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RZA is still working to create a better tomorrow. Earlier this month, the Wu-Tang Clan legend teamed up with Good Humor — the brand that invented the ice cream truck — to produce a new ice cream truck jingle to replace the centuries-old anthem with a sinister past. The well-known melody, called “Turkey in the Straw,” rose to prominence in the U.S. by minstrel show performers and was set to deeply racist lyrics.
“I don’t ever want no community to feel that when [the truck] is driving through their neighborhood with an intention of bringing joy, that there’s a negative undertone,” RZA explained to REVOLT. “No, this jingle was made purely from love.”
The new jingle follows similar branding updates, as racist imagery is ridded from store shelves, sports-team names and state identities; all while protesters tirelessly demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and countless others. In 2014, the police killing of Eric Garner in RZA’s hometown of Staten Island, and the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown one month later, inspired Wu-Tang’s reunion album title track “A Better Tomorrow.”
“The crazy thing is, you would think that something like that happens and the world sees it, and it doesn’t happen again,” RZA reflected. “But, it continues to happen.”
Aside from the new jingle, RZA has stayed busy these past few quarantined-months with his several other pursuits. His new film, Cut Throat City, recently aired in select theaters and will make its digital debut this October; his Hulu series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” is gearing up for its second season; and who could forget that Verzuz battle with DJ Premier?
REVOLT caught up with the hip hop icon to talk about replacing the ice cream truck song, Black Lives Matter protests, how he’s been “peaking” creatively while stuck at home and more. Check out the dope convo below.
I learned about the origin of the ice cream truck song a little bit ago because there was an interlude about it on Royce Da 5’9”’s album The Allegory. When did you learn about its history?
It was during this summer, really a few months ago. I think it was an article that came out that talked about it. Even though I heard it on Royce’s album, I don’t think I caught it clear, you know? But, when the article came out, I was like wow, that’s crazy.
What made you want to be a part of changing it?
First of all, Good Humor reached out and they thought it’d be a great idea to give the truck drivers this option to play something in their ice cream truck that’s totally built on joy and goodwill. They reached out to me and I was excited to do it because at the end of the day, my whole strive has been for a better tomorrow. Whatever I can do to make a better tomorrow, I’m gonna do that. And for me, this was a chance for that. Things that people have done in the past – you can’t change the past. But, you can evolve and try to make tomorrow better. So, I took that principle and Good Humor was adamant as well about making a difference. I came up with this jingle that’s built on joy. It’s funny because the jingle was called – and I did this subliminally – but it’s called “It’s Good.” When I was making it, I said something like, “It’s good for me, it’s good for you; it’s good for us.” That’s what I was aiming for.
It’s so important to eradicate these racist messages that have continued to linger like we’ve seen recently with the doing away of team names and brand logos.
Look, nobody wants art to be censored. Remember with hip hop, when they wanted to put on the parental advisory sticker, and some of the senators was against it? But, hip hop was our culture, and it also holds a responsibility, but you don’t know that when you’re young. So, for me, it’s kind of a case of this: I don’t know if it was a scientist, or a home decorator, or who it was that first decided to make paint with lead in it, but many homes and many schools were painted with it. And even the person who invented it, his home was probably painted with it. And his house probably looked beautiful with pretty colors, but the lead was killing people. So, when you find out that there’s lead in the paint, what do you do? You remove it. So, a lot of people didn’t know [about the song] until it was revealed in the article. So, now that we’ve realized there’s some lead in this paint, let’s get it out. Let’s make a better version. That’s what we’re doing here. I think, if you get an opportunity to right a wrong in your lifetime, I think that’s a blessing.
This kind of comes full-circle also because hip hop has always been a vehicle for change and speaking out against injustice.
Yep, and hopefully that part of the hip hop culture continues. First of all, I’m glad that the opportunity to do this was available. It comes from – as an artist – taking the time to evolve and better myself. If I was asked to do this in my 20s, I probably would have had to look for a sample because I didn’t understand what a major scale was. But, now that I’ve studied music and read my books, now I could create it on my own and have my hip hop sensibilities.
Did the jingle just come to you in your head?
No, no, it was some trial and error. And I have my wife and son to soundboard off of. I wrote about eight different jingles and I narrowed it down to my three favorites. But, my wife said that one of them sounded kind of like a Christmas jingle (laughs).
Lots of artists say their families are their harshest critics. Is that true for you, too?
Yeah, definitely. I have a great range of family members, too, from my siblings to my wife’s family to my own sons and daughters. I’ve got an 18-year-old now who, I’m glad, she’s still vibing with me (laughs). And my 14-year-old son, as well. He actually was playing the Logic album [No Pressure] a lot for like the last eight days. It’s on rotation around the house; I’m like, OK! ‘Cause I think Logic is a nice artist of substance in the mix of a lot of artists of dance music, you know what I mean?
For sure. And this isn’t the first time you’ve tried to right a wrong through your music — I remember when Wu-Tang dropped “A Better Tomorrow” during the 2014 protests for Michael Brown and Eric Garner. What was writing and releasing that song at that time like?
The crazy thing is, you would think that something like that happens and the world sees it, and it doesn’t happen again. But, it continues to happen. For me, as an artist, I have to resonate what my heart feels: good, bad or ugly. And that was bad – Mike Brown. Just like George Floyd – it’s bad. It moves your heart. And the best way I tried to sum it up, as an artist, was to say that we need a better tomorrow. Because even if you’re having a good day, you still want a better tomorrow. So, a better tomorrow should be something to strive for around the board. That was part of naming that song and part of naming that album, and that’s something that I still stand on. I haven’t stopped feeling that way since then. And even with writing this jingle, I really meditated on positive feelings – of, it’s good. I don’t ever want no community to feel that when [the truck] is driving through their neighborhood with an intention of bringing joy, that there’s a negative undertone. No, this jingle was made purely from love.
Have you been involved in this movement through protesting or donating?
Of course. Not physically walking the streets, but I have – just to give you a little context – about 31 nieces and nephews. I come from 11 brothers and sisters. So, all my nieces and nephews are at high school and college age. We had a big family Zoom, about 40 to 50 people on this Zoom, about what to do and do we protest? All the young people wanted to go and protest. I just gave them this advice: Know what you’re protesting for and be prepared for the repercussions. We are a law-abiding family, so we abide by the law. There’s a way to make your voice be heard without breaking the law. I said, if you all are going out there with a positive intention, and you’re not gonna go out there and turn this into a festival – ‘cause sometimes when young people get together, it turns into a party – this is no party; this is serious. And if you guys are feeling [that you want to protest] I’m never gonna stop you. I’m gonna always encourage you. So, I did not have to get out there physically and do that walking. I had my children.
You had your family representing.
Yeah because that’s who’s gonna really have to face everything that we’re facing now… How old are you?
Ok, you’re 24. So, that means, in the next 25 years, you’ll get around my age. And if you’ve got a job, you’ll probably be getting toward your retirement. And you’re raising your family and becoming more settled. And the people who are my age are gonna be the ones who are running the country in most capacity. You know, sometimes we get a rare case – like Kamala [Harris], who’s only 55—or Barack [Obama]. They’re in their 50s. But, if you look at our president, our president is in his 70s. And most of the people, throughout the course of history, who are running this country are in between their 60s and 70s. So, your generation has gotta look at this like, “OK, when those 40 years pass and it’s our turn, where is this world gonna be evolved to?”
I have a lot of love for the brothers from the 1960s and ‘70s who have been saying they’re so proud to see the diversity of these protests right now – it’s everybody walking. And it’s around the world. So, that means there is a strong chance that this world can be better and you guys – by the time you reach the age of politicians – you go in with the intention of how your heart feels now. Not with the intention of what the economics could be, or how much power you’re gonna get – or you’ll start losing yourself to that. You’ve got to be a hero if you want to serve the community. So, as a young person, if you’re gonna really make a difference, you’ve got to make sure that the intention in your heart remains as pure as it is now. Anyway, that’s my spiel to a 24-year-old journalist.
That’s good advice! I know you’ve also been very involved in giving back to Staten Island schools even before COVID-19 hit. Have you continued to do that?
We’ve continued to do that through COVID[-19] because we know that when they closed the schools, and even the summer programs, some kids don’t have computers. So, the foundation that I donate to, it’s called the Children’s Literacy Society, during the COVID they took some more iPads to the Brooklyn community. We also, with my other company 36 Chambers, we did a food drive for the frontline workers. Not only here in USA; we also helped out in Ottawa and other places where the Wu-Tang – as you know, Wu-Tang tours all over the world. So, we got fans all over and we care about our fanbase community.
Earlier this year, you also joined Rick Rubin on his “Broken Record Podcast” and told him you’ve been “peaking creatively” while in quarantine. What have you been working on?
Yeah, I definitely have been! I think quarantine also helped me write this jingle. Having time with my family, too, I think that helped make the jingle have the joy that it has. And I do have a film [out] (it dropped on Aug. 21). It is the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and my film is about some young men who had a lot of aspirations and those aspirations turned to desperations. That [came] come out in theaters in cities that have them open and then it’s gonna come out digitally, I think in October. Keep your face mask and hand sanitizer. Be safe if you do go out and see it.
And you’ve also been working on the second season of “Wu-Tang: An American Saga,” right?
Yeah, but I’m giving you no spoilers for that (laughs)!
I had to ask! Final question: During your Verzuz with DJ Premier — which was legendary — you said that you have some Ol’ Dirty Bastard records that no one else has. Do you think those will ever be released?
Hopefully they will. They have the ODB estate and his widowed wife and his children, they control that, and they’ll make that decision. But, my vote is yes.
That’s the fans’ vote, too!
Yeah, thank you for that question and thank you for that interest.