Hip-hop legend “The GZA” enraptured his audience at Wadham this week with his life story, his rhymes and tales of shooting coke. The GZA, whose real name is Gary Grice, spoke at length about his New York City background, which played a significant role in the formation of the influential group The Wu-Tang Clan.
The award-winning rapper also discussed the impact of the clan on hip hop culture, and lamented the decline of contemporary music, which he admitted he rarely listens to now.
“If hip hop was martial arts then I was Bruce Lee,” GZA told the audience, “A defiant warrior who was always victorious and never backed down from a conflict. As children we were drawn to the action of Kung Fu and karate flicks. As we got older, we were drawn to themes of brotherhood, loyalty and discipline and we applied that to our music via skits and interludes.”
GZA also treated students to a rendition of some of his favourite rhymes, seamlessly blending them with the content of his speech. “It’s amazing to see the impact hip hop has made on the youth, not only locally but globally. Spreading like a forest fi re and engulfing every home it touched,” he added, “It was just a hobby that I practised in the lobby, when my shoes were muddy and my hair was always knotty.”
Although GZA’s speech was scheduled to last only one hour, the rapper devoted an extra forty fi ve minutes to answering questions from the audience, who quizzed him on various topics including his political views and the perceived culture of misogyny in hip hop.
On drug taking, the GZA said: “Crack’s been around since the 80s, why is everyone still rapping about crack? It’s true that, yeah, it goes with the culture but it’s all about the storytelling, you’ve got to grab the listener with a great story in your lyrics.”
“It was a great afternoon and GZA was very generous with his time,” one student observed, “in fact, the guy’s manager was frantically gesturing at him to cut off the questions and leave, but he stayed for ages.”
Second year Jack Webb “really enjoyed” the speech, adding: “As someone who hasn’t listened to much of his music, I still found him very interesting. He had some really insightful views into the worlds of hip hop and rap.”
Regarding the GZA’s lyrics, Webb said: “In this postmodern world, where we blur the lines between performance and conversation, the GZA was, without a doubt, on another level.”
Webb added that the experience had prompted him to immediately download the seminal Wu-Tang hit “36 Chambers.”
Wadham’s Carmella Crinnion, who organised the interview with Joey Faulkner after The Oxford Student interviewed the star, praised GZA’s talk as “excellent”.
“As one of the founding members of the notorious Wu-Tang Clan we were very excited at the prospect of having GZA speak at Wadham. He gave an excellent talk about his influences, his solo career, his work with the Wu and the state of hiphop today. We were even treated to a taste of his effortless flow with a few witty and perfectly executed raps. The highlight was perhaps an unwitting tutor asking him to get off the grass on front quad while he was posing for a press photograph,” Crinnion added.
Another attendee praised GZA’s “amazing talent” as well as his “unfailing devotion to his art.” While a second year Historian said: “He was a really entertaining and interesting speaker, who really captured and held the audience’s attention. There was, funnily enough, a very high contingency of posh public school kids at the speech and that was quite funny, as was the unusually high dick-head contingency. But GZA is a really creative and talented guy and I think I can say on behalf of most people there that it was brilliant afternoon.”
This is not the first time the GZA, who French student Clara Breakwell praised as “arguably the most cerebral member of the clan”, has addressed University students. He delivered a lecture to students at Harvard University last year, and described visiting Oxford as a “blessing”.