Digging in the Dirt

Just another urban legend: The final interview with Ol' Dirty Bastard

A year before his death Dirt moved out of his mom's Park Slope house to his own apartment for the first time. His digs were sparsely furnished except for the fairy-tale canopy bed shrouded in cascading yellow chiffon. The rest of the apartment was showroom generic. This was improbably the home to the stream-of-consciousness MC with gridlocked gold teeth and cornrows that defied gravity. "People don't see me being myself. I can't describe it. . . . Life is boring. My life is boring," he said. But in reality and in his head, ODB had a lot of lives—and now, they've been reduced to a dozen or so names chronicled on the backs of hipster tees.

When talking about the Knitting Factory night, ODB chalked it up to drug use, which is odd for someone who was still under the scrutiny of parole. "At the Neon factory? That's when I was nice like that? I don't know man, I don't know, I was in another world. I wasn't myself that night because I had some Ecstasy."

His manager, Weisfeld, was quick to respond: "Naw, he's just playing. When Dirt went onstage at the Knitting Factory that night, it was a pre-rehearsed thing. Dirt got up there and just decided to say he was on Ecstasy." Why? " 'Cause I was on Ecstasy. That's why," Dirt said, standing up, now as lively as I'd seen him all day. "You weren't on Ecstasy," Weisfeld said. "Dirt, what's wrong with you?" "I just do what I gots to do. Period," ODB said. How come it doesn't show up on urine tests? I asked. "It just doesn't."

A true expresser who didn't give a fuck, and never a big fan of talking
photo: Courtesy of Island Def Jam Music
A true expresser who didn't give a fuck, and never a big fan of talking

"Dirt, why don't you tell her the truth, you don't do Ecstasy," Weisfeld pleaded. "Yeah. OK. I don't do Ecstasy. We don't do Ecstasy and all that stuff," ODB said reluctantly.

Back then, it almost seemed like he wished his problem was drugs. But clearly there were other factors. It was reported in the New York Daily News that ODB was diagnosed schizophrenic at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center (MPC) when he was released from prison. For a while, according to RZA, he took court-mandated medications.

"He's a true expresser," said RZA. "He don't give a fuck, and to our society that might be dysfunctional. It's like that movie A Beautiful Mind. In a way that guy had an alternate reality, like most hip-hop artists, like ODB. You get this idea about life that is different from the average person. We create these worlds, and we get stuck in them."

When asked about the detour to MPC, ODB said he went "not even for a minute, just for a second." And Weisfeld quickly followed with "He doesn't want to talk about that."

The next time I saw Dirt was backstage at his B.B. King's show, a couple months into 2004. He was noticeably different. He was awake and hyper. He walked in and sat close to me on the sofa, answering one or two stray questions. He looked confused, then angry: "I did an interview with you already."

There were six or seven people crowding the room. After a few minutes and some wild-eyed, one-word answers, he grabbed the tape recorder and held it like a mic to his mouth. "This is Dirt McGirt," he said, "and you all know me and I don't like answering no fucking questions. You know what I'm saying. You know how we get down and we've been doing this for years so let's continue doing this." He clicked off the recorder and got up to talk to his mom, who didn't want to be caught backstage in the first place. She told me before ODB showed up (hours late) that he didn't like her being backstage before a show because she babied him. A couple minutes passed, and Dirt sat close to me again and in the most serene, concerned, docile manner looked at me and asked, "You OK?"

I guess I looked baffled or shocked by the grabbing of the tape recorder. He got onstage, and performed four or five songs that Weisfeld was thrilled about. It seemed a miracle that he was onstage at all. But when he got out there, he swore and danced and garbled his every word; the audience was left wanting.

Now ODB is just another urban legend. There's a story of how he ran out of a recording studio to save a four-year-old girl who was trapped under a car—that he lifted the car and saved the girl's life. His friends talk about the languages he invented, the philosophies he spewed, and the rhymes that ran rampant. "He's always been outspoken and outlandish," RZA said. "He pushed everything right to the edge of the cliff and then he pulled it back. . . . His growl, his voice, and his delivery was one of the most unorthodox voices in hip-hop."

It's just too bad that such an unpredictable life ended so predictably.

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