Chances are, if you have even a passing interest in hip-hop, you have an appreciation for both Staten Island’s favorite sons, the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as the intricacies and/or influence of jazz music. Finally, two visionaries had the foresight and abilities to combine them. Shaolin Jazz – The 37th Chamber was an idea conceived by Gerald Watson and executed to perfection by DJ 2-Tone Jones, effectively bringing the world of Wu-Tang and Jazz together. We had the opportunity to speak to both 2-Tone Jones and Gerald Watson on how this project came together.
What was your first exposure to hip-hop?
2TJ: (laughs) Mine is pretty specific. When I was younger, I remember a few songs here in there. But the first time I remember walking through the door and really experiencing hip-hop was ninth grade when I had a good friend named Cody in Geometry class. Before the teacher came in the room, he started freestyling. This was the first time I ever experienced a freestyle, and it was mind-blowing. The teacher walked in the room and he started rapping about his socks and bottle cap glasses. I was blown away. I’m looking around like “Does anyone else think this is as amazing as I do now?”
GW: My first intro was right when Run-DMC’s first album came out. They had the white jackets and the hats on the cover. It was that tape and De La’s first joint. I was at a festival that my parents were vending jewelery at. It was the first time I was given a bootleg of anything. I had no idea what bootlegs were. I kinda knew who Run-DMC were and I didn’t know at all who De La was, but I thought these cats looked ill. The cassette looked faded because the dude had clearly Xeroxed it, but I listened to it and I was clearly opened.
2-Tone, I read an interview where you said you feel, when attempting projects like this, people get caught up on the lyrics of a record and not really the “essence.” What best exemplifies the “essence” of a record?
2TJ: I like that cat J.Period because of the way he crafts stuff together and they fit [how] the lyricist raps his verse over that track. That’s the goal, but it also sounds like something they would have rapped over as well as how the project is arranged with the different sound effects. I pay attention a lot to small details, and whole albums that are cohesive. You get a sense of Wu-Tang by hearing things click with the interludes and skits between albums.
Gerald, as a big Wu-fan, what made you think Wu-Tang would lend itself to jazz so well?
GW: Um, I didn’t. (laughs) Honestly, I had no idea. It was just kind of a thought that “you know, I haven’t seen this before” I asked 2-Tone about it because this project, which was created for an art exhibition I had done, was just supposed to be a jazz mixtape. Instead of that, my thought turned to doing a jazz-Wu-Tang mix, and even at that point I didn’t think what that would have sounded like. He took it and he ran with it well.
What’s the response been like from Wu-fans?
GW: It’s hard to decipher, but they’re happy though. When we first dropped it, it was tweeted everywhere. A lot of Wu-Tang fans referenced different artists they heard on the projects and songs they like. We struck a nerve with them and Wu-Tang in general. We know the management company has retweeted the project and given us props, which says a lot.
Do you have any plans for the next project?
2TJ: We had some ideas in the mix, but at this point we want to take more time to really execute things. I’m eager but, at the same time, a little nervous. Shaolin Jazz set our bar, so whatever we do next has to be on its level or better. But, I have no doubt we can do it.
Interview conducted by H2C2’s Chief Media Liaison Chaz Kangas
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