The rapper O.D.B., a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan whose erratic behavior and incessant legal troubles made him a figure as wild as his lyrics, collapsed and died inside a New York recording studio Saturday. He was 35.
The cause of death was not immediately clear, but O.D.B. had recently finished a prison sentence for drug possession and escaping a rehab clinic. He had complained of chest pains before collapsing, and was dead by the time paramedics arrived.
From his first appearance in the early 1990s, O.D.B. — also known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Dirt McGirt, Big Baby Jesus or his legal name of Russell Jones — had an unorthodox delivery that stood out even in the nine-man Clan, which featured such future stars as Method Man, RZA and Ghostface Killah.
He released hit singles such as “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Got Your Money,” and appeared on remixes with artists like Mariah Carey. But as his fame increased, so did his erratic behavior, and fans came to expect the unexpected from O.D.B.
In February 1998, he crashed the stage at the Grammy Awards and hijacked a microphone from singer Shawn Colvin as she accepted an award, apparently upset over losing the best rap album Grammy to P. Diddy (then known as Puff Daddy).
Over the years, he was wounded in shootings and arrested on a veritable laundry list of charges, including menacing security officers, illegally possessing body armor, driving with a suspended license, shoplifting and threatening a former girlfriend.
O.D.B. is the latest in a string of rappers to meet an untimely death, among them Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, who was fatally shot in late 2002, and Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, who were both shot to death in the late 1990s. Those killings remain unsolved.
In 2000, after escaping a court-ordered stint in a California rehabilitation center, authorities searched for O.D.B. for a month. He was finally arrested in Philadelphia — three days after performing in a New York City concert with his Wu-Tang clique.
He was sentenced in 2001 to two to four years in prison for drug possession, plus two concurrent years for escaping from the clinic. He was released in 2003 and immediately signed with Roc-a-Fella.
He heralded his return with a news conference alongside singer Carey — pop fans may know him best for his memorable cameo on her hit “Fantasy,” featuring rhymes like “me and Mariah, go back like babies with pacifiers.”
A spokesman for his record label said O.D.B. had been working on his comeback album for more than a year and was almost finished.