The hip-hop world is currently flooded with high-end headphones, but personal audio's latest player ought to bring the ruckus.
Wu-Tang Clan mastermind RZA debuted his first headphone line this week, Chambers by RZA, a collaboration with Swedish brand WeSC. The producer's latest will go up against branded lines by 50 Cent, Ludacris and Beats by Dre, the three-year-old Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine venture that's partnered with artists such as Lady Gaga, Diddy and Justin Bieber and helped turn luxe headphones into a street status symbol.
"I don't like to compete against my own crew, meaning, hip-hop," RZA told Billboard.com in an interview at Hollywood's Trousdale club last week as he prepared for the line's launch party. "Hip-hop to me is a family. But you do want to sell the most records, have the biggest song and win the Grammy."
That said, he was quick to set his line apart from the efforts of MCs.
"With much respect to the other guys, Dre is a producer and I'm a producer," he said. "If anyone is into sound and dealing with sound, it's more the producer than a rapper. We get more technical."
The new line, which arrived in stores this week, comes in two options, the professionally-aimed Premium (which offers noise cancelation and is priced at $270) and Street ($170). Chambers by RZA offers several key differences from its rival lines: unlike Beats, Premium will require batteries only for noise cancellation (Street doesn't use them at all) and multiple sets can be daisy-chained to connect to a single iPod or other audio source. And then there's the style.
"I made mine directly designed to match clothes," RZA said. "In New York, a lot of guys wear uptowns -- around the rest of the country they call them Air Force Ones. We've been wearing these for years. It's like Adidas was to Run-DMC, [they] was part of my generation of sneakers. And you'll see that my color schemes can match your uptowns."
He plans to offer five color schemes in all, including white-on-white and matte black headphones inspired by cars as well as kicks.
"I got a fat white Maserati. So I wanted my headphones to be as cool as my Maserati," RZA said. "My buddy drives the coolest matte black Mustang. So I want him to wear [these] -- this is for my rock and roll guys. This is for my goth."
The headphones' designs also features LED lights that blink in time with the music.
"How do you know if your headphone is rocking? When the beat comes on, the lights move," he said. "That adds a little swag to it, a little bling to it."
But from a sonic perspective, RZA hopes his line encourages a generation raised on MP3s and earbuds to listen closer. He said he noticed the ubiquity of fidelity loss himself during digital remastering sessions for the Wu-Tang Clan's early recordings. (For archival purposes, he noted.)
"I was like, 'Yo, wow, I've been listening to it on my laptop for a while now, I've been doing like the rest of the world, I've been listening to MP3s' … It's like the GMO-produced food," he said. "You haven't noticed the oranges aren't as sweet as when you were a kid. But a good pair of headphones is definitely a start."
Speaking of starts, the multi-hyphenate has had no shortage of fresh projects in recent months. In addition to Chambers' two-year gestation, he contributed beats to Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and Jay-Z collaboration "Watch the Throne," and had nothing but supportive words for his colleague's current Grammy success.
"He got seven nominations, that's big, man. It's funny, the article came out, 'Kanye got seven nominations but snubbed.' C'mon. Seven, you got a lot! Seven is beautiful," he said.
Last week, he launched his own app, RZA's World, which offers 3D chess, news, life advice and a store with exclusive content.
And in a project that offers a culmination of the Wu-Tang Clan's longtime kung-fu fascination, RZA spent the last year in China, working on the feature film "The Man with the Iron Fists." His directorial debut is expected to arrive next year, though he wasn't ready to announce a release date.
"It was a very unique experience, the most challenging job I ever took. I still would've did it if I knew what the job entailed, but I would've thought about it a little differently," he said, laughing. "It's a tedious, tedious time-consuming, energy-consuming job. It's way more extreme than producing albums. And that was an extreme already."
He's made a number of forays into Hollywood lately, with roles in "Funny People," "The Next Three Days," "A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas" and future castings in "G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation" and past collaborator Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."
But it's taking the director's chair himself that tops his personal chart.
"I love achievements, and this is a powerful achievement for me and for hip-hop, actually," RZA said. "Nobody would think a hip-hop guy who's an artist - Hype Williams as a video director is different, Bret Ratner as a video director is different, but artists growing to the level of a serious director is probably not something people [expected]. I'm helping prove my theory because I've been saying for years, I'm not just hip-hop, I'm an artist."
"I don't know, yo. I see the Wu-Tang guys the next few weeks from now, we'll see what the energy is," he said.