Wu-Tang Clan, Kung Fu, Chess, God, Life, and Death | RZA on Lex Fridman Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • The greatest lesson of Robert Fitzgerald Diggs’ (RZA) life was seeing the sacrifice his mother gave to their family
  • RZA and Tarantino started their relationship by trying to outdo each other in kung fu movie knowledge
  • “Not only was B.I.G. a dope lyricist, I think he had a voice that was immaculate.“- RZA
  • Tupac had the power to bring out the rebel in us, communicating love and starting revolutions – that’s dangerous
  • RZA is sure that the lyrics of the Wu-Tang’s “Sunshower” will answer at least about 25% of your life’s problems
  • For RZA, the holy Quran is the strongest book he ever read; stronger than the Bible and Bhagavad Gita
  • RZA studied Bruce Lee at different periods of his life; he studied his physicality (the way he moved), but also what he stands for
  • For RZA, chess is the most stimulating passage of time, it stimulates his mind, music, and thoughts about life
  • Advice for young adults: read The Tao of Wu and The Wu-Tang Manual

Key Books Mentioned

  • The Holy Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
    • The most faithful translation available in English
    • For RZA, the holy Quran is the strongest book he ever read
  • Books by RZA:
    • The Tao of Wu
      • Lessons RZA learned on his journey to international superstardom
    • The Wu-Tang Manual
      • All about the Eastern spiritual ethics that define the Wu-Tang dynasty


  • Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (T:@RZA and IG:@rza), also known by his stage name RZA, is a rapper, record producer, filmmaker, actor, writer, and the leader of the legendary hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan
  • This is a chat between Lex and RZA on the Lex Fridman Podcast. RZA talks about the lessons learned from his mother, his experience working with Quentin Tarantino, Biggy and Tupac, God, Bruce Lee, and much more
  • Host – Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

The Greatest Lesson of Life

  • The greatest lesson of RZA’s life was seeing the sacrifice his mother gave to their family
  • “When my mother left the physical world,
    I lost one of my main links to the
    universe. They say that you have an
    umbilical cord and an etheric cord,
    which is the invisible cord that attaches
    you to your soul, your mother’s soul, and
    all other souls. When one passes away,
    you really lose something. It’s physical
    and mental; it’s real. Part of you dies.” – RZA (The Tao of Wu)
  • Growing up, RZA embodied arrogance, confidence, and self-knowledge (he was called “the scientist”)
    • He was taught to believe that he was a supreme being (different from all the other beings)
    • The original Greek word for god was 3 phrases that translated as wisdom, strength, and beauty
    • The power to control life and death is the trait of a god
  • You can have wisdom, strength, and beauty but you can’t save someone from dying
    • On the day of her passing, he learned about the limits of his physicality
  • The pain he felt is indescribable, but something unexpected happened
    • The joy of life hit him differently- the realization of his mortality vs immortality
    • He was free of the illusion of immortality of his physical being
    • Our soul is immortal, the fire is always in the air, you just need to spark it

Things RZA Learned From Quentin Tarantino

  • Tarantino is a master of the craft and an encyclopedia of film history
    • “He may know the 50 greatest costume designers in his memory.”- RZA
    • He is the godfather of everything cinematic for RZA
  • They started their relationship by trying to outdo each other in kung-fu movie knowledge
    • RZA was trying to make movies for his music
    • In 2001-02, RZA asked him to be his mentor
    • It was a hard thing to do for RZA because of where he grow up and who he was (he was already a multi-platinum artist)
  • They used to hang out at Quentin Tarantino’s house watching movies and having long conversations about art and life
    • RZA was humble because he saw something in Quentin, “…a craft of brainpower that resonated with me but I was just paddling on it, I was nervous at it.”- The RZA
  • The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, also known as The Master Killer is RZA’s favorite kung fu movie
    • It’s a beautiful entry into the world of kung-fu movies

The B.I.G. Figures in Hip-Hop History

  • “Not only was B.I.G. a dope lyricist, I think he had a voice that was immaculate.“- RZA
    • You can take his voice and put it on anything and for some reason, it sounds like a record
  • Tupac also had an immaculate voice but he also had an unparalleled ability to touch people’s emotions
    • He had the power to infuse your emotional thought (e.g. Brenda’s Got a Baby, Dear Mama)
    • The power to bring out the rebel in us, communicating love, and starting revolutions – that’s dangerous
    • Tupac was more like Malcolm X (society fear, dangerous)
  • Who was the most skillful writer/wordsmith in hip-hop history?
    • Grandmaster Caz, Rakim, Kool G Rap, Nas
    • RZA met Nas when he was 15, and he was already a master lyricist
    • He thinks it takes about 10 years to become a master lyricist
  • The key is to send a powerful message in a small phrase
    • It’s all about condensing energy

Most Memorable Lyrics RZA Has Written

  • “The answer to all questions, the spark of all suggestions
    Of righteousness, the pathway to the road of perfection
    Who gives you all and never ask more of you
    The faithful companion that fights every war with you
    Before the mortal view of the prehistorical, historical
    He’s the all and all, you searchin for the oracle
    A mission impossible, purely philosophical
    But you call him on your death bed when you layin in the hospital.” – RZA (Sunshower)
    • The song Sunshower is on the Wu-Tang Forever double album but only on the international version
    • RZA is sure that the lyrics of that song will answer at least about 25% of your life’s problems
    • They are speaking on the way of life and way of thinking
  • “Trouble follows behind a wicked mind, 20/20 vision
    of the prism of light but still blind
    because you lack the inner, every sinner
    will end up in the everlastin winter of hellfire
    Throw on this mix just picks your third eye out
    you cry out your words fly out, and sounds die out
    You remain unheard, sufferin eternally, internal external
    Along with your wicked fraternal from generals to colonels
    Releasin thermonuclear heat that burns you firmly
    And permanently upon this journey
    Through the journal of the book of life
    Those who took a life without justice
    will become just ice
    It’s been taught that your worst enemy can harm you
    as much as your own wicked thoughts” – RZA (Sunshine)
    • Sunshine (from 8 Diagrams album) is the sequel to Sunshower
    • It’s about character integrity, how to be in this world, and ultimately connects to god

Who is God for RZA?

  • RZA believes that the proper name for the father of this universe is Allah
    • God is not the same as Allah; Allah births god, but god doesn’t bear Allah
    • Numerology of the word Allah: a (1) + l (3) + l (3) + a (1) + h (8) = 1+6 = 7
    • After you add it all up, the number 7 takes you to the letter “g”
  • For RZA, the holy Quran is the strongest book he ever read
    • Stronger than the Bible, quantum physics, Bhagavad Gita
    • One British scholar said it’s the stupidest book ever written
    • RZA thinks that’s because the structure of the words is peculiar
    • It’s like a song that you don’t know what it’s about until years later

Bruce Lee Was a Minor Prophet

  • Bruce Lee changed the game for martial arts like Hendrix changed music forever
    • For RZA he was a minor prophet- a concept he got from the holy Quran
    • Prophets are sent to every nation and every village
    • If Allah is merciful, then even a man who is deaf has to get a sign
  • Bruce Lee was a prophet for the world of martial arts, it was a shift in the dynamic of thinking
    • Before him, most martial arts movies engaged with the supernatural – things that are beyond doable
  • Bruce Lee engaged with this world; he is not flying in his movies
    • The Chinese Connection– this is where he saw something different
    • RZA studied Bruce Lee at different periods of his life
    • When he was younger he studied his physicality, the way he moved
    • Later, he paid more attention to what he was saying, what he stands for

The Godfather – RZA’s Family Movie

  • RZA likes the characters, the study of family, justice, and power
    • All the themes connect in the real and the cinematic feel
    • He saw it in a period of his life when his father was absent
    • Because of it, his own family adopted the family structure and values from the movie
  • RZA was the Michael Corleone of his family, the good light
    • They all watch movies together, there is a language they all share because of it
  • The purity of the movie (which was fictional but based in reality) resonated with RZA
    • Family before everything else, you take certain people in your inner circle
    • There is a different set of ethics under which you operate for those people
    • Once the family is taken care of, you have to let the wealth, and the opportunity expand out
    • Wu-tang Clan was made strong first, but then all of the members were able to form their corporations and their sub-families

Chess – The Perfect Pastime

  • There is nothing unpredictable about chess
    • “Every game of chess is a draw, the only way somebody wins is when one of us makes a mistake.”- Bobby Fischer
  • For RZA, chess is the most stimulating passage of time
    • It’s a pastime that stimulates his mind, music, and thoughts about life
    • “Even though it’s a pastime, it’s giving me all the stimulation of real-time in my life.”RZA

Study the Masters

  • Becoming part of the process on the American Gangster was like a high-level education for RZA
  • One of the highlights was working with Ridley Scott- the greatest living director
    • Multi-vision- the principle that RZA ties with Ridley Scott
    • He can see eight things at one time (he had 18 cameras on Robin Hood)
  • Where do RZA’s music and filmmaking creativity come from?
    • He learned a lot of things from GZA, he gave him a lot of early inspirations
    • GZA introduced him to mathematics, hip-hop, breakdancing, graffiti
  • Advice for young adults

Lex Fridman Podcast : , , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks