Put the blue light back on
I’m on the top floor of a riverside Jersey City apartment complex, and Ghostface is here to shoot the video for “Back Like That,” the first single from his feverishly anticipated new album Fish Scale. On the building’s rooftop deck, Ghost and the young R&B singer Ne-Yo jump on top of a concrete flowerpot riser and strike poses against the surreally bright Manhattan skyline, Ghost flaunting a purple fur coat and about fifty pounds of gold medallions. A short while later, he’s in the apartment’s penthouse, surrounded by members of his Theodore Unit crew and acting out the video’s dramatic scenes while the building’s tenants wander around dazed and technicians set up smoke machines and enormous lighting rigs. I’m here to interview Ghost for an article I’m writing for the Voice print edition about the upcoming Wu-Tang reunion tour, and I’m here for four hours before Ghost grabs me for a quick ten-minute interview. I don’t get a chance to ask him about Fish Scale‘s cavalcade of backpack-rap producers or the changes at Def Jam or the red velvet smoking jacket and rhinestone-lined jeans he’s wearing, but I do get to ask him about Wu-Tang, and here’s the uncut transcript.
I wanted to ask you about the Wu-Tang tour. It’s been a long time.
It’s been a very long time. We had a tragedy, a death in the family. We here, though.
I’ve been talking to different members of the group, and it seems like there’s still, I guess, some tension between certain members. Some members don’t feel like they ever got their due. How is it going to feel seeing everyone face-to-face?
For nights like that, you have to put that to the side, do your show, get your money. Niggas need paper, and that’s how you gonna get by. You can’t fuck around and act like you owe me this, and you gonna lose both ways because you ain’t doing the show. That’s what I feel. Put all that shit to the side for these little dates here, get what you gotta get, and then get the fuck out. And then however you feel after that is how you feel.
Do you see this tour opening up a door to more collaborative stuff?
It depends. Because it’s a test. It might be a test where niggas fuck around and say, ‘Nah, I’m not fucking with that nigga.’ Or it might be a test where it’s like, ‘You know what? I’m only fucking with niggas for paper, and if there’s paper involved, we could get the paper.’ Or it could be like, ‘Damn, it’s love, y’all. I miss you, son.’ It could be any of those three, but I can’t tell you what till the end of the tour.
I don’t know anyone who’s still friends with the same nine guys as they were fifteen years ago.
You’re right. Things do happen, and for us, it fucked us up big time.
When Wu-Tang first came up, for a lot of suburban fans like myself, a large part of the fan base, it was the first experience with a large rap crew with its own mythology and its own imagery. It seems like that’s been something that’s become more and more dominant lately with Dipset and G-Unit, stuff like that. Do you feel like Wu-Tang provided a blueprint for that?
No doubt, we did set the blueprint on how to be strong, how to come in and stick together as a family. No doubt, one of the first that came in with the family. It’s somewhat still a family, but we got a lot of miscommunication. This one’s thinking this way and this one’s thinking this way, and that’s what brings confusion and at the same time a lack of understanding. That’s what’s circulating right now.
And when Wu-Tang first came up, it was this moment where something as weird as that could become popular. Wu-Tang was strange; it made you work to understand everything you were saying, and that continued for years. I still don’t understand a lot of the stuff you were saying on Supreme Clientele.
On Preme, I just fucked around and was trying a new style. Some people took it serious, some people respected it as something else. I just said I’m going to come with a group of words or make a joint that don’t mean nothing from nothing, but that’s what I felt like doing at that time. When I created “Nutmeg,” I went in, and when I did “One,” I went in like that. Just focusing on sounding a little bit fly. Rap is universal, man. You can take it wherever you want to take it. I wanted to take it on some shit, like, let me sit down and play with niggas. On some of that whatever shit. It was new. It was new to me too. A bunch of words, shit that nobody has ever said before; you don’t even have to understand it. It confused a lot of motherfuckers. Some motherfuckers like it. But it’s all good at the end of the day; it’s still dope.
These days, it seems like music is less willing to be confusing and rap is more willing to spoon-feed. It makes me wonder if something like Wu-Tang came out now, if it would have the opportunity to blow.
I don’t know. We would all have to be in sync with each other. I know that niggas still do it. But at the same time, you’ve got to be more or less in the streets to see what’s going on. Young niggas coming up, they know all that. You gotta be in touch with niggas that are out there. My Theodore niggas, they out there when I don’t really have a chance to be out there. So they bring whatever’s in the streets back to me, and that’s how I stay alive. I’m not on the block selling that crack. I’m trying to beat the odds. I don’t want to fuck around and go to jail just because a nigga done pissed me off and now I gotta fuck around and do some shit. And now, yo, he did it because Tone ain’t no sucker, but now I gotta sit there for twenty years or twenty-five years, but who gonna take care of my motherfucking family? Just because this nigga trying to play me. What am I gonna do, let my baby suffer or turn the other cheek? I gotta think like a grown man in this type of situation. Sometimes you gotta go inside and go do your fucking thing. That’s just what I had to do.
Now having both Wu-Tang and Theodore Unit, not too many rappers have two separate crews. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of overlap. Is that ever a source of tension or division?
No. My breed is my breed, your breed is your breed. That’s just what it is. I love my niggas, my niggas love me. They come through. If I was holding heavy, all my niggas would be taken care of, and they would be good.
Right now, you’re probably the most successful or at least the most visible member of Wu-Tang.
I wouldn’t say the most successful. I don’t know what I would say. Because to me, I’m still in the group, and I feel the same way about my brothers, even though it’s a lot of other shit going on. At the end of the day, son, I still love you regardless to whatever-whatever. Like I told you, I like to be around niggas that’s in the street, that keep me there, so when I’m working, I can get these joints done and get them out there and know what’s going on. They enhance my game, and I continue to shoot that ball.
The tour is going to smaller venues than you’d think it would be able to. It’s playing venues that you’ve done yourself in the very recent past. Why do you think that is?
Because hip-hop is not the same as how it was back a few years ago. The industry is down, sales in hip-hop is down something like 70%. So if the game is down 70% and you’ve been missing for like six years or seven, eight years, what you think is going to happen? You’ve got a whole new generation of rap. All the older motherfuckers our age is doing a lot of other shit; they don’t have time to check that shit out like they had time to check back in the days when they didn’t have no job or times were a little bit easy. 9/11 came in and fucked a lot of shit up. Niggas don’t got money like they used to have. We’re not in these kids’ faces like that. 106 & Park and TRL is based on different types of crowds. 106 & Park is a younger crowd. They don’t know about Wu like that; they wasn’t into that. They know about what’s going on now, the Nellys and whatever’s popular.
You’ve got a lot of Wu-Tang guys on Fish Scale, and you didn’t do that on the last album. Is there any reason why you decided to do that again?
No real reason. I been moving. And plus, at the same time, you don’t always gotta do that. I been making joints with them for years. So sometimes it’s like, just do what you wanna do.
Oh shit, bonus material! Here’s what happens when Trife Da God, Tommy Whispers, and Irv Diesel from Theodore Unit get bored and hijack my tape recorder for an impromptu interview.
How long have you all known Ghost for?
TW: About like fifteen, ten years. We grew up with him. He’s like a big brother to us.
TDG: Because we all from Stapleton projects, Staten Island. Everybody from Staten Island know Ghost. At the same time, we from Stapleton and he from Stapleton, so the love is always going to be there.
ID: We always been in his circle, so he knows us, we know him. And when he get on, he’s gonna come back and get us. That’s what he’s doing right now. He kept his word.
The first chance you had to get on, Trife, was Pretty Toney, right?
TDG: Nah, even before that, motherfucking Bulletproof Wallets. That was around like 2001. Bulletproof Wallets, I was on like three joints: “Pop Ya Collar,” the second to the last song, and “Theodore.” So I’ve been doing this shit. I always had it in my heart, but ever since then, 2001, boom boom, I don’t paid my dues truthfully. I been paying my dues ever since 2001. It’s 2006 right now, that’s five years in the making. During those times, I was putting my work through. My nigga Tommy Whispers, My nigga Irv Dies, we always putting that work in together. Constant elevation.
ID: Yo, we was stealing papers together! That’s how real it was! Before all this rap shit started!
TDG: What he mean, like niggas was stealing papers, it was like the newspapers.
ID: The newspaper dropped the bundles, and we’d steal them, and we’d sell them door to door. That’s how we got our money.
TDG: 25 apiece. Every Sunday, we’d steal the papers and just get our money.
ID: But I ain’t gonna lie, I was one of the scaredest niggas. I was always running before the paper got dropped. But it’s real, though.
TW: Ghost seen the hunger in us, and he gonna make it happen. We hustle all day.
TDG: We hustlers all day. Got the Put It on the Line jump-off in stores right now. My nigga Tommy Whispers, Irv Dies, Ill Will sick with the pill, my nigga Crime Life, we just in the building right now supporting my nigga on the video shoot “Back Like That” featuring Ne-Yo. You got mega-entities popping off right now.
ID: And you know how everyone’s talking about they got real niggas that’s coming out? These are the the real niggas right here, my nigga Tommy Whispers and my nigga Trife Diesel. This is the real shit. I’m on my man’s bandwagon right now because I don’t rhyme.
TW: You could ask us anything! Ask me my shoe size, whatever.
OK. Since Ghost has Theodore Unit and he’s also part of Wu-Tang, has there ever been any tension or conflict there?
TW: Not at all. He’s his own man. He does what he has to do. He’s always Wu-Tang, always, but at the end of the day, he has to do his thing with his family. You got your cousins, you got your brothers.
TDG: Everybody’s doing their own thing, but everybody had their family to bring through. Wu-Tang is the greatest rap group of all time. Everything that happened, it’s still going on right now.
TW: It’s like New Edition. New Edition had Bel Biv DeVoe, they had Ralph Tresvant, they had Bobby Brown. New Edition is always New Edition, but it’s like that.
ID: Just remember, all nine members ate. Plain and simple, they always had a nice plate.
TW: Some people take they plate and put it in they own fridge.
But there’s also been some splintering; certain members don’t feel like they got their due. Right now, you’d have to say he’s the most successful member of the group.
TDG: You could say that. But at the same time, everybody had they own chance to do whatever they had to do. It’s consistency and it’s whoever wants it more. Me and this nigga’s in a group.
TW: Yeah, TMF. Me, him, and my brother Crime Life, we TMF.
TDG: It’s like whoever wants it more is going to get it. We could do this all night. We could have freestyles, doing videos, going to the club, boom boom, shouting everybody out, DVDs. Whoever wants it more is going to get it. So you can’t be acting like you just be popping up like yo, ‘Boom boom boom boom.’ Me and you might’ve been taking care of all the work, and you got so-and-so popping up like, ‘Yo, boom boom, I’m here now’ and boom boom, trying to get paid. Like, ‘No, we put this together for you, and we had you in mind.’ We just gotta work. I’m ready to go to Brooklyn, man. Shout out to Brooklyn!
ID: We shooting up with Johnny Walker Red and all that! The Black Neighbor and all that!
TW: What’s the name of your magazine?
TW: Shout out to Village Voice! Keeping it official!
TDG: Ay yo, this Trife Da God! Village Voice! Top choice! Keeping it moist!
TW: Fresh from the bakery!
TDG: Word up, Staten Island is in the building!
TW: And this is for my man Tom, and my name is Tommy Whispers, so we keeping it straight Tom right now.
ID: Big shout out to my brothers on lockdown. Bump, C Bruise, Polly Don, CLR, Super!
TDG: Keep that right there. Any more questions, Village Voice boom boom top choice?
What’s touring with Ghost been like?
TDG: Touring with Ghost has been lovely. I done seen mad shit that most rappers don’t even see. I’ve been to Idaho, Kansas, Milwaukee. I’ve been across the whole map. I never been to Alaska, but I know they got hip-hop out there, I know they listening to Trife Dies.
ID: And it’s ya boy Irv Diesel, and I still carry bags, nigga, when I got out on the road, so it’s real!
TDG: In Alaska, they got, what, six months of daylight, six months of darkness. I want to do that shit! Go out there in six months of darkness! That’s like being in the bing! Six months of darkness is like being in the bing. Village Voice, top choice, keeping the crowd moist, man.
ID: Big shout-out to my nigga Sun Ra. It’s real!
Is Cappadonna part of Theodore Unit?
TW: Of course, Cappa is the illest.
ID: Shows, freestyle in the hood, Cappa is the illest. Cappa will do a show for you by himself.
TW: He’d DJ it out, dance it out and all that. He’s animated, man.
ID: He already won an award already, straight up and down.
How did he become part of this group?
TW: He was already Wu-Tang, but he was Ghost’s man. If you see Ironman, you see Ghost, Raekwon, and Cappa holding the Wallies on the front cover. He knew what was real, and he ran with the real.
ID: When you feel the rage, you got to go that way, fuck it. He’s a live nigga. Cappa do it by his self. J Bird, we love you nigga, it’s real.
I think that’s all the questions I got.
TW: Put It on the Line album is in stores now!
TDG: 30,000 units have sold already right now! Put It on the Line!
ID: And I still live in the projects, nigga! That’s how real it is!
TDG: It’s war in the East right now.
TW: Yo Tom, keep doing your thing, man, and showing support!
TDG: Tom with the megabomb!
ID: Shout out to Stapleton, Port Richmond, the harbor! Cottonville, I don’t give a fuck, West Brighton!
TDG: Village Voice, wack music or rap music, it’s your choice! And we out!