ol’ dirty bastard’s bff buddha monk discusses the wu tang rapper's life and career
On the 10th anniversary of the Wu Tang Clan's ODB’s death, i-D caught up with Buddha Monk, the rapper’s best friend and right hand man, and Mickey Hess, professor and co-author of The Dirty Version to get the real story on the legend’s life.
A$AP Rocky taking shots at Hood by Air, Kanye sneak attack slamming Taylor Swift on live television: today's headline-making hip hop controversies look like cafeteria tiffs compared to the life of late legend and Wu-Tang Clan founding member Ol' Dirty Bastard. Born Russell Jones in Brooklyn's hip hop hotbed Bed-Stuy (the same neighborhood that raised the Notorious B.I.G, Lil' Kim, and Jay-Z), ODB's life off the stage and out of the studio was the only thing crazier than his signature flow. By his side through it all was Buddha Monk. Today an active rapper, DJ, and producer in his own right, Buddha was also Dirty's childhood best friend and right-hand man who managed almost all aspects of his life, from producing his tracks to tracking him down when he'd disappear for days on end.
On the tenth anniversary of Dirty's death, Buddha has teamed up with professor Mickey Hess to write The Dirty Version, the first ODB biography penned by a true insider. From Dirty's favorite kind of pizza (broccoli, believe it or not!) to his struggles with success, Buddha and Mickey are unafraid to tell the story you didn't see on MTV.
"Our families knew each other for years. His family lived on Ralph Avenue and my family was on Franklin and New York Avenues," said Buddha of the pair's Brooklyn upbringing. "All of us would hang out in the same neighborhood, just be having fun on this corner by Putnam and Franklin with our families and friends singing. We were just kids playing in the neighborhood together, hanging together, and it was just a beautiful thing from that moment," he said.
While Bed-Stuy is still a thriving community for hip hop, Buddha explained just how momentous the environment was to the fledgeling Wu-Tang Clan: "One day we'd be bored, stop by the store to get a couple ices because it'd be so hot, walk and walk when all of a sudden we hear some music. We'd look over in the park and there's Big Daddy Kane or KRS-1," Buddha said. "We would have dreams of one day that would be our life, that we'd be doing that," he said.
Those dreams became reality when Dirty and his cousins RZA and GZA formed the Wu-Tang Clan in 93, an outfit sometimes referred to as the greatest rap group of all time. The Clan's debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), boasted a raw, underground sound derived from unconventional sampling techniques (pairing eerie piano loops with vocals from old kung-fu movies) and the members' uncut, balls-to-the walls lyrics. King of this unrefined ethos was ODB, whose half-rapped, half sung, drunkenly slurred style quickly made him the Clan's most compelling entertainer and one of the most distinctive vocalists in hip-hop's history.
But it wasn't merely on-stage antics that kept all eyes on Dirty. The rapper often found himself in the center of controversy, to some a hood hero of folkloric proportions, to others a destructive thug. MTV filmed him and two of his thirteen children pulling up to a New York State welfare office in a limo to collect a welfare check. Three years later, after witnessing a gruesome car accident from his recording studio, he ran to the scene and rescued a 4-year-old girl from the burning inferno. The very next day, he rushed the stage at the 98 Grammys to deliver his now iconic "Wu-Tang is for the children" speech. He got arrested for shoplifting a pair of $50 sneakers in Virginia despite the fact he had $500 on him at the time. He escaped from his court-mandated drug treatment facility and spent one month as a fugitive before getting arrested signing autographs outside a South Philadelphia McDonald's
"ODB has the unenviable position of being remembered both as a thug and a prankster," Mickey explained. "Moments like his infamous limo ride to pick up food stamps led people to write him off as a prankster-I hesitate to say clown-yet his arrest record led people to see him as just another street criminal rapping on stage. To be remembered by either of these images is dismissive."
While many have questioned whether these antics were merely publicity stunts or the results of paranoia and aggression, The Dirty Version cuts through the urban legends to present more complex sides to the infamous icon: "Dirty was convinced the government, or at least the cops, were out to get rappers. Ten years later, we see that he wasn't just paranoid. The FBI really had a file on Dirty and the Wu-Tang Clan," Mickey explained.
"A lot of people were terrified of him," Buddha furthered. "They were thinking 'Oh he's crazy, I don't want to go next to him.' A lot of women thought he was ugly! But when people saw him in person and got to hang around with him, they started to realise he did something that made them laugh when they thought he was going to do something terrible. He was a really great guy, that's the response that everyone had once they got to know him. Because he was Ol' Dirty Bastard, the things they read about him and saw on television made them scared to go up to him and talk to him," said Buddha.
In the book's introduction, the pair write "It seems like everyone is telling a story instead of the true story," but this truth wasn't always easy. In addition to providing a loving tribute to his best friend, "Buddha was always very forthcoming about his conflicts with Dirty, who was a great and supportive friend but often left Buddha holding the bag in the studio or on stage. I'm proud of the way the finished book gets across Buddha's frustrations with Dirty. It makes them both three-dimensional on the page," said Mickey.
"I had a rough life, I lost a lot doing it, but I gained the most important thing: the best brother in the world, the greatest teacher of all, and someone who opened up a lot of doors for me. This is my blessing back to him and his family, to let them know that he still lives inside of me and I'll never let him go. You only get one of those great ones in life." said Buddha.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Brayden Olson