RZA is a New York legend known for being part of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan. Formed in the late 1980s, the collective first emerged in 1992 with their hit single ‘Protect Ya Neck’ and, as representatives of Staten Island, went on to have an unfathomable amount of hits, including ‘C.R.E.A.M’ and ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’. Signed to Loud Records, the Wu-Tang Clan were integral in creating the gritty, lo-fi, abrasive New York sound that would define the early 1990s. Along with producers such as Lord Finesse and DJ Premier, RZA was one of the city’s most potent beatmakers and was the machine behind the Wu-Tang Clan.
The Clan, with its nine members, has an unparalleled and hefty discography. However, hardcore Wu-Tang fans will know that many of the defining albums from the crew went through drastic sonic changes. The New York outfit started out recording in RZA’s Staten Island basement as a trio before it expanded into the formidable troop it became. As the collective grew, it began to include figures from Brooklyn as well as Staten Island. It was in the borough of Brooklyn that disaster struck for the crew.
As the multi-talented and versatile producer that he was, RZA was executively producing music for every member of the Wu-Tang Clan and was the individual responsible for all of the beats they rapped on. In a 2018 interview with NPR host Rodney Carmichael, RZA spoke on the unfortunate incident that led to the loss of hundreds of Wu-Tang instrumentals.
Reflecting on the moment, the musician (real name Robert Diggs) explained: “The funny thing about my life is water has always been a blessing and a curse. I could go back to living in Brownsville, to the Marcus Garvey Houses. My mother had finally gotten an apartment that can hold all the kids. I’m from a family with 11 kids, aight? And she finally got an apartment that could hold all of us, and she did everything she could to make it nice.”
He continued, “But all of a sudden, the damn apartment floods because the sewer backs up. You’d see sh*t floating. As soon as we had finished Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, I already had Inspectah Deck’s Uncontrolled Substance album, Method Man’s Tical album prepared. Because back in those days, we had floppy disks, and I would make all the beats – Method Man’s session, Deck’s session, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx session, and I was ready to go. Here comes the flood that wiped away about 160 floppy disks. Because I didn’t think there’d be a flood.”
He detailed his shock upon returning to find the music wiped out, recounting: “I had [the disks] on the floor, under the keyboard. You don’t think. Wu-Tang was out doing some shows in Cleveland, whatever. We came back [and the] water’s up this high, washed that all away!” Diggs admitted that although he was disappointed and frustrated that the flood destroyed some quality material, he put his anger into the music, which (he believes) made it better. You can hear Raekwon describing the flood in the video below.