Digging for Dirt

November 26, 2008

It’s been four years since Old Dirty Bastard’s death, and hip hop hasn’t been the same since.  It’s so clean!  Everyone wants to be fresh!  I miss the days when rap dudes were out of their minds and DIRTY, like ODB.  He certainly wasn’t the best rapper lyrically in the Wu-Tang Clan, but his style was the craziest.  And he was quite a character too.  In a new book titled Digging for Dirt, author Jaime Lowe, a writer for such popular publications as The VIllage Voice and Sports Illustrated, uncovered the mysteries surrounding his life to find out who exactly was the man behind the myth.  A native Californian now living in Brooklyn, Lowe recently rapped with Westcheddar about some of the dirt she dug up on ODB…

IP: So, a book on Old Dirty Bastard.  Can’t wait to read it.  I imagine there’s a lot of crazy content in it.  He was a pretty wild guy on and off the mic, huh?

JL: He was, he was the wild card of the bunch. I don’t think anyone could ever predict what was gonna happen with him. 

IP: You’ve done some magazine writing in the past, and some stuff with The Village Voice.  How did you make the leap into getting the deal and the rights to put together this book?

JL: Surprisingly, you don’t need the rights to write a book, just enough access to tell the story. I had talked with some of his family and Wu-Tang for an article for the Voice and for the most part they were really helpful with the book as well. And when there’s more room and more pages to fill that obviously opens up the possibility for conducting interviews with as many people as possible. The deal came through in a way that was seriously magical at least from my perspective. I sent the article to an agent after a couple years had passed after his death and asked if he thought it could be a book. He did. We worked on the proposal and he sold it. 

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IP: On the Macmillan Books website, the book is described as “a fan’s exploration”.  Were you always a big ODB and Wu Tang fan?  Did you know him personally?

JL: You know, there are definitely bigger fans out there. I love ODB and Wu-Tang but some of the people I met along the way could definitely out reference me. I didn’t know ODB personally, I interviewed him several times for the Voice article and grew really fond of him. And he was definitely not in a great state, but somehow I felt like there was a charming, smart, thoughtful person in front of me which are definitely not the things you’d immediately think of when thinking of ODB.

IP: Do you have a favorite ODB song?

JL: I mean it’s hard to have a favorite, I have an irrational reaction everytime I hear his voice. But I’d have to go with “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, but I also love his song with RZA, “Cuttin’ Headz”. 

IP: How about your favorite Wu Tang album, group or solo?  It’s a common debate in real hip hop head circles.  Mine is Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx, though I have a few others that are right up there with it.

JL: I know that I’m biased and this is definitely not my favorite my album because I think it’s a great hip hop album, but Nigga Please is a kaleidoscopic display of showmanship, erratic temperament, hot flash moods, insanity, rants, and evidence of the beginnings of a total meltdown. It’s a piece of work that reflects who the artist is in the moment of creation and really it’s a raw reflection of madness. I think it’s one of the most honest recordings and kind of terrifying. Plus some great tracks.

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IP: You grew up in California.  Did alot of people out there listen to east coast rap coming up?  I moved to New York from Oakland when I was 5 and I always wonder if I would’ve been as into the east coast hip hop scene if I never moved.

JL: Wu-Tang definitely translated to West Coast. It didn’t seem so steeped in geography and turf as Biggie or Tupac or Dre. Those guys used their neighborhoods as their identities. Wu-Tang really transcended Staten Island. I mean it was  a crucial part of their identity but it’s as if the Wu-Tang sound and vibe existed in its own universe and one that was accessible by all. It’s why I think Wu-Tang has such huge cross over appeal. 

IP: What other artists do you like?  Is there another band, rapper, or musician out there that interests you enough to write a book on them some day?

JL: I don’t think any musician or artist could follow ODB. 

IP: How was it gathering information for the book?  Did you interview alot of the Wu-Tang members?  Who was the most interesting to talk to?

JL: I didn’t interview too many Wu-Tang members. I really wanted the focus to be on ODB and really they’re pretty exhausting to track down for interviews.  I talked to GZA pretty extensively and he was insanely helpful. I talked to RZA for the article and he was very thoughtful and emotional about ODB as well. 

IP: They called him Old Dirty Bastard because there was “no father to his style”.  Did he have a relationship with his real father as a kid?

JL: He did. He grew up with two working parents in Fort Greene. His Dad used to take him fishing in Long Island. His parents certainly went their separate ways and he was primarily raised by his mom Cherry Jones.

IP: His police reports and crime sheet must be insane to look at.  Did you see any first hand for your research? 

JL: I did and they are.  The thing that’ s most striking is how much petty theft and drugs related charges were on them.  But don’t fooled by Wu-Tang paranoia, the FBI really does have a file on them that you can access under the Freedom of Information Act. And it certainly includes a thick folder on ODB.

IP: How many kids did he really father?  More than ten?

JL: I’d say more than ten is possible, 13 is rumored to be the number but I’ve only known concretely about 7 from four moms. 

IP: Wow.  And he was on welfare right?  I remember seeing him on MTV going around to collect welfare checks?  How does someone with a major record deal manage to do that?  I don’t understand, was he really not making that much money as a rapper?  I know there was a lot of Wu Tang members getting there piece of the pie, but he did release solo albums too.

JL: When he was at the Welfare office for MTV, he happened to still be on file from before Wu-Tang hit. He and his wife Icelene  were on welfare in the early nineties but they hadn’t collected a check in years. But he figured if it was there and already issued to him, he may as well keep it. That whole controversy was pretty much a demonstration of government records that hadn’t been updated—bureaucracy at work. But obviously, it was blown out of proportion and was amazing PR for his album.

IP: How’s Brooklyn treating you?  Do you like living there?  He was originally from there too, correct?  Close to where you are living now?

JL: Not to far, he was probably a few miles away in Fort Greene. I love Brooklyn.

IP: You’re holding an event to celebrate the release of the book in BK at Gleason’s Gym on December 6th.  Sounds exciting.  Will you be reading parts of the book?  Are you expecting any special guests?  What’s the scoop?

JL: I will not be reading, but I’m reading at Pacific Standard on Dec. 3. There will be special guests, DJ Blue on the decks (and he actually wrote the movie State Property which ODB was in) and perhaps some surprises. I’m hoping it will be a raucous dance party.  I’m also hoping to raise some money for Impact House a rehab facility that ODB was in out in California. 

IP: Oh yeah, he was in State Property.  And ODB was signed to Rocafella Records when he died also.  Did he have a close relationship with Jay-Z?  How about Biggie Smalls?  I’ve seen video of him and Big on stage rapping together back in the day.

JL: I don’t think he had a close relationship with Jay-Z. He definitely came up with Biggie and so they performed together at talent shows in high school and certainly knew each other.

IP: So what’s next for you?  Any more hip hop related writing?  New book deals on the table?  Or are you focused for now on this release.

JL: Focusing on this for now and cooking up something , I don’t know what specifically though! Suggestions welcome…!

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