Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA started working with speaker manufacturer Boombotix in mid-2014, and he says he wanted make more than just another branded product. "I just had a bigger idea than sticking my logo on something," he told me at CES in Las Vegas. "I thought we could make this great product a little greater." His idea? Load it with exclusive music.
Bombotix makes a rugged Bluetooth speaker that I recently named one of the best you can buy; the first collaboration between the company and RZA was a Wu-Tang-branded speaker. I spoke with RZA and Boombotix's Mustafa Shaikh about the forthcoming speakers, which will include content by RZA as well as the late 'Ol Dirty Bastard.
This gold speaker is a prototype of the forthcoming RZA speaker, which will be released over the summer. It's slightly larger than the existing Boombotix Rex speaker, and it'll work as a music player of sorts so that you can load your own music onto it.
By now we're used to musicians sponsoring a piece of gear, but what if more than just a piece of branding, the gear came with some actual artistic material you wanted to consume. And not just for RZA and Wu-Tang material. Could a speaker be a whole new distribution method for a beleaguered music industry? RZA and Boombotix aim to find out.
RZA: This ain't just about jerking my own dick off. Imagine you're a cool kid and you bring a girl back to your crib and your albums are just stacked up speakers.
One day, you can be like, today, I'm going out with Wu-Tang, or today I'm going out with Chili Peppers or today I'm going out with Kendrick Lamar. And when you go out the speaker matches your Nikes it matches your shirt.
Gizmodo: So what will the new version of the speaker you're going to put out—Your version? I think Mustafa called it the "Executive Edition".
RZA: I got a couple of ideas. I haven't fully decided. It will be new material. I've been doing some great collaborations. And I'm going to see if my collaborators, are willing to release it to the world in this format. I guess that doesn't fully answer your question.
This thing is perfect for cyphers, so worst case scenario I'll put 10 freestyle beats on there that people can skate to, laugh with their friends, karaoke, you know just have fun to. That's another great thing this device can be used for.
I was telling Mustafa, that as the device gets out there more, artists and labels can look at this as part of their release repertoire. In the old days, you would release vinyl, CDs, and cassettes. There were three formats. First the vinyl went down, and the CD and Cassettes went down but the CD stayed. Now the CD is down, but it still exists, and the vinyl still kind of exists — but hey, let's put this in the equation. Let's do this as part of your release plan.
For an artist like Wu-Tang, they would ship out 45-50,000 copies of vinyl and 500,000 CDs. So let's just throw on 10,000 speakers. It makes pragmatic sense. So for the music industry, this is a very useful gadget.
Gizmodo: And so what's next, beyond your speaker? What's the plan?
RZA: So that's coming out this summer. In the future we're going to release ODB material. Some of it will be previously released, some of it will be unreleased material. It should be available April or May.
Mustafa Shaikh: So what I'm most excited about is that back in the '90s most of the material was recorded at the Wu-Mansion so they've got tonnes of archives, so what Bobby [RZA] is going to do is go find some unreleased ODB tracks.
It just reinforces to me that more than just a speaker, this is a premium way to deliver content. It's an interesting way of distributing content that gives fans an awesome experience.
RZA: And not just the unreleased tracks. When you buy an album, you're hearing the final destination of the song. You very rarely hear the genesis of the song. So as a producer, I'm gonna have some fun finding the genesis of a song. You might hear a song, where I take out certain elements to show you how a beat started. That's what's exciting to me about it to me.
Top image via Frazer Harrison/Getty Images. Other images by Mario Aguilar