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November 17, 2004

{     Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version     }    

odb_.jpg This weekend we suffered the loss of one of music’s precious few original voices. To say that Russell Jones aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death comes as a complete shock would be stretching the truth a little. While it seemed a bit more surprising when you consider the low-profile, Roc-endorsed lifestyle ODB had been keeping since his release from prison last year, the fact is that we’ve been putting up with Ol’ Dirty’s crazy shit for years. Everyone has their favorite ODB story, each of which will undoubtedly be retold for years to come (I still can’t get over the limo to the Welfare Office). And while this seemed to be all fun and jokes, it did touch upon some serious underlying problems. The same crazy Joe Bananas-type behavior that made him such a unique character could also be at the root of his undoing. ODB’s excesses were notorious… putting serious strain on his career as well as his Wu-Tang affiliations. Look no further for evidence than the “Got Your Money” video, where a no-show Ol’ Dirty led to Elektra’s greed-fueled decision to splice footage from Ol Dirty’s last video (4 years prior) with random scenes from Dolemite for a less-than-satisfactory result. It is also no coincidence that ODB was the first to stop touring with the Wu… as he only seemed to crash the shows that he actually bothered showing up for. From a personal standpoint, my memories of seeing Ol’ Dirty perform live consist of a drunken Big Baby Jesus, lying with his back on the PA, staring at the ceiling while his hypemen performed the majority of a set that included Ghetto Superstar three times. But we, the fans, put up with this shit. We were by his side when his wants progressed past that of alcohol. We bought all those god-awful pre-Napster era soundtracks he always seemed to find himself on (why the fuck else would I own the soundtracks of both Tales From the Hood and the fucking Jerky Boys movie). We waited through his jail sentence, even after it was extended due to crack possession. We suffered through all those Slick Rick-style, half-finished, half-assed collections of material the labels pimped as “albums” that only served to water down his career. Why? The reason is simple. At his best, Ol’ Dirty was a one man army. He kept the fucking planets in orbit. His always entertaining and unorthodox style was (and still is) like nothing else. Nobody could do what ODB did and pull it off so successfully because while Ason was Unique, his style was also honest and true to himself. He combined the raw grittiness that was classic Wu-Tang with his own twisted sense of humor and childlike playfulness. If GZA was the head of the Wu-Tang Voltron, then Dirt McGirt was the butt cheeks. With all the super-scientifical 5% street knowledge being dropped, Dirty functioned as the Flavor Flav / Biz Markie-esque rubber chicken in the mix, serving to break up any monotony (listened to 36 Chambers recently?) and also reminding the crew not to take themselves so damn seriously (B.asic I.nstructions B.efore L.eaving E.arth vs. I Want Pussy). This fact became too obvious in the clan’s later endeavors, which suffered greatly as ODB played less of a role within the group. Remember the bloated Wu sophomore double disc? Dirty the Moocher stole the show as his one song upstaged the albums’ 26 others, and almost everything else on the group’s forgettable next two albums. The crowning achievement of this tumultuous career is his ’95 solo debut Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. Among the strongest of the Wu-Tang solo projects and including some of the best production of RZA’s career, many doubted the man behind Enter’s “Shame on a Nigga” could carry an entire album on his own. One must remember that in '95, the Wu-mystique at this point was impeccable (the group even had their own best-selling cologne). At this point, any Wu release was a BIG deal (how else can you explain that bullshit “Garment Renaissance” single hitting #1?) and following the obvious breakout star from 36 Chambers’ solo record (a pre-Right Guard Meth) with the unorthodox dark horse of the group was a risky proposition. Yet fans were met with an amazing, multi-dimensional portrait of a brilliant yet unapologetically-immature artist… not to mention, both an incredible album cover and the bananas “Brooklyn Zoo” video (my all-time favorite). While fans have dubbed it “the drunken record”, this album represents what many consider to be the purest expression of ODB’s artistic vision. While the topic’s weren’t exactly what you consider high brow (Gonorrhea, Blowfly, dirty socks, kung fu, braggadacio, and straight-up fucking), it was Dirty's yelling and grunting that made it so great. The schizophrenic shifting of moods within the album lent itself to the atypical nature of the material, miraculously building a simplistic cohesion in much the same way that your favorite horror movies are constructed (simply put, all rules don’t apply cause this motherfucker’s crazy). ODB switches up from drunk (Hippa to da hoppa) to hungover (the amazing CD bonus cut: Harlem World) to horny (Shimmy Shimmy Ya) to lounge singer (Sweet Sugar Pie) to straight up invincible (“Brooklyn Zoo”-one of the Wu’s best songs, period) all thrown out at breakneck speed. Of special note is the inclusion of “Cuttin Headz”, the album’s requisite throwback demo cut, the type of which were featured on all pre-Forever albums (aka their Golden era). Nostalgia is a large underlying theme of this album as it includes two “sequel” songs as well as the assimilation of Dirty’s “Shame on a Nigga” verse within several others, making the album's title all the more effective. One can also see this throwback theme in the lyrics as ODB constantly namechecks long-forgotten R&B idols, 80’s NYC nightclubs and old childhood pastimes. The Genius even plays along, as he references “Pass the Bone” (his pre-Wu, Cold-Chillin-era single) during his “Damage” cameo. Getting equally as loose, RZA seemed to liberate himself in the insanity of his Brooklyn cousin. His role in this album was critical as roping in the unpredictable ODB with the correct beats would be vital in presenting him as an MC and not a novelty act. While the kung-fu samples and funk breaks are still there, Prince Rakeem exhibits musical growth as he experiments with backwards verses, Redman-esque vocal punch-ins, and heavy echo. The incorporation of ill synth sequencing and some infectiously drunken piano loops allow for a much-muddier sonic landscape than any of his other works from this, his “fangs” period. It is obvious that both artists are having fun with the project, allowing each other to really explore the material they were working to present. This type of record can only come from two artists, individually in their prime, combining their skill and confidence to take the risks necessary in order to create a great album. Listening to Return again after so many years, I felt truly saddened by the loss of Russell Jones. The record has aged quite nicely over its 10+ year lifespan… all the more confirming the quality of both the art and the artists. The potential of this man was magnificent and with his life just beginning to get back on track, who knows what this man would’ve given us later on down the line. Rest in Peace, Dirty.

     » The ODB Online Memorial

Comments

[Slow pan reveals rolling hills pocked with tombstones, shining in the afternoon sun.
Camera centers on a large man wearing a silly Kangol, standing at a distance from a freshly covered grave.
The site is crowded with momentos- flowers, blunts, unopened bottles of malt-liquor and other alcoholic beverages, photos, etc.]


LARGE MAN: "Let's do this." (softly, to himself)


[Steps up to imaginary gravesite.]


LARGE MAN: "To one of the greatest. His sense of humor saved hip-hop at a time when it was in serious danger of taking itself too damn seriously. He may have been a Clown Prince to some, but to me ODB was king."


[Pours out entire contents of 64oz jug of Olde English Malt Liquor, slowly, at the foot of the grave.
A single tear streaks the Large Man's face.
A strange sucking/swallowing noise can be heard as the malt liquor seeps into the ground.]

Posted by: Adam at November 17, 2004 3:42 PM

That was some great analysis, Eric. Couldn't have said it better myself...calling that album a classic is an understatement. Nice job, man.

Posted by: Al aka El Negro Magnifico at November 19, 2004 5:30 PM
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