According to Rza and his research, it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. “It takes 10 years,” says the 44-year-old. “10,000 hours according to psychologists and scientists, you will become a master at it. Anything. It’s like martial repetition.”
But you have to be good at one thing before you can move onto others. Right? “I gotta agree. But if you’re able to master one thing, then through the principle of mastery, you’ll be able to apply yourself to anything,” he says. “So look at Michael Jordan. He was the greatest basketball player. Then he went on to baseball and golf. He wasn’t the best at those other sports, but he was good 'cause he was a trained athlete. Like Bo Jackson, they said he could do anything. He was able to ‘cause he was a trained body. So the same physicalities he could put into different mediums. As an artist, I think I’ve become a master over the years.”
Since his beginnings in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Rza has always done a multitude of things quite well. It all began with mastering hip hop. Born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, he goes down in history as one of the greatest producers of all time. Heading up the Wu-Tang Clan, Rza has produced nearly every album the Wu has ever released. Since the 1990s, he’s had a hand in writing resonating rap classics and mixing entrancing beats for hits like, 1993’s “C.R.E.A.M.” which Time added to its list of the 100 greatest songs of all-time. And 1994’s “All I Need,” by Method Man, featuring Mary J. Blige. In fact, Rza's musical influence has been a force in inspiring the production hustle of talents like Kanye West. “Wu-Tang? Me and my friends talk about this all the time... We think Wu-Tang had one of the biggest impacts as far as a movement,” Kanye said in an interview with MTV. “From slang to style of dress, skits, the samples. Similar to the [production] style I use, RZA has been doing that."
Rza’s Mastery as a Producer: Done.
When it comes to promoting, marketing, and taking the Wu brand to global levels – again – Rza is a visionary. Walk into H&M and similar trendy clothing stores across the nation, and Wu-Tang t-shirts in a variety of colors with the trademark “W” logo hang at lopsided angles from plastic hangers. Even after 30 years in the game, Rza still manages to know how to create excitement and mystery around a Wu release. To celebrate their triple decade anniversary, Rza the mastermind decided that the Wu crew would record an album, A Better Tomorrow, and print just one copy. High rollers have been vying and bidding millions to buy this sacred rare collector’s edition. And hearing it, will only be allowed through headphones in a sealed-off room open to ticket buying customers. Genius.
Rza’s Mastery in Marketing Himself and the Wu: Done.
But just because he’s surpassed the required 10,000 hours in mastering the specialized hip hop art of making music that captures the head nods of worldwide masses. And even though he can expertly maneuver through the game of selfless marketing, branding, and promoting, does not mean the Rza is good at everything. And he knows it. “I’m not going to say it’s easy and some will be better, some things I will fail at,” says Diggs. “But I will still take the chance to try it cause of a rooted principle and foundation.”
It’s this outlook that made him venture to the West Coast, try out acting, and snag casting results including 2007’s American Gangster, 2009’s Funny People, last year’s G.I. Joe Retaliation, and reoccurring roles on Showtime’s Californication and the upcoming FOX series Gang Related. The problem is unlike the unanimous accolades he gets from cutting and chopping up karate flick inspired beats, Rza’s acting often receives Grade D results. But if you ask his thoughts on the criticism, he disagrees. “On [Man with the Iron Fists], I read critics said that RZA did a terrible job acting. They said, 'Russell Crowe did great and RZA did terrible, even though it was a great attempt as a director, as an actor he was not up to par.' And I think, well, why would they say that? I was actually acting my ass off,” he said, in an interview with CBR. “I played a morbid, non-pussy-getting guy in China that’s soft-spoken to a girl. I mean, I’ve got songs called “Domestic Violence” – 'Bitch, get the fuck up my house before I grab you by the face and put a dick in your mouth.' And that’s nowhere near this guy right here. Do you know what I mean?”
Although when it comes to acting, Rza does try his best. He gets a scratch and sniff, sparkling “A” sticker for effort. But the problem is that he looks like he’s trying. He appears to be acting.
For example, in his current movie, Brick Mansions, a remake of 2006’s French film District B13, Rza costars along with the late Paul Walker as Tremaine Alexander. The head of a notorious drug cartel that’s taken over one of Detroit’s most dangerous housing projects, you can liken Rza’s role to that of Wesley Snipes in 1991’s New Jack City. The difference is that Wesley disappeared into character. As the unforgettable kingpin Nino Brown, Snipes effectively moved viewers to despise his disgustingly selfish, murderously conniving movements in so much of a way that many were happy to see him shot down by the movie’s end. The opposite is true of Rza in Brick Mansions where if one is experienced in noticing thespian nuances, you can see the unrelaxed overthinking. You can notice the forced anger meant to evoke fear. In the opposite way that Nino Brown jumped through the screen and hijacked Wesley Snipes body, Rza never fades to black. Perhaps this isn't a fair comparison since Snipes, who's only a few years older than Rza, has been acting since the 80s. But still...
RZA’s Acting Chops: Not done. A work in progress.
This is typically the case for most actors. And to some, this type of honest critical assessment would seem unfortunate. But to Rza – whose positive outlook is one of a spiritually enlightened awareness of mental manifestation – he will improve, he will be the best, simply because he asked. “I take some of the things I read in the Bible or the Koran or daily life as something that can be applied,” says Rza who's been acting ten years. “I think there’s a great quote from the great master Jesus, ‘Ask and you shall receive.’ Knock and it shall be opened. And I take those things literal.”
God and faith are definitely the reason for his status quo. But his Wu status has been the backbone that continually opens the doors to Hollywood recognition in a town made up of those in power who were Wu fans back in their heyday. It began with producing soundtracks for martial art inspired films like 1999’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Eventually this lead to other movie music work including toiling for phenom Quinton Tarantino as a composer on Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Diggs’ and Tarantino’s shared love of all things karate fueled a connection that gave him a powerful best friend to help push along projects like The Man with the Iron Fists which Tarantino produced. Since then, thanks to Rza’s master branding as a Karate aficionado, he now often pops up in most films that have any kind of Kungfu theme to it. He’s even said to be producing a remake version of 1985’s The Last Dragon with Samuel L. Jackson rumored to be cast as Sho’nuff. All of this is a reminder that Robert F. Diggs has come a long way from Brownsville. “Back in the day I used to fight if they called me ‘Robert,’” he says. “[Now] when I go to work, I try to make the work environment friendly. I’ve been casually asking people to call me ‘Bobby.’”
These days Rza, or rather, Bobby, is wiser, more mature, on wife number two, and raising an 8-year-old son. And despite the old school hip hop type beef that’s the talk of the media today – as in his public drama with Raekwon threatening to leave the Wu and hamper efforts toward releasing their 30th anniversary album – Rza still works to stay focused on the game at hand and the master plan. “Cause the machine has to work. I deal with home when I get home. I deal with the problems when I get there,” he says. “Cause when I’m obligated and I’m the guy that has to go and be a part of this machine. My part has to work for the whole thing to work. Focus that energy, try to stay on that path, and don’t be pulled off that path.”
Brick Mansions is in theaters April 25.