have rapped early on about flashy things. But by the time I got my deal, material things — it wasn't ever about that. Just flash with the rhymes.
CP: Pro Tools has been waiting to be birthed for a few years. Was that because you were changing it around from what it was originally — a compilation of new artists — or what?
GZA: Yeah, actually. I wanted it to be more direct. More me. As I waited to get the record finished, it went from a "GZA Presents" thing — me throwing out MCs from our camp — to me striving to make it mine. The more I'm on there, the better. And though it took three years for me to give this to the label, it took three days to record. We already wasted time; I didn't want to waste money, too.
CP: Why are people so drawn to Liquid Swords still?
GZA: I'd say the timing of the thing. You know, I don't think I was half as sharp a writer as I am now. In fact, I know I wasn't. But I think it was our moment: the narration, the skits, down to the voice RZA sampled from Shogun Assassin. From my stories to my delivery — hell, even the cover was great.
CP: In regard to Wu-Tang Clan, you being the literati, RZA a gatekeeper, ODB the savant: Were these roles discussed or was it all organic?
GZA: Most of them just evolved. Some were discussed, though. Remember the whole Wu-Tang thing was RZA's idea. He said he had a five-year plan. I never said I was the head. But between the names — me the Genius, RZA was the Scientist, what-have-you — we grew into that part and tried to live up to it.
CP: Think the Wu would have been an easier beast to tangle with if it had stayed just the three of you?
GZA: Yes, I think so. Harmony is one thing. And I'm saying you can have nine people in one group and still have harmony. But when you're dealing with all those opinions, ideas and personalities? As time went on and we all did solo albums and branched off, to get together under one umbrella like we did recently, it's hard. I'm not saying it should've been like that — just us three — but that's how it started. Still, it all turned out great, you know.
GZA with Burke, Viro the Virus and DJ Akshun Thu., Sept. 11, 9 p.m., $20-$23, the Troc, 1003 Arch St., 215-922-LIVE, thetroc.com