Local Wire

RZA (as Bobby Digital)

Poor RZA. When the studio overlord produces a Wu-Tang Clan masterwork, it lands on RCA or Universal. Yet this chessboard fiend, martial-arts aficionado, and Quentin Tarantino pal can't seem to garner any respect or sales clout as a rapper; Digi Snacks, his latest sonic escapade, is coming out on Koch Records — an imprint commonly considered the refuge of failed, fading MCs. Sure, 1998's Bobby Digital in Stereo went platinum and 2001's Digital Bullet went gold while attracting critical interest, but ever since then, the universal indifference to RZA's output — super-complex, theoretical rhymes, grimy beats speckled with kung-fu flick samples, ambitious movie soundtracks (Ghost Dog, anyone?) — has been galling. Though he's as self-contradictory as any other rapper working today (his contrived Bobby Digital persona is some sort of cross between Shaft, a comic-book superhero, a tripping philosophy/religion scholar, and an all-around bastard), RZA's style is idiosyncratic: a mush-mouthed, dry-heaving bark so brusque and confusing that it seems to emanate from a demented, toothless vagrant. Several listens later, once you've started to grok whatever he's on about, the beats have taken you hostage. If the world at large gave RZA's cracked charms a second look, they'd succumb, too.