RZA as Bobby Digital Digi Snacks

[Koch; 2008]

Styles:  hip-hop
Others: Wu-Tang Clan, Dead Prez

The RZA has long been the master of creating compelling comic book characters of his Wu-Tang Clan-mates. His blueprints have been followed to create today’s radio rap, filled with characters boasting fictional armories and bricks that were never moved. His production and composition (including the immaculately assembled Kill Bill Vol. 1 Soundtrack) have long stood amongst the most epic, page-turning music in the hip-hop universe. It’s puzzling, then, that for his own Bobby Digital alias, RZA assumes the role of the subdued alter ego rather than that of the bombastic anti-hero.

Digi Snacks sees a grizzled veteran recounting the battles of his youth. This time, though, RZA forgoes the macho embellishments that may have turned to cliché over the years, but have also made his classic tall tales exceptionally listenable. Gone are defiant verses rapped while fleeing away from police helicopters, replaced by course reflections on a hood you can escape but can’t change. “My brother got locked up/ My girl got knocked up/ My closest homies each got popped up and shot up,” embodies the restlessness of the Wu oral history “You Can’t Stop Me Now.” David Banner tries to strike fear in the hearts of listeners, but can hardly raise a pulse with the ill-fitted combination of Halloween spooky sounds and a “Dirt of Your Shoulder” sample on “Straight Up The Block.” And in case all this gloom and doom has put you in the mood, a number of the Digi Snacks, including “Good Night” and “Love Is Digi / Part II),” toy with baby-making themes. But unless your lover is on horse tranquilizers, they’re going to get antsy as these songs drone and skulk along at a wounded pace.

Though known for prepping the spotlight for others, RZA relinquishes too much airtime to under-practiced MCs on Digi Snacks. Monk of Black Knights sounds like a tense apprentice on “Try Ya Ya Ya” and actually plays one on “Drama,” a sappy after-school special where he gets some mentoring from Bobby Digital.

When the mic rests solely in RZA’s hand, though, the dark and stormy nights, the modern blight turned biblical, and his squad’s untouchability all come rushing back. On Digi’s second song, the scorched-sky standout “Long Time Coming,” it feels like RZA walking up the church steps, furious he’s on the way to his own funeral. Over an ascending piano riff twinkling its invitation for RZA to walk into the white light, he instead entrenches himself, “I have no fascination with Satan/ No relation to probation/ I'm the sun sitting still while you trapped in rotation.” A gorgeous, haunting hook filled with prayers to escape the reaper, sung by Danny Keys, completes one of RZA’s finest solo cuts to date.

Unfortunately, the inspiration and vivid imagery don’t sustain, leaving you stuck in the middle of a boring anecdote. Like a professor on a tangent, this genius has lost sight of what he’s revered for: waxing introspective. Yet without RZA’s signature cinematic zest to keep us awake, Digi Snacks is one lecture you can sleep through.

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