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Rza Breaks Down His Journey In Music Production

rza music production

Rza, the founding member of the legendary rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan has long been a staple in the Hip-Hop world. He was responsible for the music production of many of the Wu’s albums and solo songs, and is a massive influence to many modern producers. He has also been involved in composing film scores as well as directing and acting in films.

In this interview with Kotori Magazine, Rza explains how he first got into making beats and his early years in music production.

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The Beginning

I started getting into beats at 11 years old man. So I had a beat machine that just had a rhythm box. You just pushed one button, it said ‘watts’, the other one said ‘???’, ‘soul’, ‘rock’…but if you pushed two together, it may make a different kind of beat, and it had a ‘fill in’ button. Me and Ol’ Dirty used to make hundreds of tapes with that beat machine.”

A beat box, an Echo and two straight arms. Straight arm techniques because a curved arm was more expensive than the straight arm. I used to sell newspapers to buy more equipment, or steal something. I will never forget that when we first bought our first ???, we were in our mixer and I was like 11.

By the time I got to 12, we had already saved up more money and we had bought the Echo Box, the mic and the beat machine. That was like a $100 beat machine. The Echo Box was $100, but that was a lot of money for a kid. Then we wound up getting a dual cassette so you could make a tape then dub it.

Networking With DJs

roland-tr606

The Roland TR-606 is one of the first beat machines that RZA got his hands on.

By the time I got to 13-14, I had met DJ Dr Rock from the Force M.D’s and other good DJ’s from Staten Island – DJ Scotty Rock. DJ’s from Queens – Cipha Sounds, and they turned me onto a guy named Philly Phil. He had a beat machine called the 606, the same thing that Madtronix winded up using to make all the Just-Ice hit records.

I got a 606 in my hands which I actually stole from Phil. I stole it for like 3 months and he got it back when he caught up with me. Then from the 606, we went to the 707. Then I was 14 going on 15. Me, Dirty and Gza making demos with Dr Rock off the 707. After the 707, I started hanging out in Queens and I came across the 808. The dude called Cipher Sounds, UGAG, these niggaz were dope DJs…I was a little kid hanging around those people back in the days.

Mid-Teen Years

When I hit 16, I was more of a cool teenager doing street crimes and we started buying cars and jewelry. My brother Devon, who is now the President of Wu Music Group, he used to work and hustle and we winded up buying SP1200 turntables, my DJ Scotty Rock gave me a 909 drum machine, I got my first Yamaha 4-track…I was making an album every month probably. The neighborhood knew my albums

emu-sp1200

RZA made a few classic Wu-Tang songs on the EMU SP1200.

This was around the time me and Ghost were emceeing together. Me and Rae been emceeing together for years. But the first time that I really really made a beat that the world heard, because all this stuff nobody ever heard of…I was about 18 years old and I was at Easy Mo Bee’s house, we he working on the Gza’s first album, and he had an SP1200. I had never seen that in my life and I never knew what it was. 1987 probably…and I had seen him making beats on the SP1200.

Now I had to tell my man that I know how to make beats too, but I had never had that kind of equipment. I also had a Casio RZ1 but I didn’t have that SP1200 which was the best thing you could ever get. It took maybe a year and a half until I finally got a hold of one. So I was about 19 when I first got my SP1200, and on it I made ‘Bring The Pain’ and a few other classic Wu joints.

Evolving Through Equipment

What happened though is that the SP1200 was the most popular beat machine you could get, like every DJ wanted it. I had a DJ in my neighborhood who was a real good producer and ahead of his time named RNS, who produced Shyheim’s first album. He had what was known as an EPS. He had the Ensoniq EPS. And he came to my house and saw the SP1200 and he wanted to trade for a month…He had let me hold the EPS before and I liked it.

ensoniq-asr10

The Ensoniq ASR10 is the machine RZA attributes to making him a master producer.

There was a keyboard sampler whereas the SP1200 was stuck at 2 and a half seconds per pad, the EPS you get about 12-13 seconds and you could use it all at one time on one key, so you could sample more than one bar of music. Hip-Hop at that time was stuck to one bar…When he gave me the EPS, I started making 2 bar loops. 4 bar loops. Nobody was doing that. So it was the EPS that turned me onto that, and he traded with me. I fell in love with the EPS. I didn’t care about the SP1200 no more.

When we came back and we traded back, Ensoniq had made something called the EPS16 Plus, and I went and got it. With that, I made songs like ‘M.E.T.H.O.D Man’, ‘C.R.E.A.M’…meanwhile, I still wasn’t famous and this was 1990-91. We were making all these demos but nobody was hearing about us. But in 1991 going on to 92’, Ensoniq put out the ASR10 and when they did that, that’s when I became a master producer.

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