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Hip-hop horror route to helmer

Music for Screens: Spring 2012

Most people think of RZA as a hip-hop pioneer who made his name as a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan two decades ago. But the Grammy-winning producer, born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, also enjoys a thriving career in Hollywood — scoring several films for such directors as Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch and is now making his directorial debut with “The Man With the Iron Fists.”

The film, co-written by RZA and Eli Roth and slated for a fall release by Universal, is set in feudal China and is a martial-arts movie of sorts starring Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. It’s quite a step up the movie food chain for a man who pioneered a sound dubbed “horror hip-hop” as part of Gravediggaz.

“I can honestly say that out of all the jobs I’ve done in my life, directing has proved to be the hardest but yet the most fulfilling,” says RZA. Long before undertaking the project, he spent several weeks shadowing Tarantino on the set of “Kill Bill” while working on the film’s score. “He let me observe and watch him,” RZA recalls. “I sat there with a notebook for days.”

RZA’s ties to Universal boss Adam Fogelson, with whom he worked on “American Gangster” and who’s reportedly a fan, as well as Roth and producer Strike Entertainment’s connections to the studio and Tarantino, who presents the film, enabled them able to acquire an estimated $20 million budget for the pic. What’s more, RZA tapped the relationship he built with Crowe when they acted together in “Gangster” and “The Next Three Days.”

RZA scored the film himself with frequent collaborator Howard Drossin, although it wasn’t his original plan. “I asked the producers to find someone good to score it,” he says. “They played along for a little while, and then they were like, ‘You’re gonna score the film, right?’?” After consulting with Tarantino, who reportedly said, “Of course, Bobby. Who else is gonna score it?” RZA took up the charge and put together an elaborate score that combines classical orchestration with hip-hop, soulful Stax records sounds recreated by an orchestra, dashes of Ennio Morricone and other unexpected twists.

Ultimately, says RZA, his goal is to make a film that’s better than popcorn. “So many times you go to movies and you buy the soda and the popcorn, and the best part of the movie is the popcorn. I wanted to make something that takes us away from everyday strife but yet still gives us something that resonates.”

Trailer for “Kill Bill,” featuring music by RZA:

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