Event Review: The RZA Shares the "Wisdom of the Word"



On Thursday, April 18, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA visited Pittsburgh as part of his Wisdom of the Word Tour. The speaking engagement was held at the New Hazlett Theater, presented by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, and hosted by local poet and National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. Interviewing RZA, Hayes guided a conversation that ranged from the hip-hop artist, author, and film director’s childhood to current philosophies.


“Starting off in the projects … to me, the projects resemble jails,” RZA said of his early life in Brooklyn. “You do feel trapped there. I was the kind of kid, though, that didn’t mind getting on the bus, getting on that ferry, or getting on the train and travelling.”

It was through these excursions around New York City that RZA discovered hip-hop, which evolved into a route for him to travel the world with his partners in the Wu-Tang Clan.

“The travelling mind I would recommend for any artist,” he said. “Since those days, I was able to have success in music and travel around the world and go to different places — whether it’s Albania, the pyramids of Egypt, the coliseum or the remains of Athens. I’m travelling and I’m seeing life, and it’s really expanding my creativity.”

Although he encouraged the audience of hundreds to explore beyond their usual environment, he also acknowledged the potential gift that can grow within a smaller living space — comparing his time living on Staten Island in New York to the position of local Pittsburghers.

“What’s the benefit of being stuck on an island — or in you guys’ case a peninsula,” RZA asked. “The benefit of it is that you get to nurture something that nobody else has. Sometimes these islands and peninsulas do give you a chance to develop something great and unique, and when that develops and goes out to the world it really inspires the world.”

At times throughout the discussion, RZA read parables from his currently available book The Tao of Wu. As a follow-up to his 2005 book release, The Wu-Tang Manual, RZA talked about how the books differed. While the Wu-Tang Manual digs deep into the origins of the Wu-Tang Clan, The Tao of Wu exudes stories more reflective of the day-to-day life that RZA has led — with both the remarkable career highlights and negative decisions that have molded him into the man he is today.

The Tao of Wu means the way of the Wu, and this is just the way that I’ve travelled personally,” he explained. “I told the agent and the publisher that I wanna do a book about wisdom, I wanna do a book that’s gonna help people.”

“If you’re going somewhere in Pittsburgh, and you wanna go down to Kirkpatrick Street on Centre, you’ll find your way there. But if you’ve got a map, it’s an easier ride. And so, my book … it’s sort of a map. Because some of the things I’ve gone through, you will go through … just by being an American, you’ll come across some of these things. And maybe there’s a way to make it better for you, or just to give you a pre-warning or to let you know that you’re not the first one to go here.”

RZA expalined that he strives to give us a living example of someone who has gone through these things.

“Who is the hero of my life? It has to be me,” he said. “In the book you’ll hear me talk about all of the different people that helped me, or all of the different philosophies we come across, and we take some of these things as fact and we take some things and dismiss them as fiction. It’s each a learning part building you.”

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