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RZA the Producer: albums to put in your playlist

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Here at Ballantine’s, we live by a Stay True Manifesto. But staying true to yourself doesn’t mean staying the same. It’s about not being afraid to try new things and living outside the confines of expectations. And if there’s someone that embodies this sentiment, it’s RZA. Best known as a founding member and the leader of the influential hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, he is also a filmmaker, vegan, chess champion and award-winning producer.

 

RZA is recognised for his distinctive music production style and use of soulful samples, gritty beats and martial arts-inspired sound clips but his pursuits, much like Ballantine’s Finest blended scotch whisky, are as versatile as they come.

RZA has composed scores for blockbusters, including Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, and directed and appeared in films such as The Man with the Iron Fists. And now, he has partnered with us for a Ballantine’s x RZA collaboration that brings together the best of music, whisky, and extraordinary creativity.

To celebrate the first drop, we’re looking back on the legendary career of RZA the producer by highlighting just a few of the albums he has contributed to over the last three decades. So pour yourself a whisky on the rocks and let yourself enjoy the tunes as we lift the lid, place a record on the platter and shift the tonearm to get this playlist started.

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Wu-Tang Clan
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

We can’t talk about RZA’s production discography without including the debut studio album of Wu-Tang Clan. Released on the 9th of November 1993, this album lay the foundation for hardcore hip-hop during the 1990s.

The album is regarded for its raw and unpolished sound with RZA’s production style often described as dark, atmospheric, and cinematic. He incorporates unconventional sounds including dialogue snippets from kung-fu movies as well as samples of soul and funk, all layered over hard-hitting drum beats. The lyrical prowess of the album cannot be overlooked, with RZA himself bringing a unique and diverse range of flows, styles, and themes. Overall, this album was delivered with energy, grit and a rebellious spirit and is still heralded as one of the most influential hip-hop albums ever recorded.

GZA
Liquid Swords

The second solo studio album of Wu-Tang Clan member GZA, Liquid Swords began recording in RZA’s basement studio on Staten Island. It’s widely considered one of the greatest solo efforts within the Wu-Tang Clan discography and showcases a distinct sound that sets it apart from other projects of the time.

The beats of the album are built upon haunting samples, eerie melodies, and gritty drum patterns. RZA incorporates sounds of cracking vinyl, dripping water, and echoing whispers to give the entire album an ominous, tense, and introspective feel. GZA’s lyrical delivery matches this perfectly, with vivid stories surrounding street life, social commentary and philosophy brought to life by intricate wordplay and sharp metaphors.

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RZA
Bobby Digital In Stereo

This album represents a departure from the signature Wu-Tang Clan sound and showcases RZA’s exploration of a more futuristic and experimental sonic direction. It has a distinct sound characterised by its fusion of hip-hop, electronic elements, and RZA’s unconventional production techniques. It’s energetic and chaotic, with a deliberate emphasis on rough edges and distorted textures.

The album incorporates heavy use of synthesisers, futuristic soundscapes, and distorted vocal effects, creating a unique and off-kilter atmosphere. RZA’s production on the album features layered and densely arranged tracks, with intricate samples, unconventional drum patterns, and diverse musical influences. The beats are often eclectic and adventurous, incorporating elements from genres such as funk, soul, and rock.

Bobby Digital in Stereo is a testament to RZA’s willingness to push boundaries and experiment with new sounds and styles. The album’s unconventional production and RZA’s distinct lyrical approach make it a notable entry in his discography and a testament to his artistic versatility.

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the fifth studio album of American Rapper, Kanye West. It’s noted for its maximalist style that draws on elements from Kanye’s previous works including pop, electro, soul, baroque, progressive rock, and symphonic sounds.

RZA came together with West, No I.D., Jeff Bhasker and Mike Dean to produce the first track on the album, titled Dark Fantasy. The opening features a sample from RZA’s solo track Guiltiness from his 2001 album, Digital Bullet. This sampling choice reflects RZA’s knack for blending diverse musical elements and crafting a distinct mood.
Grand orchestral arrangements, pulsating synths and layered vocal snippets generate depth and intrigue whilst the dynamic production style with shifts in tempo, volume, and intensity creates a sense of drama and makes the song feel like a sonic journey.

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Banks & Steelz
Anything But Words

Wonderful things can happen when two worlds collide. And this offering from RZA and Interpol’s frontman Paul Banks is a stunning showcase of this. Interpol is an American rock band that formed in 1997 and has had large-scale success with their critically acclaimed debut album, Turn On The Bright Lights, and their highest-charting album, Our Love To Admire.

Interpol’s Paul Banks is known for his baritone singing voice with a slight drawl and his use of elongated notes. His vocal style has been described as emotive and broodingly intense which cemented his favour in the alternative scene.

He and RZA first began recording together in 2011, although they had no initial intentions of releasing an album. At the time, they were buddies playing chess, meddling in music on occasion. However, in 2016, under the name of Banks & Steelz, it was announced the duo would begin releasing music.

The album is a fusion of genres, featuring prominent guitar-driven rock elements paired with RZA’s renowned hip-hop production techniques including sampled drums, looped grooves, and an innovative use of sampling. Both Paul Banks and RZA contribute their vocals to the album, often trading verses or harmonising together. Their contrasting vocal styles add a dynamic interplay to the tracks, blending rock and hip-hop sensibilities.

RZA’s career as a producer shows the great things that can happen when you push the boundaries and embrace experimenting. And drinking Ballantine’s is a bit like that too. Of course, there are the time-honoured classics like a whisky coke and a scotch and lemonade but try a cold brew cocktail or a passion fruit sour and you might find a new and exciting favourite.

If you’ve loved this play through the discography of RZA the producer, you can learn more about hip-hop royalty and World Hip-Hop Day or explore other music genres with Ballantine’s. For the perfect drinks to accompany your personal playlist, check out our whisky cocktail recipes.

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