The RZA - Laying Down Afro Samurai's Beats
DVD Review: Afro Samurai: Resurrection
In 1999, RZA began his conquest of Hollywood, not as an actor but as a soundtrack artist. His first effort, the tracks for Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, earned him quick acceptance. From there he went on to work with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, David Goyer’s Blade: Trinity and Dez Vylenz’s The Mindscape of Alan Moore.
Yet there was one thing most fans didn’t know about the man born Robert Diggs. He is also a longtime fan of anime.
“Definitely!,” says the RZA, who had just finished a tour. “I have a nice collection of anime. I’ve been rockin’ anime since 1990 when I first saw Akira. From Akira, I saw 8th Man. I was getting it when it was only available on videotape. There was also the Guyver collection. That’s where I got my idea for Bobby Digital. Ninja Scrolls was one of the top ones, along with Fist of the North Star. I love animation.”
So when the creators of the series Afro Samurai approached him, he was ready to hear what they had to say.
“That was years ago,” RZA recalled. “I was approached by Gonzo’s parent company, GDH, to do the soundtrack. The first thing that got me involved was the toy. They had some sketches, the toy and plans to make a full-length animated feature. They wanted me to do the music.
“So I asked them about what kind of animation they liked. We talked a bit, and one of the things they not only were big fans of Ninja Scrolls, and it was one of my favorites. They also told me one of the directors of Ninja Scroll was going to work on Afro Samurai. That was all I needed. Man! I was in. Seriously.”
As the first five-part series became a solid hit, it was inevitable there would be a sequel. Entitled Afro Samurai: Resurrection, you better believe Gonzo got in touch with RZA for more beats. What he sent back was something much more raw, experimental, and, as with tracks like the opener “Combat,” with a ton of swagger in it.
“When we first talked about it, I thought about some of the stuff they used in those old samurai movies,” says RZA. “What I did was use their style. By that, I mean I followed what they did in their movies. For instance, in Chinese kung fu movies, when things get good, the music steps up to match it, ” and starts humming how the beats speed up and intensifies.
“In samurai movies, when the fighting starts, the music stops. There’s a lot of silence in samurai movies and concentrate on the sound effects, like the swords flying. So I used that particular style and plotted kind of half-and-half to my score. As I wrote the score, I was able to concentrate on the soundtrack. I started with the score first, then I threw in certain cues to the score. From there I added beats to it so I could make songs. Gonzo sent me the animation so I could work off of it.”
Not that he didn’t have a central concept for Resurrection. Actually, it was a two-step process.
“This is different from how I also treated series one,” says RZA. “In that one I said Afro’s father represented Soul music. Justice was Hard Rock and Afro represented Hip Hop. With this one, I went to vocalists. The talent, for me, I thought about person I knew in real life who I could tie into the music. That’s why you hear Rah Digga, a rapper, on two songs. She represents Sio. Then you hear another female singer, Thea Van Seijen, who has four or five vocal cues in the soundtrack. She represents the inner Sio. Rah Digga is all about vengeance, the violence. Yet inside she’s hurting, she longs for her family, and that’s when Thea’s voice comes in. Sly Stone represented Afro’s father.”
The reference to the legendary master of funk is important, too. As a key song referenced in the soundtrack is the Family Stone’s “Family Affair.”
“The reason why I brought that Sly song is the whole Afro series is really about family,” he said. “In the first movie, it starts with the killing of Afro’s father. To get revenge for killing his father, he then kills his own master. Because of that, his own brother Jinno is after Afro. In part two, Sio, who is Jinno’s sister and considered Afro a brother, she is after him because of all the family members he killed. So, it’s a family affair! And blood is thicker than mud.”
It should also be remembered that the RZA is a giant comic book fan, but his tastes have shifted lately. He’s now also become a huge fan of comic-based movies.
“Nowadays, I’m mainly waiting for the Wolverine movie to come out,” he enthused. “That’s a beautiful thing about our world these days. Before you had to read it and put your own sound effects to it. Today you have the second Transformers movie, you got Wolverine coming, GI Joe is coming full lip, there’s now a voice for our script out here in Hollywood. Don’t forget Watchmen as well. I heard the Wonder Woman feature is finally going. It’s going to be a lot of fun in those theaters.
“All of us that grew up in what really is a comic book generation, we keep reading them for our own imaginations, but Hollywood with the power of CGI, you can really start doing them. For me, that’s the biggest fun. The world is a better place. One day we’ll probably meet, just not in the comic book shop but in the movie theater.”
As for his next pack of projects? While he isn’t exactly being forthcoming, the RZA did leave some clues.
“I think Afro is going to rest for a little while,” said RZA. “What I’ll be doing is going in front of the cameras for a little while and then back to the boards later in the year. I always said Wu Tang would do something, and I think we did it.”
One listen to the soundtrack CD, available on RZA’s Wu Music label, and you’d have to agree with the man 100%.
VALENTINE DAY PROGRAMMING
It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without a lot of romance-themed programming. Here’s a quick rundown of a bunch of them.
Cartoon Network will double their pleasure, double our fun, with “Heart Heart Thursday” and an all-Valentines Day marathon.
• Heart Heart Thursday – Instead of their usual “Har Har Thursday” block, each episode will have an appropriately themed episode. Chowder in “Hot Date” when Sgt. Hoagie must solve a mysterious crime before it ruins his amorous evening plans. Then at 8:30 p.m. (ET, PT), Flapjack doesn’t think he is in love with Sally Syrup but hearts keep popping up all over in “Love Bugs.” The drama unfolds at 9:30 p.m. (ET, PT) on 6Teen in “Stupid over Cupid,” when a series of silly mistakes threaten to ruin everyone’s Valentine’s date night plans. It all starts at 8:00 p.m.
• Valentine’s Day itself will include a marathon called “The New Face of Hugs and Kisses.” They show just what kind of havoc the emotion can wreak. With series like Camp Lazlo, Ed Edd’n Eddy and more they have the ammo to prove it. It starts at Noon and runs until 8:00 p.m.
Nickelodeon: All the subsidiary channels have something up their sleeves. That said:
• Nickelodeon itself is doing its own mini-marathon on Saturday, February 14 It runs 2:00 p.m. through 6:00 p.m. Nick shows the original Back To the Barnyard movie from there.
• Nick Jr. is jump starting the schedule a little bit, doing their marathon on Friday, February 13. It will kick off at 9:00 a.m. with a Valentine’s themed episode of The Backyardigans and then include the likes of Ni Hao Kai-Lan. It will also introduce two new episodes of Olivia and Wow! Wow! Wubbzy.
• Noggin: is committing random acts of courtship with a broad mix of episodes from such shows as The Backyardigans, Blue’s Clues, Dora The Explorer, Franklin!, Go Diego Go!, Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch, The Wonder Pets, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Yo Gabba Gabba. The programming will start on February 14 at 6:00 a.m. and run well into the afternoon.
NEXT COLUMN: Steve Blum…for real!Related: NYCC '09: Marvel Animation Panel Clone Wars Weekly: A Traitor Among the Clones? Animated Shorts: Capturing Kirby in 'Hulk Vs.'