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Wu-Tang Leader Gets (Bobby) Digital Again

Of the Oakland Press

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RZA is back to being Bobby Digital. Kind of.

It’s been seven years since the hip-hop impresario and de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan collective last immersed himself in his alter ego, a kind of ghetto superhero who does mostly good while struggling with the dark aspects of his self. But with last week’s release of his third Bobby Digital album, “Digi Snacks,” RZA feels that he’s both resurrected and reinvented the character.

“Now, to me, he has more of an identity of his own and I’m just the voice in his show,” explains the Brooklyn-born RZA, 38, whose real name is Robert Diggs. “Before, it was like the character was an alter ego, like I needed the guy to express my own feelings through. “Now I don’t feel like he’s such an alter ego. I’m just trying to make the character powerful and have a lot of imagination and do things that work for him that aren’t necessarily about me.”

RZA says the gap between 2001’s “Digital Bullet” and “Digi Snacks” was crucial in learning how to treat Bobby Digital as a more independent kind of creative entity. “I was going (through) different worlds at the time,” he explains, “so creatively I wasn’t in the state, the mind of the character.”

He was certainly busy — - ticularly in expanding his reach from music into the world of film. Though he was trying to turn Bobby Digital into a movie project as well, RZA was far more visible as an actor, appearing in “Derailed,” “American Gangster,” “Be Cool,” “Scary Movie 3” and, with Bill Murray and Wu-Tang mate GZA, in a segment of Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes.” He also wrote music for Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog — The Way of the Samurai,” mentor Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” series and other films.

All that work, he says, freshened his perspective on what to do with Bobby Digital.

“I guess from doing movies and stuff like that I learned a different way to express artistic stuff without having to be attached to it,” explains RZA, who also worked on several Wu-Tang solo projects, including his own “Birth of a Prince” and the group’s “8 Diagrams” album, during the interim. “It’s like, when I saw myself ... die on film (in ‘Derailed’), it really licked to me that OK, I’m still here. That character’s dead. In that world he’s dead, but the person who played him went on to play more characters.

“So it just gave me a whole other way of looking at my creativity when I moved back to ... Bobby Digital.”

RZA describes “Digi Snacks” — which includes contributions from Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, El DeBarge and the late George Harrison’s son Dhani — as “a snack pack” of different styles, though Bobby Digital is still “fighting with the good and evil inside himself while saving the lives of others ... I think the good is winning on this album.”

While returning to the character this time, RZA also re-discovered footage he’d shot earlier in the decade for a Bobby Digital movie. He describes them as “low-budget,” but where he once thought that was a detriment, he now sees it as a virtue.

“Now it feels like a classic,” says RZA, who sees Bobby Digital as “a potential franchise for hip-hop.”

“I’m gonna continue to build the character with films, comics,” he says. “I hate to sound so business, but ... he’s the kind of hero that could do it. He ain’t too watered-down. He ain’t too soft. He ain’t too good. He’s got a little bit of everything in him that people can relate to, so I’m gonna try to develop him like that.”

Bobby Digital may have to stand in line, however, as RZA, who now resides in Los Angeles, has his plate full of other projects.

He and System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian are working on the first album by their band ACHOZEN. RZA has also been working on new albums for Wu-Tang’s Raekwon, and he hopes an upcoming group tour of Europe will yield ideas for a new collective project.

RZA and Hollywood pal Eli Roth are also developing a martial arts film called “The Man with the Iron Fist” that the rapper says has “the blessing” of Tarantino, who RZA calls his teacher.

And there’s also the matter of “The Cure,” a RZA solo album he’s been working on for a few years that he says will conclude one aspect of his career.

“I think doing that, whenever it’s done, will close the book on my lyrical career,” he says. “It’s just sitting there now; I haven’t found the proper music to express what I’m writing about. If I don’t put it in an album, I’ll put it in a book or something.

“And then once that’s out there, I think that’ll be it. It’ll be time to go out and freely live everything I say with the people, without having (any) regrets.”

RZA as Bobby Digital performs Wednesday (July 2) at the Crofoot Ballroom, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call (248) 858-9333 or visit www.thecrofoot.com.

Web Site: www.thecrofoot.com

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