Short Convo With RZA: Talks Newfound Appreciation For Art, ‘Victory or Death’ Piece

RZA Victory or DeathIn early January, the RZA debuted a limited run of art pieces, dubbed “Victory or Death.” It was project he did in collaboration with Sway & Tech as a part of their “When Art Imitates Life (WAIL)” series.

While RZA is definitely an artist, art pieces were foreign to him up until the last year or so. After a trip to Paris, where he visited as a tourist, the super producer actually took it all in and began to form an appreciation for art. When the project with Sway & Tech presented itself, it jumped at the chance.

In this short conversation, we spoke with RZA about the limited (less than 500 were printed) “Victory or Death” art piece. He discusses some particulars — including the appearance of himself, GZA and ODB and not the other members of the WU; if he felt changes were needed; his new found appreciation for art; and possible future projects. Why is ODB and GZA the only members of the Wu featured in the Victory or Death art piece?

RZA: Two reasons. One: the pioneers of the Wu-Tang sound is RZA, GZA and Old Dirty. We started as teenagers, and we were the first foundation of the group, and everyone else was, in one way or another, students of ours. So, we brought the three masters, the three elders together for the piece. Ask the other Wu-Tang members and they’ll tell you that RZA, GZA and Old Dirty are the teachers. Ghost said “I learned from the best.” That means RZA, GZA and Old Dirty. Everybody will tell you that we are the ones who inspired them. So that’s the main reason why we said “let’s use them, that’ll be enough.” We did talk about using the whole Clan at one point because we thought it would make a great album cover, but Wu-Tang is so scattered in ideas and scattered in business right now, we didn’t wanna get a business jamboree going on. Even though I do have the rights to do it, I didn’t want to go through the headache of arguing over my own rights. What did you think of the piece once it was finished? Was there anything you would’ve changed?

RZA: No, I think it came out good. It wasn’t a predestined thing to do, so the results are the results. That’s one thing about true art. It’s something that’s spontaneous, that’s done, that you can’t change. That’s what made some of the Wu-Tang stuff so raw too. I didn’t fix a lot of sh**. You hear all the “yo’s” and the “check one twos.” I was like “Let that sh** stay.” That’s the rawness of it, the realness of it. Now with Pro Tools, we edit everything and we adlib and sh**, but my most successful work has been the spontaneous things that I’ve done. Initially, was a project like this something you ever thought about doing?

RZA: I’ve been to Paris many times in my life. I even had a villa 25 miles outside of Paris. But honestly, I had never really seen the city, paid attention to the city. It wasn’t until the spring of 2009 that I had two weeks in Paris and I went to their museums and went to the Eiffel Tower and went more like a tourist and absorbed the city, and that’s when I really appreciated Paris and the whole French culture. I also got a great appreciation for art. It’s funny how when you’re young, you don’t see the beauty in things. I remember I was in San Francisco at the Museum of Abstract Art, and I took my son and my wife there, and we were looking around, and I kind of caught the vibe of what they were doing. Two years ago or five years ago, I wouldn’t have caught it. I think as we grow and become more refined, more cultured, our tastes become stronger. We have more of an understanding of things. So, if I can inspire somebody to say “let me go over here and check this museum” and see the artistic nature of the mind, the consciousness that art derives from, and how it comes into the consciousness, I think that it’ll help people. It’s a good thing for culture.

RZA's 'Victory or Death' painting Have you done any art yourself in your spare time?

RZA: I’m an artist, so my life is art. Most of my artistic nature has been given over to my daughter, who draws something every day. She has hundreds of drawings that one day I may use for some kind of comic book line or art direction for a movie or something.

For more info on the recently released art collaboration, “Victory or Death,” visit

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