First Soulja Slim, now this. It is both ironic and sad that only days after my column centered on the numerous premature deaths of musicians, news broke of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s passing. ODB collapsed while in the studio last Saturday, dead at 35.
ODB was easily the most enigmatic member of the Wu-Tang Clan, which is no small statement. Sometimes known as Big Baby Jesus and Dirt McGirt among other names, his outlook on life was simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. On one now-infamous MTV News clip, he stood in line to receive a welfare check, which he somehow qualified for despite the fact that he was a multi-millionaire. His antics were many, and occasionally they went too far, as he landed himself in jail for two years beginning in 2001 for cocaine possession.
Hopefully, though, ODB will be remembered more for his talents as a rapper and consummate philanthropist than his run-ins with the law. He sounded like none before him and none since. Method Man explained Russell Jones’ most well-known moniker best on Enter the Wu-Tang when he said, “There ain’t no father to his style.”
No song represents ODB better than “Rollin’ Wit You,” from his second solo LP, 1999’s Nigga Please. He yells, he sings, he raps, sometimes all in the same verse. He doesn’t follow the beat at all, yet never once loses a step. Right away, his life’s mission is explicitly stated: “I’m here to beat the shit out of all you faggot punk-ass motherfuckers.” Later, he exclaims, “Jesus, I’m rollin’ wit you,” even though last time I checked, “Bitches throw hands into air like to be sodomized” wasn’t listed as one of the Ten Commandments.
ODB’s propensity to shock listeners at all costs was no different than that of NWA’s, or other similar rappers who preceded him, but his demeanor was just crazy enough, and his rap sheet just long enough, that his persona seemed sincere. He terrified some while fascinating others.
He says later, “I master the demon demonic toys / Sting you with the venom, kill your joy.” Do I know what this means? No. Is it genius? Probably. We’ll never know for sure with ODB, which is basically the only definitive statement anyone can make about him. I could go on, but I’ll never be able to sum up ODB’s legacy better than Wu-leader RZA did in an interview last year with The Onion’s AV Club:
‘I think he represents a true free spirit. He’s freedom. He don’t give a fuck. He’ll pull his car over in the middle of an expressway, stop traffic and get out and take a piss. Is that American, or what? He scares some people, but some people just love him, because he’ll do what you want to do but are scared to do.”
Archived article by Ross McGowan
Sun Staff Writer