RZA Is 'Risyn' With Video Game Song, Talks New Wu-Tang Album

RZA photographed in Los Angeles
Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

RZA photographed on Jan. 13, 2014 in Los Angeles.

Fans awaiting new music from Wu-Tang Clan, whose next album drops Oct. 13, can check out the single “Risyn: Rogue Absolver,” co-produced by RZA with composer Austin Wintory for the Absolver multiplayer online videogame.
“After fans saw the demo at E3 last summer they started tweeting me and said ‘Check this out, you should be involved,’” RZA told Billboard earlier this week as he prepped for the release of Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues, which the legendary hip-hop group reconvened to record as their first studio offering since 2014.
RZA said when Paris-based game developer Sloclap reached out to him a few weeks later, “I was already waiting for the game, and I thought, great! I’d say 50 percent of my creative decisions are now being governed by my 11-year-old son, and he was diggin’ it.”

The percussion-driven track has a synthesizer overlay for a result that might be described as Asian noir. Within the game, it’s positioned as the culmination of the single-player experience, explains Wintory, who had been working on the project for nearly a year when RZA came aboard. The 64 minutes of music that comprise the 20 cuts on the double-album Absolver soundtrack becomes available as a digital download today from Wintory’s own T-65b Records. It is coming out on vinyl this fall from the U.K.’s Laced Records.

“When they called me and said RZA was interested in the game, there was one tiny sliver that I hadn’t finished. I loved the idea of collaborating with him because I had no idea what would happen and felt he’d bring something fresh and unpredictable. So we talked by phone and I said, ‘Not to put any pressure on you but the only thing left is the grand finale. Great way to dip your toe in!’”

Stream "Risyn" here.  

RZA is no stranger to game soundtracks, having created music for the 2009 Playstation/Xbox 360 release Afro Samurai, based on the animated Spike TV show for which RZA provided two seasons of music. He had sole composer credit on Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 martial arts actioner Kill Bill: Vol. 1, and he has a half-dozen additional film scores to his name (among them, Blade Trinity, Man with the Iron Fists, Soul Plane).

Although he rose through the music ranks with rap, RZA relishes “the diversity of listeners and the diversity of creators” working today. “We’re not just jazz guys, rock guys, hip-hop guys. We’re actually at a point of creativity where we’re a fusion of all music and we just find the best soundscape and emotion to express our ideas. With my hip-hop background it’s not expected of me to have such diverse taste and expression. Composing has been the school that opened my creativity to that level,” starting with his first film credit, Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

He’s currently working with Jerry Bruckheimer Films on a remake of the 1977 blaxploitation flick Back Samurai, starring Common, for the Starz! cable channel. He even played a character called Samurai Apocalypse on the 2012 Showtime series Californication.

So is he a practitioner of the martial arts? “You don’t ‘practice’ martial arts, it’s more like a way of life,” he says, with obvious passion. “Depending on the situation, I’m ready to apply myself mentally or physically to handle it, which doesn’t mean I’m going have to fight or kick somebody. Bruce Lee’s greatest line was ‘the art of fighting without fighting,” he concluded, pausing briefly before adding with a wink, “I’m not saying I couldn’t knock somebody out...”

He and Wintory are hoping their “Risyn: Rogue Absolver” track will do just that. “The idea behind designing a game is to keep the audience guessing, to keep the mystery and keep the player engaged. That’s what we tried to do with the music,” Wintory said.  Absolver, he explained, is different from other games in the genre. “It’s about choosing moves that you learn and develop, and building on them in elaborate decks. That’s a huge departure. As a result the game has a strategic quality.”

RZA’s approach to the music was more freeform. “I probably have 50 keyboards scattered at different studios, but for the last three years I’ve just been sort of sitting at the piano composing, finding dissident chords and charting what I want to do. Then maybe I go to my core Kronos, or I may go to the Kurzweil, which is an older model. I also used a really old Roland that had an old-fashioned sound, but layered in with today’s sounds it’s really cool.”

He provided the audio stems to Wintory, who would make adjustments then bounce them back in an iterative process. “He’d give me the music he was writing, and in some cases I reconstructed it and in some cases I used MIDI to put my own sounds to it. For those awesome retro sounds, I literally put into the game exactly what he created, so you’re hearing RZA’s actual performance on the keyboard alongside the drums and guitarists and bass player."

As for the music on Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues, made with beatmaster DJ Mathematics, RZA said “I’m pretty excited about it. I think its timely for some of the lyrical content to be into our system. It’s cool, even for me, to hear Method Man, Raekwon, Ghost Face -- Redman actually joined us -- Inspectah Deck, to hear what they’re saying today, and why they’re thinking about in 2017.”

RZA says the album contains “a couple of brand new songs Wu-Tang Clan recorded, and a lot of collaborations as well.” A single, “People Say” was released to Spotify Aug. 25 “and got a great response.”

Wu-Tang Clan was back in the news today with reports that convicted “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli had put his the legendary sole copy of the group’s Legend of the Shaolin up for auction on Ebay, with the “current bid” at $1.04 million at press time (with less than 8 days left) – a rare market loss for the financial wunderkind, who bragged that he paid $2 million for the album.