ODB got his start in the public eye as part of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, which burst onto the rap scene in 1993 with their now classic album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers.) Nine incredibly unique and immensely lyrical rappers formed the group out of various Burroughs of New York City, through the recruitment of the groups founder and main producer RZA. Wu-Tang was unlike any other group in rap, a huge roster of MC's who rapped interlaced their tough street lifestyle raps with mystical Chinese imagery, straight from the numerous Kung-Fu movies the members had a mutual love for. They delivered these lyrics over soul and R&B samples interspersed with soundbites from those same Kung-Fu films, deftly composed by genius producer RZA.
RZA also proved to be a savvy business man, securing the Wu-Tang Clan an unprecedented record deal that would allow each individual member to sign their own record contract at any label, and release their own solo material separate from the Wu-Tang catalog.
However, even in a group with so many unique personalities and sounds, the man who was called Ol' Dirty, managed to form his own unique lane. His voice, at the same time whiny and raspy, was instantly recognizable on any Wu-Tang recording. His penchant for breaking into singing a off key, tone deaf singing would further help listeners single him out.
Also, ODB created a unique, almost fierce image, without consciously doing so, that would prove to make him easily recognizable. Twisting his hair up into braids that were angled in every direction, his mouth sparkling with diamonds set into a gold grill (way before grills were in the least bit fashionable.) He looked and seemed like someone from certain rough and tough sections of Brooklyn, because that is exactly what he was.
|There is more to this guy, I promise.|
The reason why I decided to write this article is because it can be easy to remember ODB as the picture above. An interestingly eccentric, and often seemingly crazy individual who was a member of Wu-Tang before his death in 2004 from a drug overdose. His legacy can be clouded by his brushes with the law, and struggle with drugs and alcohol. Musically though, his impact on rap music is important especially in a time where many fans of Hip Hop lament the genre as becoming too watered down and generic, where many songs sound so similar they blend together and are forgotten all too soon.
ODB released his first solo album in 1995 right off the wave of success experienced by the now super famous Wu-Tang. The album Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version followed much in suit with the Wu-Tang's first release, with heavy production from RZA and numerous guest appearances from Wu-Tang Clan members. However, ODB made the album his own, creating a genuine classic, and an album lauded not only by fans but applauded by serious music critics.
Throughout Return, ODB delivered his raucous, intense, street rhymes about the things he had seen and been forced to endure during his then 25 years of living in poverty before his talent took him to the heights of fame almost overnight. He delivered his serious and intensely profane lyrics in a half-singing, half-rhyming style. ODB going so far as to comment that he had grown up listening to the likes of Al Green and Soul music. He had dreamed of being a singer, so when he got to make music, decided he would be a singer, even if he couldn't sing.
This mentality helped him to produce a sound that has never been replicated in Hip Hop, one thats both incredibly entertaining and I believe one of a kind. ODB remained the same person he was from his block in Brooklyn, sustaining on welfare checks and Kung-Fu classics. He could never become more than what he was all his life before he "made it." In fact, he didn't want to. In fact he even graced the cover of his album with one of the most unique covers of all time, not some material display of wealth, or buxom beauty, but a recreation of his government issued assistance card.
ODB would release another album in 1999 and further build this kind of sound. Intense, unique, and above all so immensely raw. This is what I want people to remember, to not let whatever preconceived notions you may have of ODB but to genuinely listen to his music. Even if you don't think you would like it, especially if you are a fan of Hip Hop and haven't heard it. Even if people don't care for it, they should know that it is important to the legacy of Hip Hop music.
ODB died prematurely at the age of 35 while recording his third album, after being released from a lengthy stint in jail. A theme that would follow his life in the public eye until he died was the troubles he often brought upon himself. Various brushes with the police over guns and drugs, and various stints incarcerated. His insistence on being himself, sometimes not suiting his more conspicuous lifestyle. Ultimately this lifestyle brought him to his death, and I am saddened to have lost him. To me his legacy lives on, not in his public persona, but through his unique music, and to at least have had that I am content.
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