“The great Indian monk who helped found the Shaolin, he walked from India to China. That’s a lot of miles. When I was stuck trying to figure out my screenplay for my movie, I walked through the streets of Pittsburgh. It was the steel heritage of that city that gave me the inspiration to think about making our character have iron fists strong as steel.”
“Intro” opens the album with RZA introducing himself and his goals for the guided meditations. The backing track runs from ambient strings to a bouncing beat that would sound right at home underneath a Wu-Tang verse. So far, so good – although it can feel a little strange to hear Bobby Digital namedrop a Unilever brand, the same brand that produces Fair & Lovely.
“Kill the Noise” starts off with basic guidance on meditation—get comfortable, breathe deeply. RZA then goes on to drop some wisdom about killing the obstacles to your output. The “noise”, as he calls it, will always be there—but that doesn’t mean you have to listen.
The high point comes in the middle of the sessions. “Fan Your Flames” is a mini tour through the story of RZA, Wu-Tang, and Shaolin (aka Staten Island). The legendary rapper talks at some length about the island as his creative origin, and as a source of comfort and reflection. For RZA, his days on Staten Island weren’t a halcyon so much as a genesis of himself as a musician and a human being. There is no Wu-Tang without RZA, and there is no RZA without Shaolin. To this point, he encourages the listener to envision their own island filled with the pantheon of their personal influences. RZA wants you to tap into who you are so you can figure out what you can make. Like Julia Cameron, but soundtracked with a boom bap.
“Bite or Stop Barking” is a call to arms, a rallying cry, a series of questions asking the listener what they want to achieve and where they want to go. It almost feels like RZA’s your coach on the sidelines, telling you to give all you’ve got, because you already have everything you need to succeed. Likewise in “If Not You”, in which Prince Rakeem asks the listener to dive deep into themselves to discover their essence and strength.
“Guided Explorations” wraps up with “Making Moves”, a track that reminds you that serenity can be found in both motion and stillness, on the inside of your home and in the outside world. Like “Fan Your Flames”, the track goes into detail about the profound influence of Staten Island on RZA—specifically how exploring the highs and lows of the terrain helped him envision what he wanted to accomplish. “Find the wisdom in your walk”, he says. Not such a bad idea in a time where opening any social media app will likely make you feel unwise, nervous, or both.
The album is what it is, but it never pretends to be what it isn’t. From the get-go, it’s clear you’re about to listen to one of the greatest producers in history walking you through some guided meditations to help you relax and tap into your creativity. In a year where some of us have time to kill, we all could benefit from taking some time to nurture our inner artists.
Listen to Guided Explorations by RZA here.