July 31, 2015

For The Max-Approved Mixtape: The RZA (as Bobby Digital) - "Don't Be Afraid"


Artist: The RZA (as Bobby Digital)
Title: "Don't Be Afraid"
Producer: The RZA
Album: Digi Snacks (2008)

After the abomination that is Digi Snacks, The RZA's fourth full-length solo album and third under the guise of the honey-dipped blunted hip hop superhero Bobby Digital, ends, listeners are treated with silence, but not for long.  Your media player, iPod, or car stereo shows the album cycling into a sixteenth track, but you don't really hear anything at first, until the artist formerly known as Prince Rakeem allows a simple drum beat to fade into place like a film, like the beginning of a new tale, a new tale that might not suck.

That's an approximation of the experience I had when I wrote about Digi Snacks seven years ago.  True fact: I haven't given that album the time of day since my Gut Reaction post, I hated it that much.  I suppose it was natural for The RZA to want to pull away from his Wu-Tang Clan brethren, especially since a handful of them were all over the media complaining about his work on what was their most recent group album at the time, 8 Diagrams (which I still liked, Max says to nobody in particular because nobody liked that album).  Perhaps that means RZA will dive even deeper into his own asshole and churn out a fourth Bobby Digital chapter sometime soon, since A Better Tomorrow is almost universally hated by old-school Wu stans who understand that artists need to evolve or else they remain stagnant, but still, come on, that album was terrible, right?  Alas, what's more likely is that he'll continue to write and direct movies (which isn't a bad thing - The Man With The Iron Fists wasn't really all that good, but it was entertaining enough.  Can't be bothered to watch the sequel though) and produce soundtracks for said movies, which most likely means we'll eventually be hearing Azaelia Banks over a RZA beat in the very near future (she's supposed to star in his next film, I think).  Your mileage may vary, depending on whether you give a shit about Banks or not.

Anyway, "Don't Be Afraid" is labeled as a hidden bonus track on Digi Snacks, but one doesn't have to do much work to locate it other than not shutting off the album after the fifteenth track ends.  Its sound is one of opposition to the rest of the overproduced proper album, which is probably why it's labeled as a "bonus": it's made up of a simple drum beat, a light melody, and a vocal sample from The Emotions' "I Like It" reciting the phrase "Don't be afraid to call my name", which sounds like RZA's plea to passersby to request his assistance of they ever find themselves assaulted by wack hip hop.  Which I still give him a free pass to do: he's the fucking RZA.  The Wu-Tang Clan, under his initial guidance, has created fucking masterpieces that still hold up today.  

Yes, there's some questionable shit you have to get through before you can enjoy the track fully.  RZA's insistence on claiming that "The mic is scared of me, son; it's like I'm gonna rape it" at the very beginning is not politically correct at best and fucking stupid at worst, only topped by his follow-up, "I date rape mics, my mic's a dyke", which makes zero sense and could potentially alienate a chunk of his audience.  He prefaces all of this by saying "Ason in my heart", so maybe his undying love for his late cousin, Ol' Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), triggered him to spout phrases that he believed Big Baby Jesus would have said himself (and could have maybe pulled off, since Dirty was able to get away with certain shit due to his outwardly goofy nature), I don't know.

But after that initial bit of awkwardness, The RZA launches into a single long-ass verse that's among his best work, comparable to his similarly lengthy work on GZA's "Pencil", although he sounds more excitable on here.  He spends a good chunk of the song promoting the Wu brand, especially the B-team affiliates that receive actual shout-outs toward the end, but he pays also homage to Ol' Dirty by insisting that he "like[s] it raw", which, sure, only makes sense if you're familiar with "Shimmy Shimmy Ya", but if you don't know what that song is, why the hell are you reading a post about a Wu-Tang Clan song released more than a decade later?  He doesn't receive as much press for it now, but The RZA has always been kind of nice behind the microphone, dropping pop-culture references, religious jewels, and boasts 'n bullshit with the best of them, sometimes all within a single bar or couplet.

Another one of the reasons "Don't Be Afraid" might be classified as a bonus track is due to those lyrics: Prince Rakeem seemingly resurrects the Birth Of A Prince RZA for a spell, and the bars are filled with more personal reflections, as opposed to fake superhero boasts.  After he's finished speaking, he lets the beat play out as the vocal sample comes back and the band Stone Mecca, who RZA signed to one of the various Wu-related record labels but has yet to release anything of their own (edit: apparently they have, and I just didn't do the research.  Eh, whatever, I'm tired), who provide some complementing electric guitar work that helps close out the track.

There really isn't a reason to revisit Digi Snacks: that album really is terrible, and it was the first real crack in The RZA's armor for me, proof that he may not have his heart in making music anymore.  (Again, remember I liked 8 Diagrams.)  But "Don't Be Afraid" has been in my Wu-Tang iTunes playlist from the jump.  Give it a spin, won't you?

Do you agree or disagree with this selection?  Discuss below.

-Max

RELATED POST:
RZA as Bobby Digital - Digi Snacks (review)

10 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2015

    Listen Max,

    As a fellow Wu stan, I definitely agree with most of your opinions about the Wu. But, I am obviously one of the very few who thinks A Better Tomorrow was still at least better than 8 Diagrams, and by a not-so-small margin at that. I mean, come on: At least there's no track on A Better Tomorrow like that Starter abomination, no matter how much I hate songs like Miracle. (And on that note, if those R&B hooks can go fuck themselves in the most violating manner theoretically possible, thank you) And on the subject of Digi Snacks, my opinion is that you cannot be more wrong about You Can't Stop Me Now, especially when Inspectah Deck is concerned. That track is a modern Wu classic.

    To each his own, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you click through to the original review, you'll see that I actually liked "You Can't Stop Me Now" when I first heard it. Honestly, though, I could give a shit about it now, as I lump it in with the rest of the album. "Don't Be Afraid" has been on my personal Wu playlist since I wrote that review though.

      Delete
    2. Well, You Can't Stop Me Now has endured with me. I share your enjoyment of this track, though.

      Delete
  2. AnonymousJuly 31, 2015

    Can't believe this slipped under my radar - great track

    ReplyDelete
  3. Melquan ShabazzAugust 01, 2015

    Hey Max- this post just made me think that it might be a great future idea for you to make a list of top non-classic wu album songs... I think there's a decent number of people such as myself who know all the tunes on Cuban Lynx, 36 chambers etc, but couldn't tell you much about whats on Tical #35. A list of top 20 wu cuts from random wu albums could make a wonderful list! Have a good day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a bad idea, actually.

      Delete
  4. Stone Mecca actually did release an album Max: http://www.discogs.com/Stone-Mecca-First-Contact/release/2002350

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I stand corrected. Clearly I turned in my Wu-stan card years ago. Thanks for the info.

      Delete
    2. No worries lol

      Delete
  5. I like the idea too, it would be a nice way to discover new tracks and rediscover forgotten gems.

    Oh, and great article, as usual. I'm really amazed at the pace you manage to keep, work and stuff always seem to crush my writing schedule...

    ReplyDelete