44 years ago today, Russell Tyrone Jones, the man who would rise to infamous prominence as the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was born. Over the course of two official solo albums, four Wu-Tang Clan albums (his participation on The W and Iron Flag was practically nonexistent, as he was in and out of prison), and a slew of guest appearances, ODB would curse, scream, and rhyme his way into one of hip-hop’s most endearingly deranged figures, a gale force gust of words, sounds, coherence, and complete incoherence.
Though Method Man has claimed that RZA and GZA wrote much of ODB’s celebrated, singular Return to the 36 Chambers, the unhinged ASON Unique delivered each line in a style all his own, a violently unpredictable jumble of rapping, off-key singing, and shouting, often within a few breaths, occasionally all at once. His rhymes balanced ideas and images both raw and absurd, jumping quickly from cold realities to lewd desires, chuckle-inducing boasts and utterly outlandish threats. We’re not hear to debate discuss authorship; though the lines may not have been his own, only ODB was capable of injecting them with the unpredictable kinetics that made him one of hip-hop’s most enduring, singular personalities.
His contributions to the Wu-Tang lore and aesthetic are undeniable; his solo albums–in particular his RZA-helmed debut Return to the 36 Chambers–are mostly stellar. In honor of his birthday (brief life, ending tragically at the age of 36 eight years ago), we celebrate some of the lines that inspired our love for the one and only Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
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10. “I want pussy for free, I want pussy for free/You can not have my money”
We love Ol’ Dirty because he gets right to the point. He will not give you money for shopping sprees. If you’re down with the arrangement, you’re his kind of girl.
9. “Ooo baby I like it raw/Ooo baby I like it rawwwww/Shimmy shimmy ya, shimmy yam, shimmy yay/Gimme the mic so I can take it away/Off on a natural charge, bon-voyage/Yeah from the home of the Dodger Brooklyn squad!”
Is it a nursery rhyme? Is it English? Is it one of the best introductions to Ol’ Dirty Bastard you’ll find across the man’s catalogue? It’s certainly the latter (and incorporates each of the former options), an energized, fun rhyme that bounces ODB’s boisterous personality and rhyme style, a flow often sharply on beat one second and lagging behind, diving off the next. Topped off by Dirty’s iconic, off-key singing, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” remains one of the most memorable solo statements ODB made—a loose, amusing affair that eschews the darkness, chaos, and blunt force sexuality that typify much of his work for entertainment pure and simple.
8. “Big Baby Jesus/I can’t wait/N*gga, fuck that, I can’t wait” (repeated 8x)
At the end of “I Can’t Wait,” before an extended shout out that includes nods to Outkast, the US Navy, and eskimos, ODB repeats the song’s refrain (above) eight times. With each successive repetition, his voice gets higher, his words lose definition, becoming pitched-up bursts of sound, as if he’s hurtling to earth from space and burning up on the way. It is a strange moment, an unusual combination of singing and shouting that would feel out of place on most any record, but somehow feels par for the course in the hands of Ol’ Dirty. It is exciting, amusing, and almost unlistenable.
Also, by the recording of his second album, N*gga Please, ODB had taken to calling himself Big Baby Jesus. That is all.
7. “You give me your number, I call you up/You act like your pussy on interrupt/I don’t have no trouble with you fucking me/But I have a little problem with you NOT fucking me”
Many rappers have been horny on record, but few have addressed wanting to get laid with the brutish, unadorned honesty of ODB. As on “I Want Pussy,” ODB opens one of his biggest commercial successes, “Got Your Money,” with a straightforward appeal for ass–and a reminder that, when he’s not getting it, he’s not okay.
6. “…a goblin, who come tough like lambskin/Imagine, gettin shot up with Ol’ Dirty insulin/You bound to catch AIDS or somethin/Not sayin I got it, but nigga if I got it, you got it!!”
“Raw Hide” might be ODB’s magnum opus of absurdity, a compendium of crazy quotes that show him at his most frightfully unglued, a Michael Bay-level explosion of curses, insane metaphors, and gross out imagery. In the pantheon of threats rappers aim at potential foes, the fear of possibly getting AIDS from being shot up with Ol’ Dirty insulin has to be near the top. It is ODB to a T, ignoring the beat and, ultimately, rhymes to scream on perceived enemies with fiendish energy.ODB’s conviction, rage, and a singular grossness elevated the sort of rhymes that might be grotesque jest for some into frighteningly off-the-wall threats and statements of psychology. When ODB says “if I got it, you got it,” it is easy to believe that he’d gladly give you whatever he’s got, just to watch you squirm. Brutal.
5. “Who are you?/Girl what’s your name and number?/Is it true?/Girl you think I’m hot”
How many rappers would cover a song by the incomparable Rick James, attempt to sing it without being particularly adept at singing, and end up owning it? ODB puts his pipes to the test on “Cold Blooded,” and the result is charmingly raw, far better than you might imagine, and an entertaining example of Dirty’s versatility and devil may care attitude–if ODB wanted to sing his heart out, he was going to sing his heart out (over a Neptunes beat, no less).
4. “Here I go, deep type flow/Jacques Cousteau could never get this low/I’m cherry bombing shits… BOOM!/Just warming up a little bit, vroom vroom!”
Cartoonish sound effects, verbal quirks, unusual metaphors, and ODB’s patently erratic vocals littered the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, Enter the 36 Chambers, announcing a presence that seemed often in direct contradiction to the likes of the scholarly GZA, the charismatic Method Man and the measured flows of Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa.
3. I’m just sittin’ right, in my class at a quarter to ten right?/Waiting patiently for the class to begin right?/Teacher says, “Open up your texts and read the first paragraph on/Oral sex!”/I said “Oral sex!, what kind of class is this?!”/The girl next to me said, “Whats wrong with you mis?, this is a lesson that/Makes you feel fine, kinda ease your nerves and relax your mind!”/I said “Don’t try to use no hypnotic spell!”/She said “Be my assistant, I’d show rather tell!”/My knees buckled heart started to drop/My dick grew to a size that my nerve couldn’t stop/I tried to run! She yelled out, “Freeze!”/Pulled down my draws, dropped to her knees/Ripped off my draws as if she had claws/Broke the rules that defined sex laws/She responded quick, with a slick, welcoming kiss and a ice cream lick/Oooh I begged, I begged, “Easy on my balls, they’re fragile as eggs.”
Though reportedly penned by the equally sex-obsessed RZA, the closing stanza of ODB’s “Don’t U Know” shows how ol’ Dirt Dog could give words a salaciousness and unpredictability all his own. While it’s not impossible to envision RZA spitting these words with his trademark slurred flow, ODB’s humorously heightened diction, emotive voice, and jumps between the characters in the ever-so-brief story breathe unique life into what might otherwise be an unlistenable slice of audio porn.
2. “Here comes Rover, sniffin’ at your ass/But pardon me bitch, as I shit on your grass/That means ho, you been shitted on/I’m not the first dog that’s shitted on your lawn”
As ODB once announced on the stage of the 1998 Grammies, “Wu-Tang is for the children, we teach the children.” What ODB forgot to mention, during that impromptu speech, was that those children were the ones whose parents were cool enough to let them watch South Park, not kids still reading Clifford the Big Red Dog books and eating glue. While ODB possessed the capacity to express the Five Percent teachings shared by his Wu brethren and delve into the harsh realities of the Brooklyn Zoo, he also had an incredible knack for the sort of gross-out rhymes that might make Danny Brown blush.
1. “Who the FUCK wanna be an emcee/If you can’t get paid, to be a fuckin emcee?/I came out my momma pussy — I’m on welfare/Twenty-six years old — still on welfare!/So I gotta get paid fully/Whether it’s truthfully or untruthfully”
Though Ol’ Dirty Bastard built his reputation largely on humorous, lewd lyrics, he also exhibited a capability to touch on more profound sentiments with a particularly raw edge. ODB ends his first verse on “Raw Hide,” a song admittedly filled with some of the man’s more outlandish statements, with a a striking, plain window into his mentality: why rap if you can’t get paid? And if he can’t get paid rapping, he’ll get paid by other means. The gross imagery, the stark honesty–ODB here delivers an image of the successful rapper (by the release of “Raw Hide,” Wu-Tang had exploded onto the national scene and each member of the Clan was working his way into a solo recording deal) antithetical to the flashy chains and expensive dinners of modern luxury-receipt rap. It is this sort of candor, an ultimately tragic blending of life-on-record and troubled, real circumstances, that made ODB a compelling figure.