Using knowledge to uplift oneself from the most difficult circumstances is how humanity has made progress. For Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (better known as The RZA), it was street knowledge and wisdom that he embraced through circumstances of pain, joy and fear of growing up. Through his constant search for knowledge, wisdom was born into his life story and successes.
RZA is best known as the “abbot” of the Wu-Tang Clan, the platinum-selling hip-hop collective that is considered to be one of the most important groups in the genre. The RZA (whose name is derived from “razor” sharp) is a producer, rapper, lyricist and actor who had spent most of his life surrounded by poverty.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, New York, as a child he grew up with nineteen people in a two-bedroom project borough.
“Living through poverty is something that will make you feel small. It is a vicious cycle that can shrink your horizons and cloud your visions from being able to grow. We would sleep on any spot that we could grab on the floor and our blankets were the wool mats that movers used to protect furniture.”
RZA would grow up making time to educate others on the streets to search for the wisdom that could turn around the life or death circumstances that they faced.
“Forces in the world will tell you you’re a victim – of your family, your race, your past, your history. Don’t believe them. They don’t know you. Look inside and find your true self. Even if your body is going through hell, your mind doesn’t have to be.”
As a lifelong student and advocate of many forms of thoughts and philosophies, The RZA incorporated the mental strategies of chess, martial arts and religion in his life and work; he learned about these subjects through constant reading and the pursuit of new material. It was through using the raw energy from life experiences and knowledge that he was able to force The Wu-Tang Clan into its success. He is famous for instituting a five-year “dictatorship” over the group, asking them to trust in his decision-making to ensure the group’s future: they did with no question.
Since then, he has expanded his sphere of influence to try out new things; besides producing for numerous other artists, he has explored concept albums, film scores, and even acting. Despite coming from a background of poverty, his unwillingness to accept his situation gave him the power to seek a way to escape it.
If you live through defeat, you are not defeated. If you are beaten but acquire wisdom, you have won. – The RZA, from “The Tao of Wu” (2009).
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